While still in the trial phase, Instagram likes are quickly becoming a thing of the past with Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Brazil, Ireland, Japan, Italy and most recently the United States all going like-free. But what does this mean for social media users? Instagram is a platform that has traditionally traded in likes. As the be-all and end-all, likes have previously been used as currency and were the make or break of an Instagram profile’s success. That is a lot of pressure on a statistic that doesn’t do much more than boost egos or tear them down. Why is Instagram hiding likes? Moving further away from the competitiveness and demanding nature that was evolving on the platform, Instagram is heading back to its roots, putting the focus on creativity, spontaneity and storytelling. Sharing will become less about posting to get likes, and likes will be given only to deserving posts rather than liking behaviour based on who has already liked and the number of likes already existing on a posted image or video. As Instagram states in its app notification for users who are part of the trial, “We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get.” This step is also a means of combating mental health issues stemming from the platform. There has been a lot of talk about the ways in which social media is bad for us and they all seem to come to the same conclusion: they negatively impact our mental health. Bringing on feelings of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, loneliness and isolation in many users. This is particularly worrisome for the young users on the platform. Hiding likes is a step being taken by Instagram (and Facebook) to improve the quality and safety of people’s time on their platforms. While this is important for younger users of social media, it is also a move that will aim to protect influencers on the platform who are subjected to judgement by a huge quantity of people every day. As the Head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri says, “The idea is to try and depressurise Instagram, make it less of a competition, give people more space to focus on connecting with people that they love, things that inspire them.” This change is already seeing an impact across the platform, with feeds splitting in two distinct directions: those using the platform to reflect Tumblr or blog vibes; and those users who post on the fly creating genuine posts rather than high curated highlight reels. Or even better, those who are using two profiles to do both, such as Australian influencer Jadé Tuncdoruk on her profiles @jadetunchy and @therealjadetunchy. Whichever style reflects your feed, there has been a more general shift towards storytelling-style captions. And it has been generally observed that caption lengths are growing as users crave insight and honesty. How will hidden likes work? While like counts won’t be completely gone, they will be hidden from public view. If you post a photo, your followers or anyone who stumbles across your page won’t be able to see the number of likes. But you will still have access to this statistic regardless of whether you have a personal, creator or business page. “As you scroll through your feed, there are no like counts,” Mark Zuckerberg explained at F8, Facebook’s developer conference. “You can see who liked a photo or video, you can tap through to see [the list], and if you have the time you can add them all up yourself.” How will hidden Instagram likes impact your influencer and social brand strategy? Instagram has assured us that this change won’t affect measurement tools for businesses and creators. And all of the analytics and statistics are still accessible. There will however be more of a challenge for new influencers and brands trying to gain traction organically. Like numbers are already trending down with a study by HypeAuditor of over 154,000 Instagram influencers finding that most influencers have lost between 3% and 15% of their likes in countries where likes have been hidden. Here is when those with real Instagram pull will stand out. Social Media Link CEO Susan Frech reaffirms this renewed importance around authenticity, saying, “The future of Instagram will be about authentic influence rather than bloated credit.” In order to be seen or to grow, pages will now have to rely more heavily than ever on boosting posts and paid promotions. Instagram will be effectively cutting into influencer spend. Or, as the Times agency’s Jason Peterson says, “This is only Facebook’s way of owning the influence.” While many have agreed that Instagram is also a business and when using a free platform this should be acceptable, a lot of brands are in an uproar. Instagram wants a bigger piece of the pie when it comes to generating revenue. On the other hand, there has been an influx of support from influencers across many industries. While brands can still (and should) request a media kit from any influencer they plan on working with, this change also puts more of a focus on the type of content that influencers are creating. There is a shift occurring from straight influencer towards content creator. And for creators with real influence they will have less competition with those influencers who have falsely inflated their statistics. Health and wellness influencer @davecoast is excited about the change, saying he hopes this will be a “step in a more authentic direction, where brands start looking at other metrics that derive more meaning, like reach or impressions or saves.” Instead of focusing on vanity metrics such as likes, brands and influencers should instead look at action metrics and quality of content. While hearts might instinctively drop when you see a low like count, to derive true value and success it is more beneficial to look at the saves, shares, profiles views, link clicks and content instead. From a brand perspective, this information will show a bigger picture about the influencer and brand strategy you are about to undertake or have undertaken. And help to guide any decisions moving forward. Key takeaways It seems that the like-free world is here to stay, so if you haven’t already adapted your strategy then you need to quickly. Brands need to do their due diligence when working with influencers but focus on action metrics and content quality when selecting influencers to work with and to measure campaign success. If you have an already booming Instagram presence you may find a plateau in growth or a drop in likes, and if you’re new on the scene or starting from scratch then traction may be slow. The best way to overcome this issue is to utilise paid strategies on the platform, or embark on a multi-channel strategy that helps to grow your organic presence faster. Pick your feed strategy and focus on an aesthetic feed or a spontaneous feed. Brands tend to work better with an aesthetic and curated feed, while lots of influencers are finding success with spontaneity. Whichever strategy you choose, use your captions to express your tone of voice and to share more than ever before.