Why Instagram has really killed likes

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Instagram’s move to stop displaying “likes” on posts on the social media platform in Australia has been welcomed by entrepreneur Sarah Holloway.

“It is a great way to democratize the landscape, there are some accounts with crazy numbers that are disheartening for other users,” she says. “It’s hard to keep everyone engaged and excited with the platform if they feel crap about it all the time.”

Sarah Holloway, founder of Matcha Maiden

With 62,000 followers on her personal Instagram account, Holloway is an expert on successfully leveraging the social media platform to build a business.

Her online matcha business Matcha Maiden (89,000 followers) and cafe Matcha Mylkbar (84,000 followers) turn over more than $2 million a year and she’s carefully monitoring the impact of Instagram’s move.


Instagram describes the change as a “test” and is emphasizing the impact on users’ wellbeing, with Instagram previously ranking as the worst social media platform for users mental health.

Mia Garlick, director of policy for Facebook in Australia and New Zealand, says limiting likes so users can only see their own likes is to ensure Instagram is a place where people feel comfortable expressing themselves.

Mia Garlick, Facebook Australia head of policy

“We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love,” she says. “We are now rolling the test out to Australia, so we can learn more about how this can benefit people’s experiences on Instagram, and whether this change can help people focus less on likes and more on telling their story.”

Garlick says the test is driven by Instagram’s commitment to wellbeing.

“We are rethinking the whole experience of Instagram to address issues around wellbeing and to ensure the Instagram community has a positive experience on our platform,” she says.

Hobbling influencers

However, many users believe the change is focused on garnering more advertising rather than concerns for people’s feelings.

Dr Belinda Barnet, senior lecturer in media at Swinburne University of Technology, says she is “100 percent sure” that Instagram has a strong business case to remove likes.

You don’t play around with likes just to make people think you care about mental health.

Belinda Barnet

“I’m also 100 percent sure that business case did not include ‘improve the mental health’ of users,” she says. “It’s a big move and so they’d have a very good financial or strategic reason for doing so. I don’t think they would make such a risky move for the purpose of public relations. You don’t play around with likes just to make people think you care about mental health.”

Barnet says the “influencer economy”, where people charge businesses money to post about them on Instagram, is an area the platform wants to tap into.

“Instagram influencers can make hundreds of thousands of dollars a post, depending on who you are talking about, and those transactions take place outside the platform,” she says. “It’s not the end of influencers because you can still see how many followers people have, but the instantaneous public success of posts will certainly take a hit.”

Creating a premium product

Barnet says likes are still visible for advertisers and businesses, so the “like economy” becomes a premium product for businesses.

“Down the track, it’s a possibility they might hide followers unless you are a business page or advertiser as well,” she says. “This is hobbling the people who make money from the platform without compensating the platform itself, namely influencers.”

Garlick says unlike standard users, businesses will have clear visibility of likes on Instagram.

“For businesses and creators on Instagram, this test will not affect measurement tools like Insights or Ads Manager,” she says. “Businesses will have access to the same engagement metrics and reporting tools as before the test.”

An Instagram friendly photo of bread loaves

A positive result

Holloway says the most likes she has ever received on a post is 8000 and she has noticed a slight decrease in the number of likes her posts have received since Instagram implemented its change.

She is undeterred by the reasoning behind Instagram’s change.

“Even if it is not necessarily altruistic I think it will have a positive impact and lead to more diverse content rather than the type of posts that just get a lot of likes,” she says. “It will probably push brands to advertise through Instagram so they can see those insights. I don’t care why they do it if the end result is positive.”

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Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

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