Why Instagram Removing Like Counts Is the Greatest Change the Platform Has Ever Made

Why Instagram Removing Like Counts Is the Greatest Change the Platform Has Ever Made

With Instagram gradually rolling out the removal of the number of likes an image gets being visible, a lot of reactions have surfaced: confusion, animosity, and for some — like me — excitement.

I resisted Instagram in the early days of the platform. I didn't feel it had a place for me or my work, but eventually, I had to concede. It was not only a burgeoning social media; it was a powerful tool for business and advertising your own work as an artist. So, I joined, and for a year or two, I took it very seriously. My following was growing healthily, my likes per image were increasing, and I was at around a 10% interaction rate, which agencies were very keen on at the time. Then, a shift in algorithms pulled the rug from under me.

I went from a 10% interaction rate to around 1-2% with no discernible cause; I hadn't changed the way I worked, what I was posting (if anything, it was improving in quality and appeal of subject), I was using the same hashtags, and posting at the same times. I was far from alone. In fact, most of the people I was in regular contact with on the platform took a massive hit. I worked on getting better numbers for a few months, before eventually assigning that time elsewhere. There was a positive from all this, however.

I began to see the platform's flaws. Perhaps when I was enjoying the tool and the gratification of sustained, measurable growth, I saw the whole of Instagram through rose-tinted glasses. Having then been stung by the behind-the-scenes change to the algorithm, I was not as quick to jump to its defense. The first casualty I saw has been observed in many articles, even a few here on Fstoppers: the seeming death of creativity. 

Now, that is obviously hyperbole, but not without basis. Certain types of images just did well with regards to interactions, that is, likes and comments. As a result, more people recreated these types of images. This looks like the death of creativity, but really, it's just the Occam's razor route to "success." We all want to post our work — whether it's an image, a song, a poem, an article — and see it blow up with likes, comments, and shares. It feels like a reward for what you did. So, why mess with a working formula? Where once originality was praised, Instagram made it so recreating popular visuals stood in its place.

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The pendulum didn't just swing that way either. Not only were you rewarded for taking pictures people demonstrably respond well to, but going out of your way to create something new was more work, more difficult, and had far more risk. We've all proudly published an image and witnessed it fall stillborn from the press. Whether it's because the algorithm didn't put it in front of the right eyes or the work is simply not worthy of praise, it hurts one's pride all the same.

So Why Is the Removal of the Number of Likes a Good Thing?

It's liberating for so many reasons. Firstly, you can post whatever you want without the fear of it performing horrendously for everyone to see. I'm sure there are people out there who did that anyway without a care in the world, and good for you, but the majority don't. I could argue that for me, it would be resoundingly negative to have an image fail when it is work for a brand, or that agencies might see my latest image is doing terribly and wonder why. But as much as it is that, it's also ego — make no mistake.

Secondly, it's, for all intents and purposes, the removal of pigeonholing. Instagrammers who have built a following as a traveling landscape photographer but yearn to post a few portraits have been freed from their shackles. There is now an opportunity to move away from the ritualistic content creation for your specific audience and move to creating whatever content you want to create. I expect some will scoff at anyone who was living within the boundaries of how their audience reacted to types of content, but again, the majority of people who take Instagram seriously as a tool had to. I haven't taken the platform seriously for a year or two now, and yet, I still get work and inquiries through it, so deviating from what works could potentially be damaging for businesses with accounts on it.

Thirdly, while it doesn't remove the competitive element of Instagram, it does strip it back. This echoes the point of risk, with many Instagrammers competing with thousands upon thousands of other people in their niche, a limiter is put on creativity. Instead of trying new things with the hope of creating something unique and memorable with a higher risk of failure, people are more likely to play it safe and harvest those likes and follows with content that is proven to work.

Problems Still Exist

This change, while brilliant, isn't a holistic solution to the platform's problems. The order of the feed not being chronological is still a huge bugbear for many of us. The rise of sponsored content and ads is getting increasingly more intrusive with every day that goes by. But, most relevantly to this article, the removal of likes might not fully undo how people treat their accounts. Many will still want their profiles to look synergized and themed, they will still want a lot of comments (which could replace the "like" metric), and they will still know themselves whether a post does well.

I don't claim for a second that removing the number of likes from posts returns the platform to its glory days, but it's at least a big step in the right direction.

Conclusion

The change has upset a lot of people, but I'm absolutely convinced it's a positive one for its users, photography, and Instagram as a whole. It has certainly piqued my interest in rekindling a relationship with that old flame and seeing if it boosts my enjoyment, though that may well be a separate issue.

A few months ago, our writer, Andy Day wrote an article on why Instagram should hide follower counts, but why they never will. Well, who knows, Andy may have to eat his words someday soon.

What do you think? Is it a good thing? Should Instagram have left the likes and made a different change? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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36 Comments

Hot models get all the love no one really cares what photographer did what.

Eric Salas's picture

Not really. If you have a good relationship with the models you shoot and get tagged in the photos (arranged, paid, or not) you get recognized.

Koketso Resane's picture

Not necessarily. Go look at a model's post and compare to the same post when published by the photographer. The model gets more engagement and exponentially more likes.

Someone even experimented with a post, used the same hashtags, and posted at the same time. Her and her model friend had similar following counts too, but the picture on the model's page had four-times the number of likes by the end of the week.

Tony Clark's picture

Oh the humanity, what on earth will the influencers do?

In a twist of irony, I tried to like this post and the site won’t let me.

Johnny Rico's picture

"I went from a 10% interaction rate to around 1-2% with no discernible cause;"

They did it to get people to pay to promote posts. Screw IG, they took something that was enjoyable and fundamentally simple and bastardized it beyond belief.

Robert K Baggs's picture

I wish I could disagree with any of that but it just seems that's fact. In the same way they butchered Facebook pages.

Wayne Howarth's picture

All these sites do the same thing. The really sad thing is that most young folks today live for the "likes" they get on various platforms. It's the way they get their validation.... Many don't even understand what a friend is these days.

Most young folk today think Facebook and instagram is where mom gets dinner ideas. Sorry but we’re the generation that were fooled into these self gratification sites. If you were a kid today ig or your favorite gaming ecosystem?

Mutley Dastardly's picture

Well, it seems like Zuckerberg zucked you all. It realy zucks. I'm not so keen on social media - i don't want to be popular - and i don't feel the need to be on social media.
Let's admit i'm filtering everything away - so it won't hurt me. I'm a privacy freak of the worst kind that can be found online.
But i do understand the pro's and the ones who want to earn money - or need to get clients - are hit.
I do believe it's better to pay with real cash - than to pay with the very expensive currency named privacy.
I do hope change 'll come - and i wish wikipedia all the luck with the more open - less privacy-invading social network.

Zucked, perfect, that need to become a popular verb. Thank you for the lexicon add.

Brian Jones's picture

I like how they claim it's for mental health. They are still dangling the dope in front of those chasing the dope, others just can not see their stash. This is what has made these platorms fantasy lands in a world decided by followers and likes. No thank you! (Just ask the poor woman who lost a job with Canon because she did not have 50k followers 🙄)

Exploring, composing and making images for us and our clients is the most rewarding, not how many shares or likes an image will get. And when out making images, its great not having anyone ask if I am on social media, they just have to look at my favorite tshirt I wear while out -"Chasing the Light, not Likes".

Stuart Carver's picture

I love Instagram, have about 300 followers, follow about 500, mainly photography channels.. get to scroll through and see awesome shots, no ‘influencers’ and no bullshit, like any social media its up to you how you use it.

David Love's picture

It did absolutely nothing for anyone but Instagram. They still show likes on Facebook, the parent company. This was simply because they were losing ad dollars to influencers so by hiding the likes, it makes it harder for people to see how many likes their product post are getting. Every 3 post you'll see an ad on your phone. That's all they care about. They didn't hide page likes so that mental suffering they are talking about is complete shite.

It also benefits people and companies that buy likes because now you don't see an account with one million followers only averaging 100 likes per post (an obvious sign of bought page likes.) The main rule should be to never put faith in something out of your control and never bet on a fixed race. That's all social sites when it comes to business.

Gerald Bertram's picture

I think you hit the nail on the head. Instagram gets nothing from these influencers using their likes to get their own brand deals. Instagram wants the brands to come to them so THEY can get the money for the ads.

David Justice's picture

Most real sponsored post require your statistics before they give you anything. Some even ask that you include your follower statistics. This isn't going to change that. I think this effort was done to satisfy those who think like comparisons result in depression, but it won't change anything. Comparing yourself to others has been something we've all done before social media, it's just now quantifiable. It'll still be quantified. Instead of based on likes, it'll be comments. You'll see Devon commented on that girl's post but not there's and they will still be upset.

If anything, we just won't be able to complain about the algorithm anymore.

David Love's picture

They didn't hide the page followers so that doesn't make sense and how can a company tell if you photoshopped better insights then? Nothing the Zuckerberg people do is for the user.

Todd Beltz's picture

Personally I could care less about how many likes I get. Why is this even a thing?

Andy Day's picture

I got three quarters of the way through reading this piece and thought I'd leave a comment saying "good points, well made" and then I saw you mention my article. As a result, I'm upgrading comment to "excellent points, perfectly delivered, high fives all round."

Robert K Baggs's picture

I wondered if you'd organically spot it!

Social media is a nightmare for those of us who don't live on their phone. I throw a token effort at instagram hoping for that viral photo that will put me in the game but I remain skeptical. Algorithms always have a way of bitting us in the ass, you put in a monumental effort then they change the algorithm. I once played the algorithm/keyword game with google and finally gave up to save time and aggravation rationalizing that if good content wasn't enough - screw it.

I once got more magazine covers and I attributed the drop to to increased competition because of digital photography; however, it is more likely that I spend to much time playing the social media game instead of marketing the old fashioned way.

Stuart Carver's picture

Or just post shots for people to enjoy and not worry about ‘viral photos’ ?

I've been as commercially successful as I've wanted to be without playing the social media game, purposefully. My business energy has gone into relationship building, not algorithm tweaking. That being said, as with any addiction, if the fix is denied the addict, they'll find another way to get their buzz. Surely every spray paint huffer would prefer the more pricey high, but makes do according to his circumstances. Someone will find a way (a third-party software?... or something, some means) to reassign the counts/likes taken away by IG... and back to it.

The removal of Likes is a great thing and removing the number of Followers would be another good thing. Imagine having a platform that exists solely to share and appreciate good work and not to come up with tricks to game the system?

You can put me on the side of thinking this was a dumb move. For Halloween I did some before and after shots for a makeup artist. I used one photo on my own feed and it did okay. I knew it wouldn't do spectacular, because I'm also a car guy and the majority of my followers are car people. How did my photos do vs some of the other photographers this artist has used in the past? Well I have no idea. All I know is "@BlahBlahBlah and others" liked my photos as well as every other photo she's posted no matter how good or bad. Same thing with a repost last night. It was something that I knew wouldn't be spectacular on my own feed, but I'm curious how the repost did. I took the photos, I'm tagged in the post but I'm now provided no feedback which sucks. I just chalked it up to the participation award winners of the world getting their way once again.

For smaller accounts, to see "liked by thousands of people" rather than "1400 likes" is a good improvement :)
Likes can still be inspected via third party audit apps (if you want to know more about your competitors) and companies willing to hire an influencer can always ask for a screenshot of the insights, so frankly it doesn't look much of a change to me. But I think I've been using IG differently so I might not see the full picture here.

Myself, I was already avoiding the trap of repeating myself by running photo series: they would keep my feed consistent for a while and still allow me to move away from the previous theme and experiment more. I went from night cityscape to fine art creepy alleyways to sunsets around the world to Aerochrome infrared to street photography... And my audience kept growing rather than shrinking like "experts" would suggest.
The engagement changes based on what people like, some series perform better than others, but it's going down on IG overall anyway unfortunately.

Having said that, any like/comment to my photos at @fabienb is more than welcome :D Cheers!

I agree that it's good, I think it'll make people focus more on the content.

John Fore III's picture

Folks getting upset that they can't have it their way on a free site to make money always amaze me .

David Love's picture

I think it's more that people are upset that this is the main platform because it either rips off any contenders (snapchat, tik tock) or buys them out so they have a monopoly on unsocial social sites. Them pretending everything they do is not about money is another. They should just charge $10 a month to have a business account and then leave everyone the hell alone.

Frederic Hore's picture

Canada was the playground for Zuckerberg's "zucky" (thanks Mutley Dastardly for that!) decision to screw with IG, first by mucking up the algorithms, then removing the "like" button months ago. Despised by many here in snow country... but, not much you can do with a free platform to show your imagery.

And the adds? Seems like during prime time viewing hours, they are after every second posting. Have you noticed how targeted they are? I get a lot of photo software, trips, camera gear ads etc that are foisted on me.

At least there's no more comparison anymore between who has and doesn't have mountains of likes. Now people can just focus on the images and content. Actually... I get more comments on the sometimes detailed captions I write! Whatever!

Personally I'm spending less time on IG, as I focus on things that have greater rewards, like spending quality time with my babe (as she calls it), and being more active outdoors instead of on a laptop like I am now. I think people need to get a life! As my active 88 year-old Dutch mom likes to say... Lotion is Motion! Good on you Momsy :-)

Happy shooting!
Frederic in Montréal
https://www.instagram.com/frederic_hore/

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