In a social media-fuelled world, engagement and follower count reign supreme as social currency. For brands, they provide a tangible touchpoint, an insight into the psyche of the consumer – what they’re loving or loathing – with an immediacy never experienced in the pre-Instagram era. This opened up new doors for brands, allowing the monetization of influence and the opportunity to create a viral piece of content that carries the weight of numbers. Then, one sunny Thursday in July 2019, the tallied number of likes on each post disappeared.

Instagram toyed with the idea back in April as a response to an onslaught of negative media regarding the platform's harmful effects on mental health, testing a like-less prototype on a number of Canadian accounts and hoping followers would adapt to "focus on what they share, not how many likes they get.” Today the change went live Australia-wide across selected personal and business accounts. Photos still appear on the feed but the like count is missing, available only for the owner of the account.

What does this mean for brands?

Since its creation in 2010, Instagram has rewritten the rules for digital marketing on repeat. It’s created space to build personality, providing a platform for brand messaging that speaks to relevant, targeted customers and build community. For brands willing to invest in the platform, the opportunities were endless, allowing promotion of products and events targeted to an audience as wide or narrow as your budget allowed. Through all this change, likes have been a constant gauge for how content is being received. Posts with likes gained instant authority, those without indicating something was amiss – was there a way to communicate the messaging in a more engaging way? These are the insights we work towards with brands every day, helping social accounts cut through the clutter with enticing visual content.

How will we evolve in a likeless world?

Before you get your fingers in a fuddle, the change is only temporary. A trial, if you will. It’s still possible to like images, and brands can still see how many likes their posts have garnered. It’s unlikely to affect the algorithm – Instagram will continue to prioritise and cater feed content to the individual, based on high engagement or past activity. However, it does speak to larger trends in the social sphere. Individual behaviour might be the first thing to adjust. Will users be as likely to ‘like’ if they can’t see the eventual count? This could, in turn, dissuade comments and engagement, altering how the algorithm understands our interests. Or maybe, it could have the opposite effect, people might comment more in order to engage with a brand on a public level.

Ultimately, it signals a change in the role social media plays in our lives. One that could be incredibly positive for brands, if you play your cards (read: content) right. Prioritise imagery and messaging that feels authentic and true, content that speaks to your brand narrative, without the fear of numerical judgement. The removal of pressure - and permanence - can be incredibly freeing, opening up Instagram to be used as it was initially intended: a space to express, connect and inspire.

We will update this as we learn more about these changes.

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