Instagram hiding 'likes' could be final nail in the coffin for many influencers

As Instagram announces a wider international roll out of its test to hide the 'like' count, it seems the core element that keeps us connected in social could be about to change forever.

Of course, Instagram would not be implementing this if it could harm their business. 

The benefit to them is that hiding likes will hurt any organic performance because users won’t have their reaction to content instantly validated by seeing how many others feel the same.

Ditching Instagram 'likes' will require brands to become more sophisticated at influencer marketing

We’ll see if our friends liked it – but the impact of seeing a big like count will evaporate.

Inevitably, brands will end up paying more to reach their audience, but this is nothing new.

Killing organic reach has long been a priority for Facebook and it would be naïve to think this didn’t further that agenda.

Influencers should be worried. They’ve built businesses around likes. Many will wield even less real influence, and budget holders won’t be able to tell if an influencer is worth a conversation.

After the algorithm changes that decimated their reach, this would be the final nail for many.

Instagram knows this, which says a lot.

But this isn’t about brands, influencers or even business. According to Instagram, this is to help users "focus on the photos and videos you share". 

In 2017 Instagram was voted the most negative social platform in terms of impact on mental health, suggesting ignorance of how it was being used and how it was affecting people.  

Furthermore, reports into what a social ‘like’ does to us have put the function under the spotlight. 

Adam Alter, author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, says our brain responds to receiving social media likes the same way it responds to drugs - and that not knowing how many likes you’ll get makes it highly addictive.

So now Instagram has us hooked, it’s taking away the best part – knowing that other people can see. A user’s followers won’t be able to distinguish between a hit and a flop, so maybe some won’t see the point. 

Many will change the amount they post to their newsfeed because they aren’t getting the dopamine hit that they used to – but that is no bad thing.

To Instagram’s credit, it’s genuinely trying to make a positive change. Outside of hiding like counts, they have overhauled abuse and cyberbullying reporting, instantly shutting accounts down. Soon AI will remove any need for a victim to report it.

It’s a huge win-win situation for Instagram. Improve the experience for users and positively impact society, whilst increasing the need for brands to pay to achieve value.

It is a step forward, but just as one platform addresses a key sociological issue, others ignore it. 

And like the addicts we are, we’ll all keep coming back for another hit wherever we can get it.

Maybe the drug cartels are in the wrong game.

Alex Clough is the creative strategy director at Splendid Communications

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