There's something different about Instagram. The platform removed public like counts on posts for some Canadian users back in May. Since then, millions of users in several other countries, including Australia, Brazil, Italy, and Japan, have seen their public like counts disappear. As of last week, some users in the United States can no longer see likes on public posts.
Instagram claims the changes will make its platform the "safest place on the internet." The idea is to turn Instagram into a space that's focused on conversations and community, rather than popularity. But what does this mean for digital and social teams at travel and hospitality brands?
Starting today, we’re expanding our test of private like counts globally. If you’re in the test, you’ll no longer see the total number of likes and views on photos and videos posted to Feed unless they’re your own. pic.twitter.com/DztSH0xiq2— Instagram (@instagram) November 14, 2019
How Will It Work?
Instagram is rolling out these new changes over the coming months. The platform isn't removing likes entirely, though. You can still see how many of your followers like your posts (and which followers liked your posts) but nobody else can — none of your customers or clients.
Public likes will become private likes.
In the future, when you post a picture of a centuries-old church or must-book boutique hotel, travelers won't be able to view the number of likes the image receives. You can still see the number of public likes one of your photos generates, however, by tapping the post a couple of times.
So, Why Is This Happening?
Traditionally, Instagram and other social media platforms have placed an emphasis on photos that receive the most interest.
In Instagram's case, "likes" quantify interest from other users on the platform. The higher the number of likes a photo receives, the greater the chance that photo will appear in Instagram's "Top Posts" feature. This creates a snowball effect, where most-liked photos reach more people on the platform. For travel brands, this can mean more interest in their destination or experience, more followers, and more bookings.
However, for some users, especially young people, the pressure to post "popular" content and generate likes can have an impact on their well-being. One study found that Instagram was the worst social network for mental health and linked the platform to anxiety and depression.
Instagram's decision has split opinion among users. Some people welcome the changes. Others, including influencers who rely on the platform as a promotional tool or source of advertising income, have threatened to close their accounts.
What Does This Mean for Your Travel Brand?
Instagram hiding likes could have a significant impact on your travel brand. Though you will still be able to view public like counts — and use this information for research and analytics purposes — you might experience fewer likes going forward. Research shows likes dropped by 3-15 percent for influencers with 5,000-20,000 followers in countries where Instagram has already fully implemented these changes.
Instagram has also said it is “actively” considering other ways creators can “communicate value to their partners.”
In addition, we understand that like counts are important for many creators, and we are actively thinking through ways for creators to communicate value to their partners.— Instagram (@instagram) November 14, 2019
So what happens next?
DMOs, hospitality brands and their partners will probably value other metrics instead, such as comments and shares. This will be a fresh new way to measure engagement on the platform. The changes might also encourage authentic sharing, where travelers share posts they really love, rather than just clicking the "like" button. This requires more effort from people, sure, but it suggests a deeper level of engagement than just liking a post.
It's too early to measure the ramifications of Instagram's removal of likes, but DMOs and other travel brands should use this opportunity to reassess their social media measurement strategies. Focusing on the right metrics will help brands gauge the success of their social media content in this new digital marketing landscape.