Those cute little Instagram hearts aren’t just sweet, they’re strategic – and now they’re at the center of what could be a major shift in social media marketing.
Earlier this year, Instagram began hiding like counts on posts in several countries. Decision-makers at Facebook’s image-focused sibling site explained it as a test of a feature that would bring the focus of the platform back to content shared, instead of popularity gained.
Before we dive into the (possibly) heart-breaking consequences of this decision, we should note that, even in regions where automatically displayed like counts have been eliminated, it’s still possible for Instagram account holders to view the number of likes on their posts. However, when their followers are scrolling and see a post in their feed, where previously it would have shown a specific number of likes accrued, it now reads: “Liked by @SpecificUsername and others.” In order to view who else liked the post, an extra step of clicking on the word “others” is necessary, and even then the action would only reveal an unnumbered list of usernames.
As of the date of this blog, Canada’s Instagram users have had this feature in place for several months. It’s also being tested for some users in Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New Zealand. While Instagram is mum on if or when the United States may experience testing or even a full rollout of the feature, it’s important to explore how hiding likes may impact the interaction between Instagram users and businesses using content, digital and social media marketing.
How Instagram Likes Affect Marketing, Millennials & Gen-Z
While Instagram is extremely popular among a variety of age groups, statistics show that it’s most popular among younger generations. Instagram has close to one billion users and around two out of every three of them is between the ages of 18 and 29. In fact, among members of the Millenial and Gen-Z generations, it’s often considered unusual not to have an Instagram account. For many, the platform has become the primary means of staying in contact with friends and even meeting new people. Owing to this social prominence, Instagram is also widely viewed as a barometer of popularity.
The like button on Instagram is hit an average of 4.2 billlion times a day. That means 4.2 billion affirmations, in the form of a tiny red heart, that a piece of content shared is worth noticing. If a posted photo – a club sandwich, for instance – has few likes compared to another – perhaps a double bacon cheeseburger — it’s an instant indicator that one pictured product, person or menu item just wasn’t as interesting (or likely to sell as many units) as another. For a company using social media marketing, this data is clearly invaluable. But what if the posted picture is personal?
For a young person struggling with the pressure to be liked, Instagram may be harmful to their mental health. In fact, a study from 2017 found that Instagram had the most negative impact on mental health in young people when compared to other apps. When this study made headlines, it sparked criticism and an outcry for Instagram to make changes.
How Brands Can Leverage Instagram Without Likes
With Millennials now in their 20s and 30s and Gen-Z entering their 20s, each generation wields a lot of buying power. They are also widely known to place great value upon a brand’s social media presence and image. Companies wishing to market to these age groups can tap into the power of social media to drive revenue and create a better customer experience. Instagram is often a great place to start, with brands seeing 10 times higher engagement rates on the platform compared to Facebook. And likes aren’t the only way to achieve marketing goals with Instagram.
Be an Expert Listener
If your followers can no longer see the number of likes a post receives, it’s possible they will feel less inclined to “heart” your picture themselves. This could hinder your company’s ability to gauge what kind of content your followers appreciate. To help combat this, become an expert listener! This key skill involves avoiding assumptions about what your target audience wants, conducting extensive research, being flexible and sometimes simply giving your marketing strategy enough time to produce results. So-called social listening may not be as quick and easy as counting Instagram likes, but it can be extremely useful in creating meaningful digital content for your audience.
Focus on Quality Over Quantity
A young target audience doesn’t want to see more than a couple of posts per day from your brand. In fact, too much content pushed out from a single account may cause them to hit that unfollow button. As such, try to share quality, curated content that will keep your followers interested. Add value to their feed, whether through information, entertainment or a sense of connection – and minimize sales pitches.
Engage Through Comments
While the like count may be going away, the comment count seems to be staying put. Comments can engage Instagram users when they see how many people are responding to a brand’s posts via comments from both a numbers standpoint (how many comments?) and a content standpoint (what do those comments say?). Try adding a call to action in your post description such as: “Lunch, Dinner or Midnight Snack? Comment below and tell us when you crave our Double Baconator!” And of course, to complete the engagement loop and maintain brand authenticity, you should also have employees or a marketing agency tasked with commenting back. Instagram users, especially Gen-Z, expect quick, helpful engaging feedback. Give the users what they want!
Use Instagram Stories
Instagram stories are a great addition to your digital marketing strategy. Not only do these ephemeral or disappearing posts have nothing to do with like counts, but they are extremely popular with younger generations. A story can be as simple as a quick snap of a juicy burger flip (we’re sticking with this meaty metaphor), or asking your followers to visit your website to see a new feature. Instagram makes adding gifs, hashtags, filters and emojis to stories simple, and this will make them more eye-catching.
In closing, while the ability to show off like counts may be going away, there are still many ways that Instagram can be useful as a digital marketing and storytelling tool. At the end of the day, it’s important to recognize that guarding the mental health of social media users is a more valuable goal than marketing to them. As ethical marketing professionals, we can always find better ways to reach our audiences in ways that won’t cause them harm.
LuckyTamm Digital Marketing has created social media strategies for a wide variety of clients. We can custom tailor a plan that includes Instagram to fit your unique brand. If you’re ready for some help with your social media strategy, get in touch with us today! #LetsTellYourStory