If an influencer’s photo is liked, but the like is not publicly displayed, is the image really liked at all? This is the paradoxical question for today’s generation and marketing industry after Instagram announced the recent decision to remove its “like” counter from its platform in select geographic regions. Further, it remains to be seen how the removal of such a vital platform feature will impact the interaction between fans, brands and the influencers themselves.
So what’s happening here? The answer will depend on where you live, but Instagram is experimenting with the number of “likes” on display and the impact upon mental health. For example, numerous studies have demonstrated how the competitive pursuit of increasing those social media counters can affect self-esteem, particularly among younger users. The removal of the counter may work to remove the incentive to treat social media as a form of numbers-based competition and align more with social collaboration.
The number of image “likes” is no longer in use in Australia, and although users in Canada recently reported seeing the “like” counter back on for a day, the counter is currently off. The intentions here are to protect the social and mental impact for users on Instagram, but the function removal could spell big implications for influencers.
Influencers and brands themselves remain unsure as to what the future will hold for gauging and proving profile interaction. As noted in this article, several industry insiders wondered whether the changes would make it harder for up-and-coming influencers to make their mark, as they would be unable to advertise their popularity through the easy-to-see metric of how many likes each post gets.
"It's going to be really hard for anyone who's starting their account from zero or from a small following," said Jamey-Lee Franz, the client services manager for The Influencer Agency and an influencer himself. "For brands, they're not going to be able to easily see that this person has this many likes and this much engagement. There'll be no base to work with upcoming influencers." Zak Hasleby, an influencer with more than 90,000 followers, said the changes would take away the "backbone" of assessing influence, at least for anyone without an established reputation. "I think it'll be really hard to start being an influencer," he said.
Whatever the impact of the change, it is a timely reminder that social media platforms do have the power to chop and change functionality as they see fit. At the end of the day, they are the ones who call the shots. This can be difficult for agencies, brands and influencers who rely on certain platform use for their livelihoods.