There is no shortage of online guides providing advice on how to get more likes on social media platform Instagram.
Likes are how the social media platform’s users show their approval of posts, and they drive a whole industry of influencers who make a living publishing carefully curated snapshots of their lives online.
But could this all be about to change?
Later this week Instagram will run a trial which will remove Canadian users’ ability to see the number of likes on others’ photos, and the views on their videos.
“We are testing this because we want your followers to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get,” an Instagram spokesperson said.
The move comes amid growing research on the damage social media does to the mental health of users, particularly young people.
Here’s what Instagram will be doing and why.
You will still be able to see your own like count
A screenshot released by Instagram shows the subtle change under the trial.
Users will be able to click through to see who and how many people like their own posts, but they will not be able to see the number of likes other users’ posts have attracted.
To do that, they will have to add up the likes manually.
Instagram has already recently redesigned users’ profiles to make the number of followers less prominent.
Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri said it was hoped the change would make the platform a “less pressurised environment”.
Speaking at Facebook’s annual software developer conference, Mr Mosseri said the company was aware people were regularly concerned about how many likes their posts got.
“We want people to worry a little bit less about how many likes they’re getting on Instagram and spend a bit more time connecting with the people that they care about,” he said.
“We don’t want Instagram to feel like a competition.”
The trial will only affect Canadian users at the moment, but the company may extend the trial.
Race for likes takes toll on health
Users feel approval by getting likes on their Instagram and Facebook posts.
Adam Alter from New York University, author of the book Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked, said dopamine — the chemical associated with pleasure — was produced in a user’s brain when they received a like.
Although some social media users are able to monetise their social media “likes,” much of the pursuit of popularity amounts to nothing and instead turns us into pawns for political and commercial uses, writes Kane X Faucher.
But a 2017 report revealed the dark side of this, describing social media as “more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol”.
The same report ranked Instagram as the worst social media platform for young people’s mental health.
Among social media’s side effects are anxiety, depression, a lack of sleep related to the fear of missing out (FOMO), poor body image and bullying.
Professor Alter also warned Instagram users only ever presented “the best versions of their lives” online, which could lead to feelings of deprivation among those viewing their posts.
GP Grant Blashki told the ABC last year he was concerned the reality gap was affecting teenagers’ mental health.
“As a GP I see quite a lot of teens who are coming in and they’re comparing their own lives to a really unrealistic expectation that they’re seeing on social media,” Dr Blashki said.
“Social media, for some, can really cause a lot of stress when they compare themselves to unrealistic expectations.”
One teenage Instagram user told the ABC a lack of likes on a post damaged her self-esteem.
“You see the number of likes and usually because I move in smaller circles it’s a crap amount of likes and no comments, and it makes you feel really bad,” she said.
What would change mean for influencers?
Instagram has become big business for the “Insta-famous”, who are paid or sponsored with free goods, food and holidays in exchange for marketing and promotion.
Influencers are often paid based on users’ engagement with their posts.
And some of the world’s most effective influencers have used social media to launch businesses.
Kylie Jenner, who until recently held the title of “most liked Instagram post”, has credited her Instagram profile with helping her create a billion-dollar cosmetics company.
Fitness trainer Kayla Itsines, who is regarded as one of Australia’s biggest influencers, harnessed her social media following to launch one of the world’s most profitable fitness apps.
The result is influencers and marketing types have a lot to lose, and they will be closely monitoring how this Canadian trial affects their work.
Instagram will also be mindful of how the changes might affect one some of its most powerful users.
“We understand that this is important for many creators, and while this test is in exploratory stages, we are thinking through ways for them to communicate value to their brand partners,” an Instagram spokesperson told TechCrunch.