Instagram feature hiding likes impacts student influencers, local businesses

Wednesday, December 4, 2019 - 3:22pm

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Design by Christine Jegarl

For Business junior Dajana Korcari, Instagram is more than just a social outlet. As a brand ambassador for several companies including Tinder and Ulta Beauty Instagram is also her job. Koracari, an influencer, relies on revenue from her posts. But potential changes to Instagram’s format could impact her work on campus.

Instagram has started testing a new feature where users will no longer be able to see the number of likes on other users’ photos. Users will still be able to see the people who liked the post and the number of likes on their own photos, but no definite number will be attached to photos and videos posted for others to see. 

While Korcari does not think that getting rid of likes will stop her from working as a brand ambassador, but said it would change how companies work with Instagram influencers. 

“I think brands are going to come up with a different way to choose who they work with,” Korcari said. “However, with the brands I’ve worked with so far, most of them have been with me posting rather than amount of likes I get on a picture.”

Instagram had been testing the new feature in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New Zealand as early as April 2019. 

In an email, Seine Kim, product communications lead at Instagram, said the company began a global expansion of the test eliminating the option to view likes on photos and videos on Nov. 14, including in the U.S. market.

“While the feedback from early testing has been positive, this is a fundamental change to Instagram, and so we’re continuing our test to learn more from our global community,” Kim wrote. 

The results from other countries who have undergone the testing have been positive according to Kim, but creators are still concerned about how the change will impact their work through the app. In response to concern regarding influencers, Instagram has said the company is evaluating ways to ensure creators are able to keep their sponsorships. 

As the implementation of the feature expands, some users are finding ways to get around it to show off their likes. 

LSA freshman Lucas Felpi is an international student from São Paulo, Brazil. Felpi’s Instagram account is verified as a result of internet fame from being of the few students to receive a perfect score on the National High School Exam in Brazil. Instagram had started testing the new feature in Brazil months before Felpi left for Michigan. Even after coming to the United States, the version of the app on his phone still does not show likes on his posts.

Felpi said being unable to see likes did not affect how often people used Instagram in Brazil and predicted that it will have a bigger effect in the United States.

“From my knowledge, I don’t think it changed,” Felpi said. “I don’t think anyone uninstalled Instagram because of it. I don’t think usage stopped. I think it has the same importance as it had before, but it was like an enforcement that they’re not gonna have likes anymore and people complained for like a week or a few days and then it was over. Everyone just continued using it. I think this is going to be bigger here. I don’t think the use is changing because Instagram has a strong, solid user base and people are not letting go now.”

As an alternative, Felpi said users were posting the number of likes a post got on their Instagram stories, since they were able to see the number of likes on their own posts. 

However, some influencers think the change will significantly impact users. Business sophomore Alyson Koh, who runs the food account @AllySnacks, believes this new feature will be detrimental to Instagram’s business model.

“To be honest, I think it’s detrimental to Instagram’s business model because if people don’t have that measurable statistic, what is Instagram going to do next?” Koh said. “I actually appreciate their move toward wellness and mental health with their platform because it makes people more self-conscious when it should just be about the picture and the gallery of photos you are posting and not how many people are viewing it. But I think people think will jump to another platform instead if they don’t have the concrete measurement of statistics. I think it will affect it in a sense that people will not use Instagram as often, but I think that the people who stay will still be there for the content.”

Korcari agreed. She thinks a new app will come up in response to Instagram getting rid of likes. 

“This might cause for another app to come out to try to do what Instagram was doing. If another app does come out, then I believe people will jump on that like how people left Facebook or Twitter to jump on Instagram,” Korcari said. “However, I’m interested to see if taking away the likes is going to increase the use of Instagram or decrease it. I feel like it could go either way.”

Kim said the testing is still going on and that there is no set date for this new feature to be released.

“We are testing and have yet to come to a final decision about private like counts,” Kim wrote.

Businesses themselves have also used Instagram to promote their products through exposure through social media influencers and advertisements. Bivouac is one of those companies which emphasizes social media in their marketing. While Instagram’s new feature may not affect how Bivouac markets its products, there are concerned about the use of other businesses marketing with Instagram.

Coco Herreria, a social media manager at Bivouac, said she thinks Instagram has been moving towards forcing businesses to purchase ads since they first launched. Herreria noted Instagram has changed the algorithm to control what photos are being viewed by users. She added that getting rid of likes could negatively affect businesses. 

“That doesn’t really shock me,” Herreria said. “Instagram, since it’s come out, had been moving toward forcing businesses to boost and buy ad space. I feel like originally when it was around, that wasn’t as necessary. It was just like a really nice tool to get more exposure for your company… Especially with this change in the algorithm, and with the change coming up, it’s just going to create more areas for companies to buy ad space.” 

According to Kim, revenue was not a factor in getting rid of visible likes on photos.

“Encouraging ad purchases has not been, and will not be, a motivating factor for the test,” Kim said. 

Kim explained the purpose of testing this new feature is to make their platform a better environment for people to express themselves. 

“We are testing this because we want Instagram to be a place where people feel comfortable expressing themselves. This includes helping people focus on the photos and videos they share, not how many likes they get,” Kim said. “We hope the testing will reduce the pressure around like counts, because we’ve heard feedback from the community that this affects what they choose to share on Instagram.”

LSA sophomore Isabella Malatesta, owner of the handle @IAm.Becoming on Instagram, said the mental health of Instagram users is more important than the business model and for that, she appreciates what Instagram is trying to accomplish.

“I personally love it,” Malatesta said. “I think it’s really cool... I feel like I judge the worth of my page and how well I’m doing based on the number of likes when there’s a lot of other factors that go into how many likes you get… I’ll just be more proud of what I’m posting rather than how proud I am being determined on a number that’s associated with likes.”