Beginning in July 2019, Instagram has been testing removing likes for mobile users in 7 countries including Canada, Brazil, Australia, Italy, New Zealand, Japan and Ireland. Based on the initial positive response, the app has just rolled out the feature in the US in November this year.
Chief of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, said that the company is testing this change on a small number of users across the globe. Impacted users, while scrolling on their feed, will no longer see the number of likes of each post, but they can still see the number of likes on their posts. Starting out as an experiment, Instagram plans on rolling out this feature widely to every user depending on the beta performance over the next few months.
A Facebook spokesperson said that while the feedback from early testing has been encouraging, this is a fundamental change for Instagram, and the company will continue testing removing likes on more users to learn more about its global community. The company also acknowledges the importance of like counts to many creators and influencers, and that they constantly think about how creators can convey their value to their advertising partners in other ways that are more than just their number of likes.
A Step To A Safer And More Inclusive Online Community
The change is said to help “depressurize” the platform and “make it less of a competition” as it seeks to foster a safe and inclusive online community. According to Mosseri at Wired’s annual summit in 2019, “[the change] means we’re going to put a 15-year-old kid’s interests before a public speaker’s interest. When we look at the world of public content, we’re going to put people in that world before organizations and corporations.”
There are certainly advantages to the change, most of which centre around the potential positive impact on user’s confidence and self-esteem. Multiple studies and research reports have proven a link between likes, or the lack of them, to an increase in mental health issues of day-to-day internet users. Instagram removing likes is not the solution to these issues, but it is an essential step in the right direction.
The change is said to help “depressurize” the platform and “make it less of a competition” as it seeks to foster a safe and inclusive online community.
For a long time, Instagram, along with other social media platforms, has sort of becoming a number-based competition when users put a lot of significance of vanity metrics such as likes and follower count. If users are no longer pressured by the number of likes they get for each post, theoretically, they would feel inclined to post more creative and authentic content. When more posts are floating around, people may spend more time on the platform, thus Instagram can show them more ads, which of course, serves the company’s bottom line.
But what does it mean for businesses?
At Microswift, we believe that Instagram hiding likes can be a positive change to businesses on social media. Likes have always been accepted as the norm for success, thus, brands and influencers have been under an enormous amount of pressure to achieve likes before pursuing genuine engagement with their followers.
Removing access to likes enables marketers to turn their focus to other areas (such as comments, impressions, shares, reposts, saves, and other engagement measures to customer touch points). Likes are only equal to surface interest, but these additional measures of interaction truly show consumers’ level of commitment and investment in the brand. Followers may like every photo they see - but are they able to re-share it or swipe up on a link in a Story? Are they willing to get more involved?
We believe that the removal of likes will lead to more authenticity and creativity on the global platform.
If anything, this new feature offers businesses and their marketing agencies with the ability to produce quality content and collaborate with influencers whose values are authentically aligned with their brand; convincing consumers to buy into their products - not just double-tap a photo. Instagram clearly reflects on where the attention should be: away from hollow vanity metrics and more on customer engagement. We believe that the removal of likes will lead to more authenticity and creativity on the global platform.
Can Hiding Likes Hurt Influencer Marketing?
How will hiding likes affect the commercial partnership between brand and influencer or celebrity, which has so far largely depended on the visibility of likes and popularity inferred by the public?
Instagram's latest change will affect marketers and advertisers in two key ways: recognizing and evaluating the efficacy of successful content creators. For a long time, brands have no longer used "likes" as the only way to identify influencers or evaluate a social media campaign. It may be frustrating to lose likes, but it is not disastrous.
Instagram removing likes could potentially make screening influencers more challenging for businesses. Creators with high numbers of followers and low engagement through "likes" and comments could be less valuable to an organization than those with lower numbers of followers but high engagement rates. As such, brands who plan to expand their business via social media but do not already have existing relationships with influencers may have a harder time to evaluate which influencers are a potentially lucrative match as they try to target new customers.
Despite this potential challenge, hidden likes are not a problem for marketers if they have the right technology. Even if the number of likes is concealed, successful influencer marketers will still have access to these metrics. They can still have access to influencers’ engagement rates before committing to working with them and can look at full reports on performance metrics after the influencer marketing campaign is done.
What Does The Future Hold?
The next important step that businesses should do is to create a mechanism to recognize content creators who are truly building relationships with their followers and who can get followers to actually convert. Instagram's future will be about “authentic influence rather than bloated credit” (Susan Frech, Social Media Link). Additionally, brands should also focus more on creating content that’s creative, high quality and conversation-provoking to better engage with followers and visitors.
It remains to be seen whether hidden likes end up on Instagram as a permanent feature, depending on public approval and the trial run's progress. The change, however, has already sparked an international discussion, with some analysts pointing out its potential to trigger a wider change in social media platforms towards "sharing value" instead of "seeking validation" and publishing content that prioritizes quality over quantity.