How could hiding likes on Instagram affect influencers and advertisers?

Instagram is doing an experiment in Canada: hiding likes. Users can still see who liked their posts, but their followers can’t. Some people are concerned this will change the experience and community on Instagram. Others hope this will make the social platform less competitive.

Jeremy Littau, associate professor of journalism and communication at Lehigh University, tells Press Play that Instagram has created a one-up culture akin to a high school popularity contest.

“Take a look at some of the research that’s been coming out the last few years about body image, for example, in visual media. There’s some real worries in those halls about what are we creating here? Are we creating something that tends to prize a type of conventional standard beauty that...might be harmful to some people?” he says.

Littau thinks this change has something to do with the internal tug-of-war between Instagram and Facebook. It might be an attempt to reduce Instagram’s influence as Facebook faces some PR challenges.

Will Instagram lose users?

Littau says the big worry for advertisers and influencers is that a lack of engagement could potentially lead to lack of use. “If there's no way for me to represent how popular I am... my friends can't see how much how much my posts are getting liked, there might be some sense of, ‘I'm just gonna flee to a different platform.’”

How do Instagram influencers feel about the potential change?

Canadian Instagram influencer Kady Hobbins is open to the change. Her company, Kaden Ave Communications, is a social media marketing firm that manages small businesses’ Instagram accounts. She also does influencer partnerships with brands on her personal account.

“We try to encourage our clients not to put too much stock into vanity metrics like likes,” she says. “We try to encourage them and tell them it's not about the numbers. It's about having your actual customers following you and giving them a good customer journey and experience. And then maybe converting them, so whether that's getting them to book an appointment if it's a hair salon, or click through to the link in your bio to purchase a product. We try to have those as goals and outcomes that we report to them, rather than just how many people are liking their photos.”

For Hobbins personally, she says this change gives her relief. “As much as I didn't really want to feed into tying Instagram likes to any sort of validation, it happens. We're humans, and we like when people praise us...  And for me sometimes, if I had a photo that I didn't think would do well, maybe it was a cool photo of a building or a landscape, I would maybe not post it. I'd be like, ‘Oh this isn't going to perform with my followers. People are going to see that I didn't get as many likes on this. Maybe I shouldn't post it.’ And now since that's changed, I've kind of made a conscious effort to be like, ‘I'm going to post what makes me feel good, what I think is actually interesting in my life.’ Caring a little bit less about the number just feels like it's like a weight off your shoulders.”

Gaming the Instagram ‘like’ system

Of course, users have found ways to increase their likes. Hobbins says she’s done this by using “comment pods,” groups of users who all commit to liking each other’s posts. When you have a new post, you share it with the group, and all members must like the post and leave a relevant comment.

“This can turn into a snowball effect, where you can get 100 new likes and comments. But you also have to go back, and do the work, and like everyone else's, and it'll inflate your metrics. The point, I guess, is to beat the algorithm, and make it look like your post is very engaging, when in reality, it's just kind of you and your hundred of your influencer friends pumping each other up,” Hobbins says.

Do likes matter?

Press Play's Madeleine Brand is going up against Greater LA's Steve Chiotakis to see who can get more likes... and how it makes them feel. You can cast your vote by liking your favorite post below. 

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Rosalie Atkinson and Alex Tryggvadottir