Instagram is testing a version of its platform without likes and view counts. Here’s how we expect this experiment to impact the social media landscape.

At best a driver of cultural movements and at worst an arbitrary popularity contest, social media is a divisive, but unavoidable part of life in 2019. Critics point out that chasing likes creates a competitive environment, and that this continuous pressure may cause users to feel isolated and anxious. These concerns have caused platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to reexamine how users interact with their content and imagine new models of engagement.

At the 2019 F8 conference, Instagram announced that it’s testing a new version of the interface that removes likes and video view counts. While users will be able to access their own metrics privately, likes and views will remain hidden for all other viewers. This test has begun for users in Canada, where Instagrammers will be able to see content in their feed without engagement markers.

According to the Head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, the test is designed to make Instagram more welcoming, and allow people to feel more comfortable expressing themselves on the platform. In this article, we examine how Instagram’s experiment is likely to affect individual users, marketers, and the social media landscape at large.

1) The market for fake engagement/third party growth tools will diminish.

To bolster their Instagram metrics, many accounts have invested in third-party tools or bot accounts to drum up fake engagement. When influencers try to game the system by buying likes or comments, they end up lowering the value of authentic engagement. This means that likes aren’t actually a reliable way to gauge interest or convert users.

Instagram’s test — and the impact it will likely have on the platform in the future — should help undermine the system of fake engagement. When likes and views are no longer a clear commodity, bots and other third party growth tools will likely disappear, or else evolve to meet the needs of a new market.

2) Influencers will have to change their strategies in order to prove their value to brands.

Currently, popular Instagrammers use their likes, comments, and views to secure covetable brand deals. Should these metrics disappear, influencers will have to demonstrate their worth as a marketing partner in other ways. For instance, brands will likely focus on saves and swipe-ups in order to evaluate how much users are really engaging with their content.

Influencers may have to negotiate new contracts with brands in which they share their back-end data. These deals may include provisions for minimum performance, and the possibility of make-goods, harkening back to advertising partnerships with old-school broadcasters.

3) Users may experience some mental health improvements.

Critics have been discussing the psychological drawbacks of social media — including its potential to increase anxiety and depression — for years. The process of chasing validation through likes encourages obsessive and time-consuming behavior. These negative effects may be particularly pronounced for young people, as they may not consider the long-term consequences of posting all their thoughts on a public platform.

While removing likes and video views may address some mental health concerns, others aren’t likely to improve. For instance, the ultimate social media malaise, FOMO (fear of missing out), is triggered when young people see their friends hanging out without them. Scrolling through photos of other people enjoying what appear to be exciting lives can give rise to feelings of exclusion and inadequacy. While these emotions aren’t directly connected to likes, their effects are powerful all the same.

Widespread Change is Coming

While it remains to be seen whether removing Instagram likes will make the platform more accessible or welcoming, it’s clear that Instagram’s experiment is part of a larger social media evolution. Other platforms like Twitter and Facebook are making similar changes, and shifting their focus away from advertising and engagement metrics.

In 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg announced that the company would prioritize “time well spent,” meaning that it would commit to providing an experience that is both fun and good for users’ well-being. Twitter is undergoing a similar experiment via a prototype app called twttr, which also hides likes and retweet counts.

Despite these changes, social media will undoubtedly remain an important platform for marketers. Brands should pay attention to updates as they are rolled out in order to successfully adjust their strategies. By preparing for new forms of engagement, companies can stay flexible and adjust to consumers’ evolving needs.

Author Alexa Kwiatkoski

After studying creative writing at Johns Hopkins University, Alexa went on to teach English in France. She then worked as a copywriter for a student exchange company for several years, where she had the chance to lead high school programs to both Poland and the South of France. In her current role at L&T, she writes and manages social media for a variety of clients on topics ranging from healthcare to logistics. When she’s not creating transformative content for L&T, Alexa loves to explore New York City, play board games, and travel to new places.

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