I’d like to start this article off by saying this: as the vast majority of people that come here to get information, I fully respect the right for private companies to do pretty much whatever they want with their companies. That being said, many people say that as an attempt to deflect criticism that’s well earned. That red herring needs to stop. This article isn’t a critique of a business move, it’s a critique of misleading PR recently made by Instagram.
Instagram earlier this year announced that they would be hiding “likes” in certain countries in an attempt to help quell the mental health of their teenage users. While studies have shown that exposure to social media can impact mental health, what these studies don’t say is whether likes or any interactions being removed have any positive effects. Instead, they say that lowering the amount of time spent on social media is the best way to relieve the, in my opinion, self-imposed, mental pressures caused.
There have been some skeptics that say the hiding of likes is actually a move by Instagram to get businesses to their spend ad dollars directly with Instagram instead of influencers. Dave Levett, Founder and General Manager of social media marketing agency “Murmur” is one such skeptic. He flat out calls the move “bullshit”.
“Firstly, many publications are misquoting the ‘Status of Mind’ research from the Royal Society for Public Health, which highlights Instagram as the platform most likely to negatively impact people’s wellbeing and health. However, in the report, there is no correlation made between Instagram likes and mental health.” Levett explains. He goes on, “If Instagram really was serious about mental health, it would take on board some of the report’s recommendations – namely, the introduction of a pop-up heavy usage warning. Or, highlight when photos of people have been digitally manipulated.” It’s worth noting that there are 25 million businesses currently on Instagram, but only 2 million buy ads.
This is due to a few factors. Firstly, the algorithm for small businesses has been notoriously poor on Instagram according to small business owners. Secondly, the fact that “social proof” of a business being worthy of being checked out does not come from Instagram sponsored ads. The next time you go to Instagram (if you’re in a country that still shows likes) make note of how little the number of likes from sponsored ads on Instagram receives vs. the number of likes that a fitness model promoting “Flat Tummy Tea” or a rapper promoting the cannabis vaporizer “Kandypens” gets. The difference is obvious and staggering. To give you a better idea of how much these influencers make off of these kinds of posts, Australian influencers with 3,000-20,000 followers generally make $75-$300 per post, those with 100,000-250,000 about $550-$800, while mega influencers with half a million followers charge thousands. The rates are much higher for US accounts. Influencers have made millions while Instagram saw very little to none of the profit.
The countries where likes are hidden are currently Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand. Influencers, as well as small businesses owners in those countries, have thrown Instagram some backlash. A lot of people have reported less engagement overall on their pages. One business owner Kasey Lahue, a Canadian designer for Sour Bags and Totes has said that her page’s engagement has gone from getting dozens of likes in 30 minutes to 8 likes in 3 hours.
Fewer likes correlate with fewer click-through rates as well.
Now I’m not one to say that any of Instagram’s actions in trying to make money off its own platform are wrong. What gets me is the use of mental health to shield them from negative criticism for doing this. The hiding of likes is likely going to head to the US within months. Then we will see a large reaction to this situation. I’m very interested to see if any competition to Instagram will rise if and when that happens.