How turning ‘likes’ invisible is changing Instagram

Every day, some 95 million photos and videos are uploaded to Instagram. And every day, Instagram users can scroll through those pictures and videos’ 4.2bn ‘likes’.

Or, they could.

In July, Instagram announced it would remove the visible ‘like’ counts in six countries, including Australia and New Zealand, following a trial in Canada. While users can see their own like counts, their followers cannot.

We’re several weeks into the ban – has it changed how Instagram works? Depends on who you ask.

How turning ‘likes’ invisible is changing Instagram

Some Australian influencers criticised the move. Jem Wolfie, a food and fitness influencer from Perth with 2.7 million followers, complained on national radio that Instagram had taken away a critical tool. A young Melbourne Instagrammer, Mikaela Testa, tearily took to YouTube denouncing the platform’s move. Both women were immediately bombarded with jibes from across social and mainstream media to ‘get a real job’ and not to use Instagram followers Generator anymore.

For them, however, and many others, Instagram is a real job. Some, like Australian fitness influencer Kayla Itsines, can amass significant wealth. Itsines, who has nearly 12m followers and a fitness app and program, was reported to be worth more than 46 million Australian dollars ($31 million) last year, combined with her Instagramming fiancé.

Why did Instagram turn likes invisible? To create a “less pressurised environment” and to address mental health concerns for its users, Instagram head Adam Mosseri said at a conference in California earlier this year. Cyberbullying is rampant, and many influencers chase likes to the point of burnout. But some fear the move makes it harder for them to make a living.

Interestingly, a month into the change, many influencers – at least publicly – are welcoming the move, and shrugging off concerns about the threat to their income.

The ‘like’ ban.

How turning ‘likes’ invisible is changing Instagram

Instagram influencers make money by partnering with advertisers to promote their goods within their posts or through temporarily visible ‘Stories’. Influencer Carmen Huter says a general rule of thumb is that a creator with 100,000 followers might be able to ask for $1,000 a post, but that can vary dramatically based on the level of user engagement: the more ‘likes’, comments and shares from their following, the more valuable the influencer.

On Instagram, fitness influencers might promote their own meal-planning programme, a travel influencer might sell prints of their work, or fashion influencers may partner with large lines or brands.

Tammy Hembrow, a fitness and beauty Instagrammer with 9.7 million followers on her main account, has her own athletic line and fitness app, and partners with brands to promote them on her feed. She says that the change had not impacted the way she does business.

Now people focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many ‘likes’ there are – Tammy Hembrow

“‘Likes’ became more of a popularity contest,” she says. “But what I feel companies are really interested in are the impressions and actions taken from the posts.” For example, demographics and locations of her followers, or impressions – how many times a post has been viewed. She also thinks the ‘like’ ban means her followers can better appreciate her work.

“Now people focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many ‘likes’ there are.”

Max Doyle, managing director of a Sydney-based influencer marketing agency, says that it is too early to determine results from the trial, but does forecast “a reduction in engagement” if ‘likes’ are invisible to fans. “And engagement is like digital currency for influencers,” he says. “It will just mean that marketers [working with influencers] will have to be a bit more savvy.”

The days of an influencer simply posing with some chewing gum with a caption about how she loves her fresh minty breath are over, he says. People will need to get more creative: maybe photographing that gum in a beautiful display of the inside of an Instagrammer’s handbag of essential daily items.

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