Adam Mosseri confirmed the hidden ‘like’ count tests at Facebook’s F8 Conference back in April 2019 but it’s only recently that Instagram has actually started rolling out global tests to remove the public visibility of post likes. While these tests do not affect the UK yet, it is very likely to take place in 2020… but does it really matter? In this blog post, we look at the impact of instagram removing the number of Likes feature on social media marketing and how this shift will impact brands and consumers. We will also look at the wider trends in social media that have led to this decision.

When a user’s social media post receives a lot of ‘likes,’ they get a burst of dopamine. They feel socially validated—and this quantifiable validation has become a pillar of social media. It gamifies the platforms and helped to propel those who were successful by having more visibility in algorithms. Conversely, if a user receives very few ‘likes,’ they may feel socially disconnected, which can negatively affect their mental health and often means that they post less. To alleviate this pressure, Instagram is testing a momentous change to its platform: hiding the number of ‘likes’ a post receives. This will mean that you can still “like” content but the number will no longer be visible to the public. Instagram’s change to the like feature has been in the works since 2018. That year, the company began quietly testing hiding them from posts in seven countries, including Australia and Japan.

Can you still measure engagement on instagram?

Yes – the removal of “Likes” is the removal of a number visible to the public. Posts can still be engaged with and the double tap feature isn’t going anywhere just yet. For brands, “Likes” have been a key metric for measuring social media since social became a key marketing tool. We cannot ignore the fact that a high number of likes is there because a post has had some sort of connection with the person viewing it but it can also be argued that “Likes” are a cheap currency, based on vanity rather than valuable engagement such as comments or click throughs. While “Likes” will no longer be visible, you will still be served content through the Instagram feed and other Instagram offerings such as Stories and IGTV will be available as usual.

Broader trends in social media:

Consumers are yearning for a more genuine experience on social media and many are welcoming the hidden ‘likes’ count. The official purpose of this initiative is to make social media less of a popularity contest. A post with more Likes does get greater visibility and therefore more likes/comments/engagement overall. However, this doesn’t always translate to meaningful comments, genuine connection or brand loyalty and sales. Having worked with influencers of all sizes, it’s often the micro influencers that deliver better business results compared to larger influencers that have higher Likes but less cut-through. We have been saying for awhile now that quality is better than quantity when it comes to measuring engagement in social media and this change reflects this.

The removal of “likes” will hopefully also encourage more authenticity. Genuine users will post for the joy of posting rather than to chase a high number of likes and this can only be a good thing for the platform overall as it has become increasingly saturated by adverts. If more people use the platform for the original reason it was created – to share content and have a genuine connection online – rather than to be part of a broader marketing agenda, the overall engagement and value exchange in the platform will be better from a user perspective.

What does this mean for brands?

Brands can still measure social media and partner with influencers. Without the pressure to achieve a high number of visible validation – which can stifle creativity – the platform will hopefully become more diverse with its content. Consumers and businesses will both post more regularly and be less fearful of the type of content they publish. This is particularly relevant for smaller brands and startups that have yet to build up their follower numbers.

We have been saying for a while that quality is more valuable than quantity when it comes to engagement so frankly, we’re not worried about the visible aspect of Likes. If the content engages, it will still have more currency in the algorithm – regardless of what the public can see.

Summary:

Receiving thousands of ‘likes’ can be exciting but it’s not a particularly valuable business KPI. Other metrics, such as comments, shares, and clicks, are much clearer indicators of authentic engagement. Ultimately, that’s what brands should be striving for, tracking and benchmarking against competitors.