It was 10:32pm on 17 July 2019.
Instagram, as we knew it, would never be the same again.
The rumours had been confirmed.
The social media platform had just rolled out its newest feature: testing out hiding the number of likes on posts. They claimed the change would be implemented to shift the focus from numbers back to content and that the outcome will ‘benefit everyone’s experience on the app’.
A considerable % of the platform’s 700 million users weren’t so convinced.
The announcement was first made public back in May when Instagram rolled out it’s an initial test across Canada. The user experience essentially remained the same. The majority of Instagram users were unaffected and continued to use the app just as much as before.
The news spread like wildfire and users, mainly influencers and brands, started to feel the heat. But, what happens when this is rolled out to an additional six markets and hundreds of millions more accounts?
It was 2016 when Instagram announced the first major shakeup to its algorithm – removing the chronological feed. Users hated the change so much, it’s still a hotly-discussed topic today. The new ranking system saw the number of likes and comments prioritised over the content or community. The more likes and comments a post had, the more likely it was to be seen by people. It was a classic case of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.
Some of the sharper influencers and brands quickly clocked on to what this could mean for them: the more followers they had to engage with their posts, the more reach they would have too. The result was the rise of the fake follower and likes phenomenon, proving that you really can buy literally anything on the internet.
Likes and follower count quickly became regarded as untrustworthy but influencers looked to cheat the system and capitalise on this any way they could. The discussion around this style of influencer culture soon became widespread and brands were immediately more aware that it was now more important to focus on engagement as a whole (e.g. followers, likes and comments) rather than just one of these metrics.
These days, brands are learning more about this and the role of the micro vs macro influencer. The bottom line is this: there is more value for brands to collaborate with smaller accounts who have higher engagement, are generally cheaper to work with and provide a better ROI compared to well-known influencers with celebrity status who cost a hell of a lot and whose audiences are much larger, but filled with few who genuinely engage with their content.
After implementing yet another feature to remove the number of bots and fake accounts being used to try and beat the new algorithm, Instagram is now faced with reversing the competition culture created by the removal of the chronological feed. They say that the proposed hidden likes feature will combat the bullying culture that currently exists across the app.
So what does it mean then for influencers and brands when the rate of engagement suddenly becomes inaccessible? Will follower count become the most important figure again? Surely, we all know by now that faking the number of followers you have is way too easy. We like to think that most brands and agencies are aware of that too.
We predict that the rise in popularity of Instagram Stories will only continue and become the most important tool for influencers and brands alike. It is estimated that over 500 million Instagram users use Stories every single day and one-third of the most-viewed Stories are from businesses. We know that Instagram is using stats like this to push the Stories function and invest a lot more time and money to make things like shopping through the platform easier for everyone.
Ultimately, influencers will now, more than ever before, be able to work with and promote brands using only Instagram Stories. This means the role of the permanent feed may move back to a more organic space where users post whatever they want, whenever they want.
Whatever happens, we’re sure that this can mean only one thing – more content, more users and more screen time. Isn’t that Instagram’s goal, after all? As for brands, our advice is to work on creating as many influencer relationships as possible now – that will last beyond the hidden likes feature and any other algorithmic changes Instagram has up its sleeve for the future.