The Instagram likes saga: is it really for our mental health?
Like it or not, Instagram has changed and the verdict is in… Australians are really torn over the new changes. On the 18th of July, Instagram removed the ability to see likes (for others’ posts) from Australia, Japan, Ireland, Brazil, Italy and New Zealand. The test had already been running quietly in Canada for the last few months, and was suddenly launched into 7 new markets around the world. Over the last week there have been countless debates about the ‘likes’ saga, whether it’s better for mental health, what it will do to influencer marketing and how it will alter user behaviour. I’ve used Instagram as both an influencer/blogger and marketing professional for the past 8 years, and want to share my thoughts on both the negatives and positives of this new change.
After having time to reflect on this change and talk about it with all kinds of people (think brands, influencers, normal users, teenagers, agencies), I think the message that Instagram is concerned about our mental health is falsified. Instagram is owned by Facebook, who literally exploited millions of peoples’ personal data and used it to retarget them with political campaigns, and made millions of dollars of the back of this betrayal. This is a platform that continually collects your personal data, and uses it to help advertisers target you with personalised ads. Instagram is not a charity, and this latest ‘removing likes’ campaign hasn’t been a sudden revelation Instagram has had for young people’s mental health. I’m all for mental health, and am an advocate for body positivity, self-love and not measuring your worth by the number of likes your posts get. However, Instagram hasn’t solved these issues…
Firstly, you can still see your own likes. While some young people may compare themselves to others, there are a high number of users that judge their own worth based on their own likes. By removing the ability to view others’ likes but keeping access to your own, I don’t see this as a positive change towards mental health. If anything, it’s increased competitiveness through comments and will lead to the downfall of further self-esteem. With the loss of visible likes comes the loss of engagement; why bother liking when you can’t see what you’re contributing to? If Instagram is so hell-bent on likes defining a young person’s mental health and image of themselves, then why still provide access to likes at all? Why not completely dissolve the ability to see your own likes and comments? Because then Instagram doesn’t become a money-making social media platform, it becomes a museum of pretty images to look at, with no advertisers, influencers not bothering to create content and young people becoming disinterested.
Instagram has garnered such incredible growth because it’s a place for users to share their special moments in life, creativity and an outlet to be yourself. Instagram content creators have been giving Instagram free content for years, and ever since the new algorithm (with posts not chronologically ordered), Instagram has worked against these content creators. With the removal of likes visibility, it’s evident that Instagram doesn’t value the work of these content creators and creatives that share their work on the platform; it’s trying to silence them and monetise the platform further.
For the past few years, the growth of influencer marketing has seen traditional advertising completely change. Influencers reach an enormous amount of people across social media, create beautiful content and provide a voice for small brands that may have trouble penetrating their niche markets. The influencer marketing industry is a billion dollar industry, with some influencer being paid up to $50,000 per post. Instagram is watching as millions of dollars are funded into influencer marketing, and they’re not seeing a cent of it. By hiding likes and helping to remove ‘influence’ (as seen in popularity with likes), Instagram is essential taking away the credibility of influencers and their audiences. For a brand now, how can they firstly source influencers (without having to take the time to ask for engagement rates and media kits) and then see if a campaign is successful? The knock-on effect from removing likes means people will like posts less, which means less engagement for influencer content, less organic reach and less bang for your buck. Instagram is wanting brands to direct their marketing spend back to the platform itself, and rather than invest in influencers, invest in Instagram ads.
Think about it – why spend money on influencers when total reach is down, when you can spend money on directly appearing in peoples’ newsfeeds. To put this into perspective, think about a brand like Coca Cola. Rather than spending money on influencers to create content and share it with their earned, organic followings (that will have less reach thanks to the non-visible likes and user behaviour), they’ll turn to creating the content in-house, and using targeted ads on Instagram to reach audiences instead. It’s what happened with Facebook a few years ago, and we’re starting to see it now on Instagram.
Another point to consider is now the furthering of falsifying followers and comments. Once upon a time, you could look at influencer’s engagement and work out whether it was real. If the follower count was 100,000 but engagement was hitting 50 likes, it was obvious that followers were bought. With likes now not visible, what is to stop influencers buying fake followers and taking advantage of likes not being visible? Further to this, putting more emphasis on comments will see the trends of comment pods come back in waves. Now more than ever, the pressure to have a high rate of comments, where numbers are still visible, will apply an increasing pressure on influencers to have comments on their post. Whether they are organic, bought or from comment pods, they’ll be looked to as the only measure of legitimacy for brands looking to work with influencers.
If Instagram really cared about mental health and the pressure of likes, why would this not be rolled out via Facebook as well? For me personally, the removal of likes isn’t a quick fix for mental health. Users can still see their own likes, still see likes on the desktop version and half the world can still see likes. So, please don’t think that Instagram is so concerned about your mental health, and more concerned about making money and taking the influencer industry (that they don’t see a cent of) head on.
Instead of making likes invisible to certain countries, I believe the below would be a good alternative:
Create likes as an opt in/out feature. You can either opt in to see likes on everything and your own posts, or opt out to not see them anywhere or on your own posts.
Only allow business and creator profiles to view likes of similar profiles. People who are using Instagram as a business still have access to important metrics when looking for people to work with, people can still see what is trending (e.g. fashion bloggers) while people with personal accounts won’t be exposed to metrics that don’t worry them.
Roll out world wide invisibility of likes, rather than to a select few countries. It seems bizarre that while likes are now hidden for a few countries, that the rest of the world can see them. This affects audience relationships as if you’ve got followers from different parts of the world, while some may not see your likes, others will and a reduced engagement rate makes them less likely to engage with your posts organically.
I’d absolutely love to hear your thoughts on Instagram making likes non-visible, and whether this is a clever advertising ploy or a true stand for mental health. You can follow my own Instagram journey HERE, and also join the conversation on my stories.