At the end of last week, Instagram announced that it will start hiding the number of likes on posts in several countries. Following a successful trial in Canada, the platform is extending the new functionality to Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Italy, Japan and Brazil. It’s expected that if this receives further positive feedback that it will roll out globally in the coming months.

Currently, all Instagram posts can be ‘liked’ by tapping a heart-shaped icon and the number of ‘likes’ is displayed alongside the post. In this new move, Instagram will mask the total, with Instagrammers only able to see “@joebloggs and others like this”. Users will still be able to view metrics on their own posts.

So far the news has had a mixed reception but the question on everyone’s lips is what impact will this have? First, on brands, secondly for influencers and finally, for the average user.

Here are my predictions on the change.

What does it mean for brands?

Instagram has confirmed that measurement tools for businesses will remain unchanged. While the number of likes will no longer be publicly visible, it will be recorded in the analytics dashboard and users will also still be able to view the list of people who liked other people’s content by clicking into it. Instagram has also started rolling out more e-commerce integration with its Instagram Checkout, allowing users to buy products without leaving the platform. So other than for vanity purposes, it shouldn’t have too much of an effect on branded content and how people interact with it.

Change in engagements

There have been a few commentators saying that this could be the end of engagement as we know it on Instagram. There is no doubt that social proof has a large part to play – with users liking posts influenced by their peers’ actions. However, the process of liking posts on Instagram is second-nature to users, and many will be conditioned to take this action. Facebook previously changed its promotion guidelines and banned Pages from hosting competitions that encouraged users to share the post. However, people had been so used to seeing ‘like and share’ competitions that many will still carry out this action on competition posts, even if it’s not a requirement. If the content genuinely resonates with users, then I think they will continue to like posts as they have always done and we may even see an increase in comments, with people wanting to visibly demonstrate their support (or their displeasure).

The rise of Instagram Stories and IGTV

Alongside the traditional Instagram feed, there are 300 million active daily users of Instagram Stories – a feature that allows users to post photos and videos that vanish after 24 hours. Following the success of Stories, Instagram launched IGTV, a video platform designed to rival YouTube and attract the vlogger market. While video has long been an acceptable format on Instagram, IGTV allows users to post longer video content up to an hour in length. The biggest indicator of success for both formats is views, so the metrics will remain completely unaffected.

Influencer marketing

As soon as the news was announced last week, many predicted this would be ‘the death of the influencer’. However, I disagree. I’m not a fan of influencer marketing but personal preferences aside, I don’t see this move affecting the industry very much. Instagram Stories has been designed with the influencer in mind with features such as ‘Swipe Up’ available to users with 10k+ fans and one in three Instagram posts containing #ad being a Story.

An improvement in mental health?

A 2017 study by the Royal Society for Public Health found that Instagram was the worst social media platform when it comes to its impact on young people’s mental health. Instagram was keen to point out in its statement,

“We want your friends to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get.”

Likes have traditionally been a form of public kudos that you’re ‘living your best life’, with some spending hours researching the most Instagrammable spots, whether it be a café, bar or nature trail with an enviable vista, before heading out.

I find it hard to believe that this mindset can be cured overnight and it may actually cause more anxiety for users who rely on these likes to build their self-esteem. There is no denying that social media has exacerbated mental health problems but ‘trolls’ will still have the ability to leave negative comments on posts.

So, what’s the verdict? I don’t think removing likes is going to fundamentally change the popularity of the platform and we’ll probably see a shift from users and brands to focus on different objectives such as comments, video views and e-commerce conversions as a measure of success.

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