As of May 2019, Instagram started to trial removing “likes” on users’ posts in seven different countries, with the aim of benefitting “everyone’s experience on Instagram”. This drastic change, piloted by the social media giant, sparked mixed reactions amongst users across the Internet. Think - the change way back in 2016 from chronologically ordering posts to an algorithm-based preference system - but on steroids.
Many consider that the removal of “likes” is unnecessary and against the will of its users, whilst others believe it will benefit the overall Instagram experience and act as a vital step in improving people’s mental health. There’s no denying Instagram needed to take some sort of action, since a study published by the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health revealed that Instagram is regarded as the most dangerous social media platform for young people’s mental health.
In the eyes of Insta-critics, the platform has morphed into an expanding world of influencers who encourage the consumption of planet-destroying fast fashion brands and businesses who try to flog appetite-suppressing, diarrhoea-inducing diet lollipops. People are no longer viewing Instagram as a channel to share their lives and memorable experiences. Instead, they have drifted away from the purpose of the platform, and are desperately trying to break into the Insta-elite by obsessing over vanity metrics such as “likes”.
Maybe some sort of change is overdue.
Aside from influencers, it is important to look at what the potential removal of “likes” could mean for small businesses, which rely mostly on channels such as Instagram to increase brand awareness and public reach.
In reality, the effects on small businesses could go one of two ways.
On the one hand, smaller businesses could find it more difficult to gain momentum and expand their social media presence. On the other hand, this significant change could make it easier to compete with bigger, more established brands since users will no longer be able to compare one page to another based on that powerful double-tap.
So, let’s have a look in more detail at the disadvantages and advantages that the removal of “likes” might entail for small businesses.
1) Removal of a key metric
With 25 million business profiles globally, Instagram has become a breeding ground for businesses of all sizes. All are constantly searching to expand their social media presence and boost user engagement through “likes” and comments. For all businesses on Instagram, whether big or small, “likes”: are a key metric for analysing overall performance.
However, it is said that users could be actually less inclined to double tap a photo when they can’t see if anyone else has. Since 2016, Instagram has revolved around a “likes-based” algorithm which determines what users see on their feed and Explore pages. This could mean bad news for small businesses, which sometimes rely on users’ “likes” on their posts not just to measure success, but also to gain momentum and boost sales.
2) Advertising will become a “must”
It’s all fine and dandy that Instagram justifies the removal of “likes” in order to improve users’ mental health and make the social platform “a better place”. But us, techies, see right through this. Realistically, it’s a clever ploy by Instagram to bring in more money from advertisements. Plus, if Instagram really did want to improve user’s mental health, surely, they should just roll out this change exclusively on personal accounts?
Put frankly, if small businesses want to be visible on Instagram without “likes”, they would need to splash more cash on paid ads, so that they could have a better chance of appearing on users’ feeds. Today, the average price of a digital ad costs 12% more than it did just two years ago. As this cost will inevitably rise further due to higher demand following the removal of “likes”, small businesses without the budget for social media spending will struggle to compete against those who have the big bucks to advertise.
3) Is purchasing followers the only way to compete?
All over Instagram nowadays, it seems that there is an epidemic of brands and influencers purchasing “likes” in order to increase the popularity of their posts and general reach. I mean, don’t we all have someone on our feed who has one comment from their mum on a post, but still magically rakes in 3000 “likes”? Although the proposed changes will make bought “likes” meaningless, perhaps users and businesses will revert to buying followers to build their presence instead, as the importance of this metric will increase given its visibility on people’s profiles.
This will likely decrease the transparency factor on the platform - something that social media outlets (*cough* Instagram’s parent company, Facebook *cough*) have been heavily criticised in the past couple of years. It is a lose-lose situation for Instagram, really.
1) Small businesses encouraged to rethink marketing strategies
As I said previously, we won’t know the exact consequences of the removal of “likes” on small businesses until Instagram rolls out the change globally. As much as it could be a danger to small businesses on the platform, it could also be super beneficial.
Perhaps the removal of vanity metrics as a measure of success will encourage small businesses to treat Instagram as a tool, rather than an “entire marketing sphere”. No brand should solely rely on user engagement on Instagram as a way of expanding, and maybe this change will make small businesses think creatively in re-evaluating their marketing and growth strategies.
In this way, the removal of “likes” may serve as a leeway for brands to experiment with new types of content, or rather, content that previously may not have been as “likeable”, as they don’t have to worry about deleting posts due to lack of engagement.
2) Creation of a brand community
How many times have you scrolled down Instagram, double tapping on posts, without giving it a second thought? On the other hand, when we write comments telling our friend how great she looks with her new haircut, we think.
If Instagram users do become less inclined to like posts as predicted, maybe they’ll turn to commenting as a new standard way of interacting . This new wave of proactive engagement through direct communication on comments leaves businesses a space to create a sense of community on their posts, and replace the current, shallow community governed by “likes”.
Small businesses will be able to focus on creating better quality content and interact more personally with users. In turn, Instagram will become a platform with improved and more enjoyable content, which is why everyone fell in love with the app in the first place.
3) Brands can align with better-suited influencers
With clearer identities and purposes, it’ll be easier for small businesses to align with influencers to promote their brand who actually follow similar objectives and morals to them. The days of headhunting potential brand promoters solely based on the number of “likes” they receive will be over. Fingers crossed, we’ll see the end of influencers’ endlessly promoting gum-eroding teeth whitening products, when we all know they have £20,000 veneers.
If Instagram decides to roll out the removal of “likes” globally and you’re worried about the success of your business, here’s what you need to do:
1) Get creative. Spend time on developing and bettering your content strategy, in order to stand out positively against other competing brands.
2) Engage, engage, engage! Be sure to interact with users who comment on your posts personally, in order to create a sense of community on your page. Consider a tone of voice which you’ll apply in your responses.
3) Reach out to influencers. Not just anyone, research and find influencers who align with your brand and follow similar objectives to you.
4) Consider devoting some of your budget to advertisements. It may be harder to compete with other brands, so have a look at your spending and think about allocating some money to Instagram advertisements, especially if you are a new business to Instagram and are looking to gain some momentum.
How are you thinking about your social strategy? Slide into our DMs, or give us a call to see how we can help!