Instagram Likes Get Hidden: What The Test Means For Your Brand

by: Dustin Hawley | Monday May 6, 2019

Have your likes recently disappeared on Instagram?

The social media platform has officially hidden likes from users in Canada in what is seen as a major change to the photo and video sharing site. The test keeps followers from seeing the total likes on photos, or views counts on videos, in their Instagram feeds or when visiting a user’s profile. However, the account owner will still be able to access their own metrics and see the total likes and view counts for a particular post. They will just need to tap through the post to view those metrics. The test was announced at F8, Facebook’s annual developers' conference.

When it comes to the economy of social media, likes have become a prominent form of currency. But the pursuit of that currency can negatively affect mental health while breeding addictive tendencies for users chasing these numbers. And though the announcement has been met with a largely positive sentiment, it still begs the question: How will this change impact influencers and content creators who make a living off of their likes and follower counts? 

 

screen display of Instagram testing hidden likes feature

 

Why Is Instagram Testing Hiding Likes?

Likes are often viewed as a primary metric of popularity on social media, particularly on Instagram. Some Instagram users feel inherent pressure to accumulate likes and post photos curated for the social media age in order to compete with their peers. Data is now beginning to support the notion that not getting enough likes can even begin to affect the self-esteem of some users. 
 
This information is likely not a surprise to many. The connection between social media and mental health has been a subject of growing interest since social media began its incredible ascent over a decade ago. A 2013 study by Krasnova et al. discovered that 20% of envy-causing situations that the participants experienced during the study occurred on Facebook. Additionally, the study also determined that Facebook causes toxic envy, specifically noting that “intensity of passive following is likely to reduce users’ life satisfaction in the long-run, as it triggers upward social comparison and invidious emotions.”
 
Instagram, with its strong emphasis on stunning imagery and manicured glimpses into our lives, may cause even more envy than its parent company's platform. In fact, according to some studies, Instagram is the most detrimental of all the social networking platforms for the mental health of young people today.
 
"Likes are powerful because they are immediate feedback," says Renee Engeln, a psychology professor at Northwestern University. "In a way, likes give you the same kind of hit like a gambler gets at a slot machine."
 
illustration of pill bottles being portrayed as containers for social media interactions
 
If rolled out more broadly, hiding likes may affect far more than just the psyche of today's youth. It may have a direct effect on the business world as well. Social media stars partnering with brands on marketing campaigns are often paid based on the engagement on their social posts, and a big part of measuring the totality of that engagement involves counting likes. Hiding likes could make counting stats like comments, follower counts or other metrics more important to those who make money on the platform.
 

What Does The Test Mean For Your Brand?

As noted above, likes are a crucial metric by which influencers can determine follower engagement and broker deals with brands. An egg exploded into international stardom in January when it generated over 35 million likes and thus surpassed Kylie Jenner's record as the most-liked Instagram photo of all time. But although brands put great value on likes, it's not the only metric they value when it comes to partnering with influencers and content creators.
 
Travis Hawley knows both sides of the coin. He's the Director of Social Media for Viral Nation and is actually an influencer himself, having created and managed his own successful theme pages on Instagram. "As marketers, leveraging as much data as possible is vital to our success," he says. "So if a KPI such as likes somehow became unavailable to us suddenly, it would certainly hurt. But it wouldn't ruin us." 
 
Influencers and creators can earn big money on Instagram — sometimes thousands of dollars for throwing a single #ad in a caption. Due to the success of the burgeoning influencer marketing industry and the incredible opportunities available to achieve stunning levels of ROI, it's not uncommon for brands to pay as much as $15,000 for a single post.
 
 
headshot of travis hawley
"What’s helpful is having KPIs we can track through the entire marketing/sales funnel such that we can start identifying which KPIs lead to other KPIs that are important for growth. While a like is hard to broadly quantify the value of, it does provide feedback to us marketers that the audience enjoyed the content, which is helpful. As a social media user however, I can see the potential benefit in making the experience less vain and a popularity contest. Let’s just see how Facebook’s test in Canada goes then reassess.”

-Travis Hawley, Director of Social Media/Influencer

 
Instagram certainly recognizes the importance of like counts for creators, and the company is considering how potentially hiding like counts may impact influencer-brand relationships. It's an impact that some believe could make it more difficult to determine how their posts truly perform.
 
Even full-time content creators like Ani Acopian, a video director who uses Instagram to showcase her work, view the idea of hiding likes as a welcome return to Instagram's roots and original core vision. "Instagram has started to feel like a competition instead of somewhere to go for inspiration," she says. "I think hiding like counts will encourage people to share things they truly care about again instead of things they think other people will like."
 
It’s reassuring for many to see Instagram adding new well-being features after the departure of founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. Systrom was a particularly big proponent of reducing jealousy and inauthenticity on social media, which was part of the initial motivation behind launching Instagram Stories, where users could share unpolished, in-the-moment views into their daily lives. Prior to his departure in September, Instagram rolled out its "Your Activity" dashboard, which shows the average time you spend per day on the app, in addition to a “You’re All Caught Up” warning that lets users know they’ve seen all recent feed posts, in turn helping them to stop scrolling.
 
It’s unknown at this point whether removing likes on Instagram will actually help people feel less 'addicted' to the popularity of their posts; or if they will just quickly switch their focus to other forms of validation through their activity on the app. Regardless, the test alone seems like a step in the right direction to address the growing trend of toxic social media use. And as it pertains to influencer marketing, vanity metrics (likes) will likely only continue to become less prominent in determining the true value and influencer can bring by partnering with brands. Engagement is measured far beyond the likes a user achieves on Instagram, and the company is reinforcing that notion by testing this very feature. 

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