At the end of April of this year, Instagram dropped a bombshell on its hundreds of millions of followers. They announced that they’d be running a test in certain markets wherein posts would fail to show the number of likes it had received. Essentially, the one forward-facing metric of a “successful” post would be taken away from users – and people started freaking out.
Instagram was quick to claim that this test was for the benefit of all their users. In order to enable the new no-visible-likes feature, a pop-up assures the user that Instagram “want[s] your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get.” With a greater emphasis on the qualitative value of posts over the quantitative value of it, Instagram believes their app will benefit the mental health and well-being of its users. Science Alert speculates that while this feature might help certain people who struggle with social media-related anxiety and depression, it can negatively affect the creative currency likes provide to a photographer or artist unsure of their work. Additionally, what if the number of comments a post receives becomes the new marker of quantitative success in place of likes? Then it seems this fix is only temporary.
Other publications sense that Instagram is being much less benevolent than they want us to believe; the main motivator for devaluing likes on a post may be a new way to harm influencers who profit off the Instagram app. Kylie Jenner, for example, has over 144 million Instagram followers and reportedly earns up to $1 million per paid post from sponsors, brands, and advertisers – yet Instagram fails to receive even the slightest cut from each of those pay days. Now, the platform is encouraging more brands to work through them via their in-app advertising tools in order to reach their desired audience.
Inc. speculates that this new feature constitutes a failure of re-design, and will encourage crucial key players to jump ship, much like how one negative tweet about Snapchat from Kylie Jenner back in early 2018 tanked the company’s stock by 6% overnight. Clearly, social media apps gain worth by the influencers and celebrities that use their platform. And perhaps Instagram understands this fact more than we think; Complex has been quick to point out that none other than Kanye West tweeted just last year that “we should be able to participate in social media without having to show how many followers or likes we have. […] This has a negative impact on our self worth.” Did Instagram actually take Kanye’s tweet in consideration? Do they believe that, unlike Snapchat, their worth doesn’t come from the high-profile influencers that use their platform?
While this new change might feel like an insurmountable roadblock for influencers, one thing is for certain. If users continue to create meaningful and quality content for their audience, then those people will stick around. Smart companies who understand true social media currency will recognize quality content when they see it. Content creators who prioritize making strong, valuable content first and foremost will continue to succeed regardless of the platform’s changes – and that’s the best type of social currency anyone should hope for.