Instagram will officially begin hiding “likes” on its platform in the US over the coming weeks. What exactly does this mean for social media marketing in the medical industry?  

The Background

Instagram chief Adam Mosseri announced on Friday at Wired25 that the company will begin hiding public “likes” on some US posts over the coming weeks; however, users and businesses will still be able to see likes on their own posts. Instagram said in a tweet that the change would allow users to “focus on the photos and videos you share, not [on] how many likes they get.” 

A sample from a post in Australia where the testing has already begun. 

Recently, Instagram has been experimenting with removing likes in other countries; the response has been mostly positive. (You can reasonably expect that a company as large as Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, wouldn’t roll out such a dramatic update without a sufficient amount of testing and a clear cut beneficial outcome.) Although a vast majority of Instagram’s audience agrees that this move will produce positive change, there is still a minority, which doesn’t support the move. 

Nikki Minaj and Cardi B, for example, are among a handful of celebrities that disagree with Instagram’s decision to remove likes, citing that the change undermines the power of independent artists. They argue that comments and replies have a greater negative impact on users’ mental health than displayed like counts. As Cardi B put it, “what makes you feel more insecure, getting no likes or people constantly giving opinions about you, your life and [other] topics?” Nikki Minaj took to Twitter to announce that she’ll be boycotting Instagram due to the removal of likes.

Other celebrities, however, such as Kim Kardashian — who has over 151 million followers — support the decision, calling it “beneficial.” Instagram firmly believes the move makes its platform a better place for users and its brands. “We will make decisions that hurt the business if they help people’s well-being and health,” Mosseri said, according to Wired. 

The Benefits:

As controversial as the removal of public like counts seemed when the potential move was first announced, the major update will actually have largely beneficial results for the platform itself, its users, and its brands. Here are some of the key benefits of the new update. 

1) It’s better for data.

First, let’s clarify a key point: “likes” will only be hidden from public views of a post. Users can still like posts and businesses can still see their own like data to evaluate the popularity and effectiveness of their posts, although likes are just a single measure of a post’s effectiveness. 

Users can still interact with organic posts in several critical ways that give posters rich information about how their post was received; notably, users can still comment on, share, and/or save organic posts. On promoted posts, businesses have access to even more meaningful measurements, which quantify the consumer journey more effectively, from awareness (impressions) to conversion (click-throughs). Focusing on this data, rather than on like counts, gives practices a more holistic view of their users’ interactions and provides a much more accurate view of how their Instagram strategy is impacting their business.

2) It’s better for influencers.

Contrary to popular belief, most influencers believe the change will help enhance their brands. Once the change takes effect, businesses can more effectively evaluate influencers and shift their focus to finding influencers that align more closely with their brand and message, rather than simply selecting them based on popularity. Businesses will be better equipped to align themselves with the right influencers and, as a result, influencers will have better leverage over users.

For example, a yoga mat company who partners with a yogi influencer with 10k hardcore yogi followers that deeply and genuinely interact with the influencer would see much more return when compared to pairing with a random celebrity, with 500k disengaged followers that don’t necessarily care about yoga. This allows influencers to be more authentic in the eyes of their follower base, and in turn, still receive sponsorship opportunities from brands that they (and their followers) genuinely care about.

3) It’s better for ROI.

With public like counts disappearing, the focus should shift from meaningless actions, such as liking a post, to the creation of lead-generating engagement on products and services, such as clicking on links and CTAs (Calls to Action). The change would mainly apply to promoted posts and ads for practices with calls to action, such as discounts, offers, actionable buttons, such as “buy now,” “call now,” or “learn more.” In addition to steering users towards “buying actions,” an engagement mindset also encourages practices to evaluate their direct return on investment from their ads, based on actual sales and lead generation totals. After all, what’s the point of an ad if it doesn’t generate business?

4) It’s better for users’ mental health.

Instagram’s new move comes on the heels of their body-image update, which was released last month and that placed restrictions on weight-loss and cosmetic-surgery ads promoting unhealthy and unrealistic results. The new rules are among many steps that the social media giant has taken recently to help protect the mental health of its users, particularly younger and more impressionable ones. Their newest move is another step in the same direction, eliminating vanity measurements, such as “likes,” and shifting the focus towards genuine engagement. 

Christina Galbato has been an influencer for four years now.

“We always ask the question, ‘Will this perform well?’ And if it doesn’t, we take it personally.” said Christina Galbato, an Instagram influencer. “I am a 26-year-old woman that has felt the impact of how fewer likes can hurt motivation and, sometimes, self-esteem.” This move will help eliminate the issue of “like anxiety” and allow Instagram users to post more authentic content that isn’t primarily intended to generate likes. 

5) It’s better for brands.

More importantly, for brands, Instagram’s decision to remove likes will help even the odds for practices. “While likes definitely give brands a certain level of legitimacy, removing them from all accounts will create a level playing field,” said Ashley Fern, Director of Digital Content & Strategy at Betches. “It will also likely reduce the mob mentality that causes some content to go viral, even if it’s not particularly high quality. Removing the pressure of likes will allow us and other brands to freely explore new types of feed content without worrying about a perceived flop.”

Post-change, users will be more likely to engage with brands that they feel a connection with, rather than a brand that tends to get more likes. Brands, competing from this new, more level playing field, can focus more on creating content that speaks to their ideal user base. 

6) It’s better for sales.

We have to remember, Facebook and Instagram are still billion-dollar businesses, so the move doesn’t come without some strong, financial motivations. Although eliminating likes will help companies to choose more authentic influencers, it will also create less of a reliance on influencers. When a brand teams up with an influencer to push a product on Instagram, the money passes straight from the brand to the influencer without the platform profiting from the interaction. With less reliance on influencers, however, brands will now shift to utilizing Instagram’s ad platform to sell their products, thus creating more profit for the social media company. 

This isn’t all a bad thing, though. Influencers have steadily diminished the trust between consumers and brands by frequently making miraculous or disingenuous claims about a product to make money. The shift to using sponsored ads to promote products now forces brands to create their own ads and stand by their claims, thus returning a level of trust and authenticity to the platform. 

The end goal of any move that Instagram makes is to create a better experience for its users. When a user has a better experience, they will spend more time on the app, engage more with the platform, develop a greater sense of trust, and, in the end, these user responses will all create a better sales platform for any businesses using Instagram. 

The Incredibles Weigh In

Incredible Marketing is proud to employ some of the most talented social media architects in the business. We asked some of our social stars to weigh in on the recent update. Here’s what they had to say:

“I like that Instagram is removing likes because it’s bringing the platform back to its original vision of being a “social platform” and making Instagram a safe and healthy place to spend time online, which is vital to everyone’s mental health. Overall, I think we’ll have to view posts and metrics differently. I feel like engaging content is now more important than ever because photo comments and shares will be the backbone of each social post, as opposed to likes.”

   Jennifer Van Valkenburgh – Social Media Architect

“I think that taking away likes will ultimately help the industry.  It will deter users/clients from only focusing on vanity metrics because multiple likes don’t necessarily mean high engagement with the brand. Many people will “auto-like” and keep going. I think it will result in more genuine content.”

   Leah Spitz – Social Media Architect

“When Instagram officially announced they would be removing likes users across the board, I spontaneously combusted. Depending on whom you talk to, they probably have very negative feelings about removing likes or are relatively unfazed by the whole thing. What many people forget is that we have never been here before. We’ve never had a social platform turn into a full-fledged business entity before. There were no Myspace influencers, and Facebook never had as much of a focus on likes as Instagram does. This is why it’s so important to understand which side of the coin the person you’re talking to is on. Are they coming from the view of a casual user, an influencer, or a business entity?

For the everyday, average user, this change will be virtually meaningless. If any change does come from this, it would only be positive as there are studies that show plenty of adverse mental side effects that come from obsessing and comparing one’s self to unreasonable standards.

Your influencers are going to be the ones that are the most vocal and the angriest about the change. What most average users don’t realize is that for influencers, your engagement is EVERYTHING. Having followers is great, but engagement is how you make the big bucks. For influencers, this is not only a worrying sign that more changes may be coming, but it’s also the unknown of how it will affect their bottom line. The stats aren’t going away ultimately, they’re just hidden in your insights so you can access them, no problem; it only prevents others from seeing then and subsequently comparing their numbers to yours. The unfortunate part of this is that influencers have the most prominent voices out of everyone. Unfortunately, that often makes it seem like the backlash is more widespread or cut and dry than it actually is.

When it comes to businesses, that’s the big question mark. Outside of a select number of companies, very few have successfully made the transition to social media and thrived. Some notable accounts would be Nike, Wendy’s, and Gymshark. These businesses essentially act as influencers, uploading inspirational content while promoting their products. These are the minority, though; in most cases, a business account has minimal reach outside their town and tends to act more like an average user account. In most cases, removing likes really shouldn’t affect a business.

At the end of the day, this is just the first step of many in the return of Instagram to its former purpose. Over the years, we’ve come to accept all the marketing and fluff that’s been added to social media, and sure, some of these changes will benefit Facebook’s bottom line. Still, I believe this will be a positive step for the health and longevity of the platform. People seem to forget that social media is supposed to be a social environment because, over the last 5 or 10 years, we’ve lost that.”

   Max Gottfried – Social Media Architect

Final Thoughts

Instagram was built around the idea of a user posting content and other users viewing and interacting with that content, often with likes. But the platform has evolved in ways that even Instagram itself likely never foresaw. The user base grew, influencers took over, there were more ways to interact, then more ways to share, and eventually more ways to sell. As the platform has evolved, certain changes have become necessary. The most recent change, although somewhat controversial, will almost certainly make Instagram a better place for its users, its brands, and itself. Only time will tell, but we believe the move will help create a healthier environment for its users, specifically with regards to mental health, a better user experience, and ultimately, a better sales platform for its brands.

Jason Sievert

Brand Marketer

Incredible Marketing

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