A few months ago, Instagram began hiding likes in an initial test in Canada. And a few days ago, users in the US started to notice Instagram likes removed across the platform – with rumors of Facebook likes being the next to go.
A lot of people are concerned about this update because likes are the most visible sign of whether your audience values your content and ultimately values your brand.
So Why Are Instagram Likes Removed?
For years, research has shown a link between social media and depression, and it's common for people to delete a post if it doesn't get what they consider to be a good number of likes right away.
Facebook and Instagram claim that by removing likes, they're making both platforms safer, mentally. However, if you're more cynical, you might find it hard to believe that a huge, for-profit company like Facebook is pro-actively looking out for our mental health. Instead, you might assume they're removing public like views to keep users from deleting any content, or to prevent them from paying a third-party for likes instead of paying Facebook to promote your content beyond its organic reach through ads.
...if you're cynical. ?
Either way, likes are as good as gone, but you'll still be able to see how many likes you get on your posts through the post insights, even though users visiting your page won't see them.
This is basically an aesthetic change and will not impact the algorithm - at least not yet.
Likes still count as engagement, but now that the social proof of a large number of likes is gone, the quality of your content and the comments are even more critical.
How Should This Change Your Strategy?
Create more conversational posts. Do polls, ask questions - get people talking in the comments and respond to them. On Instagram, this is especially important within the first hour after your post goes live, so when someone comments - comment back because your comments count as engagement too. After the first hour, comments and likes become less valuable in the algorithm but try to reply to everyone to develop relationships and build a conversational tone on your channel.
On Instagram, leverage hashtags so that people who are not currently following you can find your content. And research the hashtags, don't just use the common tags with millions of posts against them. Mix in less popular hashtags to increase your chances of getting your posts in front of more people.
If you work with influencers, the removal of likes may make your selection criteria a little more nuanced, which is probably a good thing. There are a lot of influencers out there, and a lot of them are known to buy likes, comments, and followers. Now that likes will not be publicly visible, your focus should shift to the quality and relevance of the influencer's content. Doing so may lead to longer-term partnerships resulting in a series of videos or posts rather than the promise of one big, "viral" post that may not result in any real business value for your brand.
Lastly, pay attention to IGTV and Facebook Watch. As a rule of thumb, whenever a social channel introduces a new feature and spends a lot of time talking about it and promoting it, they will reward you for using it by spreading your content. Instagram and Facebook are both doubling down on longer-form video content, so start exploring ways to add that to your social strategy before your competitors do, and you're playing catch-up.