How Instagram Removing Likes Won’t Fix Its Authenticity Problem

In early November, Instagram announced that it would be removing the ability to see likes from posts made by other users. Some businesses and influencers are up in arms about the change. How will they show social proof that their brand is the best, without a like count backing up each and every post? How will businesses know which influencers to hire without being able to see how successful their content is? Many businesses will have to completely overhaul their marketing strategy, and many will simply buy Instagram followers

While some businesses are roiling, other businesses, influencers, and the general public are breathing a sigh of relief. They believe the like count on Instagram has contributed to a toxic culture of comparison, in which users measure their value against the popularity of another user’s post. When you can no longer see how many likes another user gets, it takes performance pressure off. This leads to a more authentic environment where people are free to show more of their real selves and even experiment with more artistic content.

While this change will alter Instagram marketing strategies, it will not change the fact that businesses, influencers, and regular people curate their posts. Instagram’s authenticity problem was there from the beginning, and it never goes away. It just shifts with the times. The removal of Instagram’s likes visibility is another in a series of cultural shifts. 

Then and Now

In the early days of Instagram, users mainly stuck to those perfect moments. Food, pets, and vacations. Maybe the creators intended it to be just that, because the first posts ever to hit Instagram were of dinner, a dog, and a pretty girlfriend having a pretty cocktail. They were candid and blurry; more blurry than anyone would dare to post on Instagram now (unless of course the blur was perfectly titrated with just the right filter).

Even with the snapshot feel of the pictures, where were the shots of two exhausted people who just finished creating their new amazing app? One would imagine that they looked sleep-deprived and messy. Maybe in need of a shower. Still, if they were going for true authenticity from the start, wouldn’t that be the perfect moment to capture and post?

Recently, users have demanded more authentic posting from the businesses and influencers they follow, and each other. On the surface, this has led to more insightful and expressive posting. Businesses started sharing more day-in-the-life, behind-the-scenes, DIY sorts of posts. Influencers let their hair get messy. And users opened up about important personal issues like mental illness.

Though this was a nice start, scratching the surface ever so slightly reveals that many of these posts are just as carefully crafted as the happy customer wearing a brand’s item, the gorgeous dish at a candlelit restaurant, or the selfie on the beach. Those behind-the-scenes moments with employees are often no more candid than a moment with a paid actor, but they have the feel of being more authentic.

Instagram’s growth has slowed over the last couple of years, and perhaps this is part of the reason. People crave real, authentic interaction. Other platforms pop up with promises of something more in-the-moment, and users hop to that platform in the hope that it sticks. 

Instagram is Losing Money by Making Likes Visible

Regardless of Instagram’s recent troubles, there is still an appeal to the platform. It is one of the strongest photo-sharing sites on the Internet and is in the top ten social media sites. Instagram’s one billion users are some of the most engaged users on the internet, spending an average of 53 minutes on the app, uploading 95 million photos every day. 

This new attempt at a freer platform with more space to explore authentic creating is likely more of a marketing ploy by Instagram. Instagram (owned by Facebook) is in the market for the same thing as every other business, and it is not community. 

Instagram offers paid advertising to boost viewership, which boosts brand posts and kicks them up in the algorithm, driving more viewership and engagement. But certain businesses have recently started offering a way to get around the algorithm and sort of “cheat” the system. You can now buy your likes. 

This serves businesses by boosting their rankings (thus viewership) without doing the hard work or paying for ads. And it serves influencers by helping them show social proof to brands. Instagram is essentially losing money by making the number of likes visible by everyone. 

Making Likes Passe

As long as users continue to eat up the safe, proven content currently on Instagram, posts will merely evolve to manipulate Instagram’s algorithms, and not to serve the purpose of the community. Why would anything change, when what is already in place works so well?  

The lack of like visibility will require brands and influencers to create more comment and engagement-driven posts. They will need to find other ways to be seen and get users to participate in their conversation, and while content will likely not become more authentic, its overall quality will continue to improve out of necessity to stand out. 

This is probably a better way of building brand loyalty anyway. When businesses buy Instagram likes, these users are often not even real. Sometimes they are bots, and sometimes they are people who are rewarded in some way for visiting and liking your profile. This means that they are not actually interested and will not be loyal to a brand for very long.

When brands put the effort into finding real people, or buy Instagram followers from companies that work together to build brand identity, they stand out in a crowded field. Brands do not need likes to be visible in order to increase loyalty. They merely need to find followers who are authentically interested in engaging. 

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