Sep 10, 2019

What's In A Like? Part II

The role of an influencer just got a whole lot more interesting. A few months after Instagram began its test to remove the visibility of likes, what's changed and what do people think of the change?

  • Back in April, Instagram announced that users in Canada would begin testing a new feature that would hide the number of likes a post receives to the public.
  • At first, this brought uncertainty concerning how it would affect the way Instagram is used as a social platform, especially for influencers, whose careers are generally based off vanity metrics.
  • Following this, at the beginning of July, Instagram expanded this test to a further six countries, including Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Italy and New Zealand.


‘Likes’ have always fallen under the umbrella term of ‘vanity metrics’, but now marketers believe brands should not be relying on this when working with influencers.

This test has come before the UK Government’s online harms legislation comes into play, which could mean the creation of a social media regulator. This would implement a statutory duty of care on social platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

First, just tested in Canada, the feature has expanded to a further six countries, where posts will now appear is - @userX and others - as opposed to - @userX and 200,000 others - that liked that same post.

Facebook jump on the bandwagon:

Social media giant, Facebook, might now follow suit as they are also considering removing publicly viewable ‘likes’.

Reverse engineering expert Jane Manchin Wong spotted this ‘like’ test on the Facebook android app, which adopted the Instagram format ‘and others’ as opposed to displaying the number of ‘likes’. TechCrunch decided to question Facebook about this discovery and they confirmed that they are considering upgrading to this feature but that it was not yet live for all users.

Adam Mosseri, Instagram chief, explained that they removed likes from Instagram because they don’t want Instagram, 

“to be such a competition. [They] want it to be a place where people spend more of their energy connecting with the people that they love and the things that they care about.”

Instagram believes that by removing ‘likes’ this should also reduce social comparison and the associated negative impacts

Expanding this test to Facebook would be a huge step in combating the ‘compare and despair’ attitude in young people. Facebook is the largest social media platform in the world with 2.4 billion active users, so just like with Instagram, they will face their users having a lot of opinions both negative and positive concerning the ‘like’ count removal. What Facebook is undoubtedly trying to weigh up is: will the benefits outweigh the drawbacks? And is it worth the effort?

Are invisible ‘likes’ changing Instagram?

Instagram receives approximately 95 million photo and video uploads every day, and each day, those photos and videos receive 4.2 billion likes. Influencers have been living with the change for over a month now, and both positive and negative feedback has been received.

Instagram influencers make their money by partnering with advertisers to promote products in posts or stories. A general assumption is that an influencer with 100,000 followers is justified in demanding $1,000 per post according to influencer Carmen Huter. However, this has to be taken with a pinch of salt, as the price can vary greatly depending on the levels of engagement that creator receives including likes, comments, shares and click-throughs.

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Let’s talk about the so-called "bounce back". We’ve all heard it used to describe women’s bodies after they’ve gone through the most AMAZING journey of pregnancy BUT the term ignores SO many of the emotional and physical changes women go through during pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, birth and #postpartum. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ One thing I've learned from the #BBGCommunity and my experience as a personal trainer is that no two women have the same experience. I’m so grateful that pregnancy gave me and @tobi_pearce Arna, but let’s not pretend pregnancy is always easy on women’s bodies. Trust me, no one immediately "bounces back" from the experience, even if it looks that way.⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣⁣ In saying that, I’ve also been an athlete my whole life, and a personal trainer for 10 years. I LOVE to work out and feel strong and fit, but it’s also my career, and being pregnant didn’t change that. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Those of you from the #BBGCommunity who followed my pregnancy posts know I DIDN’T always feel amazing during my pregnancy, but I did workouts modified for pregnancy when I could, up until a few weeks before Arna was born. ⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣ Birth itself takes a toll on your body, and if you had a c-section delivery like I did, there’s additional recovery from surgery. Even though I am a trainer, I had to wait for clearance from my health care professionals before I was allowed to exercise again. Regaining my fitness and strength has been much tougher than I thought it would be, but I’m a trainer, so it was always going to be one of my goals (seriously, you should have seen me on the treadmill for my first postpartum workout — it might have only been a slow walk but I was STRUGGLING). BUT judging any woman as having "bounced back" because of how they look disregards what a massive journey pregnancy and postpartum really is. Every woman faces their OWN challenges, whether it’s the emotional side, finding time to look after ourselves, or the physical challenge of being where we want to be in terms of health and fitness. There’s no such thing as a "bouncing back". It can be HARD work. ⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Forget the judgement. As the #BBGCommunity know, there's so much more to be gained when we support each other! 💕💪

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Australian influencer Kayla Itsines has almost 12 million followers on Instagram and through her page, fitness app, and fitness program is now worth more than 46 million Australian dollars combined with her Instagram fiance. What has come as a surprise is that over a month after the change, influencers are getting more used to the idea of a platform without visible ‘likes’, and are beginning to feel less concerned about potential threats to their salary.

Tammy Hembrow, a beauty and fitness influencer with 9.7 million followers, has an athletic line and fitness app, while also partnering with brands to promote their products on her grid. She has commented that the test has not impacted the way she does business in any way,

“‘Likes’ became more of a popularity contest, but what I feel companies are really interested in are the impressions and actions taken from the posts.” 

Hembrow believes that removing the visibility of ‘likes’ will make her followers appreciate her content more, and is ready to embrace the change.

The managing director of a Sydney-based influencer marketing agency, Max Doyle, states that it is still too early to determine results from the trial but forecasts that there could be a reduction in engagement.

Joe Gagliese, the co-founder of a global influencer agency based in Canada, comments that removing the visibility of ‘likes’ is,

“more of a shock to [influencer's] ego than their trade.”

With the recent ‘fake followers’ scandal, where marketing specialists Takumi, looked into the Instagram accounts of 17 Love Island contestants, they found that over 50% of their followers are fake. These findings support Gagliese’s point that ‘likes’ are no longer as heavily linked to an influencer’s pay, as this metric is easily corrupted.

Are ‘likes’ the only currency that matters on Instagram?

Engagement, with a particular focus on ‘likes’, is considered the main, if not only digital currency for influencers, and with their removal looming, what’s next? Simple, both influencers and marketers need to get more creative. The key link that currently unites the vast range of social media users is validation, and to evolve post-change, it is necessary to move away from this link and place more focus on the quality of the content posted.

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Chalk-ful of funshine 🖍🚲☼⚡️ • Little chica is off training wheels so we’re going down speedy hills without hands! Is this the best summer or what?! Little blue bird designed and coloured by this almost first grader! 🙌🏻 (I die...) • If you like our chalk drawing check out @kris_zhuravleva_ and @margusha____ who most certainly killed it in the art / drawing category with theirs! Love the creativity! 🌈#neverstopcreating #blondesandcookies #kateandscarlet #twinning #twinningiswinning #mommyandme #minime #blondies #momentsofmine #cameramama #momswithcameras #thatsdarling #pixel_kids #mommyandscarlet #matching #matchymatchy #mygirl #momentsinmotherhood #nothingisordinary #thisweekoninstagram #chalkdrawing

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Canadian influencer, Kate Weiland believes that the lack of ‘likes’ has affected her ability to evaluate her audience’s interest in a post, as this would guide her on what content she should post in the future. Despite opinions that removing ‘likes’ is making influencers more creative, Weiland disagrees as she finds it harder to put in the same level of effort when she won’t receive feedback as to whether her followers like it. In an interview with Business Insider, Weiland says, 

“‘Likes’ are a motivation factor, now there’s no audience applause at the end of the performance. It’s kind of like crickets in the background.”

Although influencers are beginning to worry, influencer agencies do not appear as concerned. ‘Likes’ are just one example in a list of several metrics that can be used to analyse a post’s performance. Mike Black-Crawford, strategy director at The Social Chain, classifies ‘likes’ as simply surface-level, whereas engagement and click-throughs show far more about the influencer-follower relationship. Blake-Crawford continues,

“‘Likes’ are the currency of social media, it’s going to separate influencers who have trigger-happy followers...versus the ones who have a real connection with their audience and have the trust element.”

On the other hand, Canadian influencer Jess Grossman argues, 

“You’re not getting the likes and you’re not getting the reach, and your content is not going as far, you’re taking away one of those pieces that is driving engagement, how is that algorithm going to work?”

This raises a very important issue. Engagement, which includes ‘likes’ and comments, are crucial in the algorithmic feed. The ‘likes’ feature has been built into the very essence of Instagram since its inception and greatly influences what is seen, especially with the development of a non-chronological feed. Influencers are very much reliant on this. By receiving fewer likes, they could see less growth and reach and they believe this is down to other users not seeing their ‘likes’.

In removing the visibility of ‘likes’ users will be forced to reflect more on why they genuinely ‘like’ a piece of content. It is far too easy for users to subconsciously like an image as they scroll through their feed, or like something simply because everyone else has. Removing the public appearance of ‘likes’ should encourage users to engage further with content.

As outlined in ‘What’s In A Like’ Part I, users, influencers, and brands alike should embrace this change by moving away from previous fixations on validity, and fishing for ‘likes’. There are more meaningful metrics that are less easily faked and more representative of genuine engagement. This change brings an opportunity for authenticity and transparency, it will hopefully mould brands and influencers into a more accurate representation of ‘real-life’ for their followers.