Instagram Update: Why Instagram Wants to Get Rid of Visible 'Likes' and What It Means for Advertiser

Written by
Rebecca Smith

May 14, 2019

May 14, 2019 • by Rebecca Smith

Instagram hit one billion users in June 2018. Its visual focus and 'personal touch' makes it an attractive platform for advertisers.

But it's had its fair share of negative news stories since then. Earlier this year, it vowed to remove all graphic images of self-harm. And a raft of outages has seen the platform down for hours at a time.

Its latest update has thrown marketers into a panic. Many are questioning how it'll affect their businesses going forward.

Wondering what the latest Instagram update is and how it will affect you? Read on to learn more.

What Is the Latest Instagram Update?

News of the update leaked in a screenshot for a test running in Canada. In it, the posted image no longer showed the number of 'likes' underneath.

Instead, it named the most recent account to like the image 'and others'.

In the test, Instagram won't be removing the 'likes' feature from the app. They're just changing it so the only person who can see the number is the account owner.

Instagram's reasoning is that they want users to focus on sharing quality content. The image becomes more important than the 'like' counter.

Why Are They Testing This Update?

It started with a UK report. The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) looked into the effect of social media on mental health.

It decided that platforms like Instagram offered positive opportunities. Users could be part of a community or self-expression. But issues around body image, anxiety, and loneliness outweigh these positive factors.

Instagram ranked as the worst platform for its impact on self-esteem. With users tying their self-esteem into the 'likes' they get, Instagram decided to take a stand.

It's not only mental health at the root of the issue. In November 2018, Instagram announced a move to crack down on people buying 'likes'. They wanted to sweep away inauthentic use of their platform.

If people can't see your 'like' count, there's no need to buy 'likes' anymore.

What Does This Mean for Advertisers?

For advertisers and influencers alike, 'like' counts matter. Brands even buy 'likes' to beat Instagram's algorithm to show the content to a wider group of people.

But 'likes' are also a poor metric for measuring engagement. It's easy to tap the heart and keep scrolling. Comments offer better insight into the time a follower will invest in your content.

An even better metric is your conversions from Instagram. Do those Instagram users buy your products or services? Does your content generate leads?

If the answer to either of those questions is 'no', then you need to change your digital advertising.

What Can We Do Instead?

Let us be clear. The fundamental way that Instagram works isn't changing. Content that gets likes or comments will still perform better in the algorithm.

The only thing that may change is who can see the number of likes.

But if you want to improve your Instagram game, here are some things advertisers can do.

Don't Panic

Developers will probably replace 'likes' with a different quality marker in the algorithm. The number of comments is a likely contender, reflecting changes over at Facebook.

Many advertisers and influencers use follower counts in their business model. So hiding the 'like' count shouldn't immediately impact how Instagram marketing works.

There's also no guarantee they will remove public 'like' counts. If the test doesn't work in Canada, they won't roll it out across other territories. They'll only adopt it if they see a rise in other forms of interaction or engagement.

Remember, social media platforms reserve the right to make changes whenever they want. We've all had major freak outs when a platform alters something. But then it's business as usual when we get used to it.

Authenticity Matters

Stop competing to have the most 'likable' content. Focus on creating content followers want to see.

Instagram doesn't like users scheduling content in advance. They want users to be 'in the moment'. That means posting authentic content.

We have more marketing success when we treat Instagram users like people. Post 'people-friendly' content and work on building engagement.

Check out Instagram Stories

The Stories function is a great place to help build that authenticity. Take followers 'behind the scenes'. Let them get to know your brand.

They can react to your posts, which gives you a good sense of engagement with your content. 

And take your brand 'live' whenever you can. Few things beat answering questions on the spot and interacting with followers.

Keep Learning

The platforms introduce changes all the time. Keep up-to-date on how the platforms work. Miami Ad School announced a course in partnership with Facebook and Instagram.

Listen to marketing podcasts and sign up to email lists for extra information. Take in advice from unusual quarters, like indie publishing or the arts.

Trying new strategies and testing content will keep your feed fresh and exciting.

Embrace Other Platforms

Facebook isn't going anywhere. If you're not building a following there, you're missing out. 

And if you have a Page, start using Facebook Live for better engagement.

Repurpose content from Instagram Stories for Snapchat Stories. And set up a recipe using IFTTT to post your Instagram content elsewhere.

Or add an Instagram widget to a website to display your Instagram feed to visitors. Curate your grid to show the best images for your brand.  

You don't have to be everywhere. But you should be wherever your customers are.

Keep Calm and Carry On

Social media platforms change on a regular basis. It's our job to manage those changes and keep reaching our customers.

This Instagram update may or may not roll out across the whole platform. If it is, then advertisers will find new ways to reach their audience.

The platform's attempts to clear out fake accounts can improve the user experience.

That means more users and bigger target audiences - which can only be a good thing in the long run.

Looking to improve your advertising game? Why not check out our other advertising articles?