With the platform recently eclipsing one billion users, it's clear Instagram has become the hottest star across the social media landscape. Much of this is thanks to the app's continued practice of testing and releasing new, innovative features.
One Instagram's latest tests included a leaked design prototype that keeps the number of Likes on posts hidden from public view, as first reported by TechCrunch. While Instagram hasn't yet confirmed if the update will be rolled out, the obvious reasoning behind the feature is to combat the "popularity contest" common on the platform by stripping away the weight of vanity metrics.
Instagram is testing hiding like count from audiences,-- Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) April 18, 2019
as stated in the app: "We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get" pic.twitter.com/MN7woHowVN
While the intention behind the feature is well and good, let's not forget that Likes and other such metrics are what creators, marketers and brands alike use to gauge general customer sentiment on a variety of issues. Without an open, accurate, and binary measure of success, Instagram risks losing much of the advertising momentum it's received in recent years with strategic updates like the Checkout feature, shoppable product tags and more.
Here are a handful of implications the feature, along with the agenda behind it, could hold for entrepreneurs who use Instagram to promote their businesses.
1. Don't ever go "all in" on a social media platform.
First and foremost, this update emphasizes how you should never go "all in" on any one social media platform, even if it's riding as high a wave as Instagram has been. One or two seemingly small decisions made from a boardroom in Silicon Valley could drastically alter how viable a platform is for promoting your services.
Instead, use social media platforms as "pollination" tools to build up your email list (an asset a hell of a lot more stable than any one app) in addition to your own website.
2. Instagram Stories will become more important.
Since it hit the market, Instagram Stories has absolutely dominated it's ephemeral competitors -- with over 500 million daily users now using the feature. The main reason Instagram co-founder, Kevin Systrom, originally released Stories was to fill a void within their core product. Before Stories, Instagram was naturally a "highlight reel" showcasing the very best moments of user's lives. With Stories, Instagram can provide a space where people show their less filtered, "in-between" moments.
This distances the app from its ego-driven, filter-heavy roots. If this is indeed the direction Instagram is going, it means the company will continue to push Stories in new ways, whether with fresh updates or further prioritizing it with its algorithm. If you aren't already actively using Instagram Stories in your marketing efforts, start now.
3. Less metrics means less marketing dollars.
Without widespread analytics and success metrics, even the hottest social media platforms won't receive the marketing and advertising dollars they deserve from brands, large and small. If Likes, comments and other engagement metrics are hidden -- either for publishers or users -- decision makers may begin to look elsewhere for alternative outlets less nuanced when it comes to deciding where to allocate their marketing budgets and bandwidth.
With click-through rates on Instagram already being abysmal, most marketers have come to terms with thinking of the platform as a builder of brand awareness as opposed to a viable sales engine. Hiding Likes will only act to chip away at this value-add entirely.
4. Less metrics means a poorer user experience.
Trying to cut back on "herd mentality", as it relates to users deciding which content they engage with, goes against human nature. It only makes sense for users to engage with content tons of others have already engaged with. We use social proofing to subconsciously curate good content from bad content the same way we use it when choosing to buy a NY Times Bestseller over a new release.
No one person has enough time or energy to sift through all the content online and determine whether it's quality or crap, so we look for shortcuts. Seeing a high number of Likes is one such shortcut for many users, and taking that away could make for a much more cumbersome, clunky user experience.
In my opinion, the market is what ultimately decides what to do with your product. While you certainly can engineer an app to influence user behavior, at the end of the day, once it's out in the world it takes on a life of its own.
Ever since the executive shakeup at Instagram, which resulted in both original founders resigning only to be replaced by loyalists to their parent company, Facebook, the future of Instagram has been cloudy at best. If Instagram continues to move forward with this feature, as well as others that drift away from what made it such a special product in the first place, it could very well have big-time consequences for the entrepreneurs who use the platform to grow their businesses, as well as the users who use it for leisure. Let's hope they don't stray off the path.