digital disruptors | Nov 15, 2019 |
Instagram is phasing out likes. Should designers care?

The Likepocalypse is upon us. This week, Instagram began phasing out publicly visible likes for its U.S.-based users. Though the change hasn’t yet hit all accounts, many, like this writer, woke up this morning unable to see how many people had liked Kelly Wearstler’s listening room or Justina Blakeney’s latest pattern inspo.

The change is big, but not that big. Users will still be able to keep track of their own like counts and the metric will still be funneled into the all-powerful algorithm that determines who sees what and when. According to Instagram, removing public likes is simply a move to make the platform a little healthier. “The idea is to try to depressurize Instagram, make it less of a competition, and give people more space to focus on connecting with the people they love and things that inspire them,” CEO Adam Mosseri told Wired. “We will make decisions that hurt the business if they help people’s well-being and health.”

Of course, Instagram has its own business—but what about the hundreds of thousands of businesses that rely on Instagram? Though exact numbers are difficult to come by, anecdotally, most interior designers use Instagram in a business capacity, and a major change to the platform is cause for alarm. Thus far, the reaction from the community seems to be mixed. All applaud a de-escalation of the arms race for likes, but most are taking a wait-and-see approach to the ultimate impact of the change.

“So far I’m liking it,” says New York–based designer Becky Shea. “I still see the same level of engagement on my posts, but don’t feel the pressure to keep checking on it. I am nervous about what it could do to metrics, but only time will tell.”

“Morally, I think it’s a great idea,” said Atlanta-based design team Forbes + Masters, in a direct-message exchange on the platform. “I’m certain it will affect business but uncertain how. This will just kick us into gear to find other ways to make sure our audience continues to be actively aware of our growth, support and hard work.”

For designers who use Instagram mainly as a portfolio to attract new business, the potential impact of invisible likes is likely relatively low. Though the change will undoubtedly affect user behavior, beautiful rooms will still be beautiful whether they have 10,000 likes or 10. The math gets a little wonkier for designers who are specifically courting brand partnerships.

A dull caption with a great picture isn’t enough anymore.
Darla Powell, Wingnut Social

Historically, brands have relied on engagement statistics to evaluate influencer accounts, with a heavy emphasis on likes. Though marketers usually ask for (or obtain, through third-party companies) back-end statistics anyway, the disappearance of public likes throws a new wrinkle into the equation. And though removing public likes may have a positive impact on mental health, a study found that in countries where Instagram has already implemented this policy, it has a negative impact on engagement. In Brazil, for example, once public likes disappeared, influencers reported a 28 percent drop-off in the number of users interacting with their posts.

Darla Powell, whose Florida-based company Wingnut Social handles social media for interior designers, is advising her clients not to panic. “Brands should expect to see changes in their engagement metrics, which may take a few months to level out, [but] a new normal will emerge,” she tells BOH. “Designers would be smart to put more emphasis on encouraging comments in the first 125 characters of their posts (before the reader has to click “... more” to read the whole caption) by asking questions real people want to answer. A dull caption with a great picture isn’t enough anymore. The focus changes to comments, which are even harder to get than likes.”

Powell’s assessment of the new Instagram landscape brings up a good point: that doing away with an obsession over getting likes may simply lead to a new obsession—getting comments. And for some designers, though removal of public likes is a welcome change, it’s only a small step in the right direction.

Los Angeles–based designer and lifestyle influencer Breegan Jane applauds Instagram’s move, but sees it as a distraction from a larger problem: “As designers, we really are the group that crosses boundaries and cultures and needs visual inspiration,” she says. “If Instagram is only showing the same thing over and over again, that’s going to lead to a very stale world. … We’ve put our visual and artistic minds in the hands of a computer.”

With a laugh, Jane referenced a favorite left-field source of inspo, the account of a popular Southern California reptile-and-amphibian pet store, @jayprehistoricpets. “I have boys, so I know about this,” says Jane. “I get inspiration from the patterns on the reptiles’ skin, but that’s something an algorithm would never show me.”

This morning, @jayprehistoricpets posted a video of a man feeding a banana to a rhino iguana. This writer has no idea how many likes it garnered—at least one (reader, I liked it).

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