Instagram’s Losing the Likes but Opening Itself to Story-Based Content

And it isn’t necessarily a bad move for the platform

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The platform will likely see more money from this move.
Illustration: Dianna McDougall; Sources: Getty Images

Instagram’s wave of likes removal has finally made its way to the U.S. While not unilaterally rolled out to date, someone you know is probably like-less, and a similar fate may strike your feed at any moment.

The popular narrative as to the reasoning behind this decision, fueled in many ways by the brand itself, is that Instagram’s platform changes were decided through a people-first, social good lens. Instagram isn’t claiming that hiding likes will fully reduce the pressures of social media. Instead, the platform suggests that people might gain back some of their mental health and actually start embracing the true mission of Instagram to “capture and share the world’s moments” by engaging with others in a more meaningful (rather than metrics-fueled) way.

I spot a different story underlying this shift, though.

Instagram's migration away from likes is really a disguised shift to push story-based content to garner more TV ad money.

The move away from likes also means a departure from a picture posting model and a movement toward story-based, quick-form social media behavior. To put it bluntly, at the end of the day, Instagram’s migration away from likes is really a disguised shift to push story-based content to garner more TV ad money. It’s a media play migrating the ecosystem of social to fulfill Facebook’s vision of higher content consumption, more ads and, ultimately, more money. The removal of likes is a strong step in forced adoption by socializing users away from posts and more traditional news feeds and toward story-based content where views are the new like and viewership tracking data is the new ad currency.

But even if this change is all a veiled effort to increase Instagram’s ad revenue, it’s not necessarily a bad move.

For starters, I don’t anticipate a drastic change in user behavior. People will continue to like and comment on the images they like. That’s what we’ve been conditioned to do over the past nine years. Early reports in like-free pilot markets have shown that Instagram engagement has actually increased in countries such as Japan, especially among micro-influencers. We’ll end up going where Facebook tells us to like we always have, just as they socialized us from a yearbook to a news feed, chronology to an algorithm, status to story.

Stories are also cleaner territory for influencer marketing. The massive amount of fraudulence across the industry both in terms of fake followers and fake likes are being derailed through this focus on views. Influencer fraud will decrease, and influencers will be valued based on true influence, not inflated metrics. The story shift puts more power into the hands of the people as brands are leveraging user-generated content on a frequent, almost real-time basis to compete with this new normal in social media.

For brands, engagement data may go away on the frontend, but the backend metrics will still be available. In fact, influencer performance might become more valuable than ever as brands have to become more thoughtful in the data they look at and make decisions from.

As for the more complicated news, stories require snackable content and a lot more of it. The news feed of posts that last forever has shifted to high volume, high frequency, short-form videos. Those require brands to be more creative in developing this content while also reconsidering their production norms to keep pace with frequency demands.

Finally, as we move toward stories, views may be the core focus now, but I suspect we will become increasingly more focused on traffic in the future. Unlike feed posts, the story model itself is specifically built to drive traffic to our channels. Brands will find their social strategy shifting from a focus on vanity metrics to more meaningful behavioral metrics that not only drive traffic but impact the bottom line.

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