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Why Is Instagram Hiding Likes? Here Is One Theory

by Tom Salvat | 22 January, 2020

Earlier this year, we published an article that discussed the decision of Instagram to hide the number of likes on posts. This was first tested in foreign countries, but as of late November, the test has now extended into the United States.

Needless to say, this has our industry abuzz, especially those who work in influencer marketing. Likes are one of the major ways used to track engagement. So why hide them? We’re going to explore Facebook’s reasons in this short update.

Facebook’s Reasoning

Facebook, the owner of Instagram, says that they are removing the number of likes as a way to reduce bullying on the app. They say that there is a lot of competition between users to get more likes, especially among teens. By hiding the counter, they hope to reduce the feeling of competition and social anxiety among users.

Individual users can see the number of likes and will still receive notifications, but the public won’t be able to see the totals. However, the public can still see the list of people who have clicked that little button. Instagram’s CEO Adam Mosseri has said that hiding the likes may hurt the overall business, but it’s better in the long run if people’s mental well-being is improved by hiding the numbers. 

There have been several studies that have linked social media usage to poor mental health outcomes, so taking action to figure out how to make it less toxic is certainly in Facebook’s best interest. But there may be another reason to hide the like numbers that benefits the company.

Increasing Post Volume

The theory goes like this. If the amount of stress wrapped around posting something on Instagram goes down, people will want to post more often on the service. It will feel like a safer place because they will be less self-conscious. By removing public like totals, people may feel less pressure to post content that matches some ideal of perfection.

If this hypothesis holds true, it means that more people will be on the service and see more ads. This means more money for Instagram and better ad exposure to all the advertisers on that platform. While Instagram may be wrapping up this change as a way to reduce cyberbullying and increase connections between people on the platform when they present it to the community, it can’t be denied that it is in their interest to keep people on the site as long as possible.

What About Influencers?

Some influencers are worried that these changes will bring less awareness to their content and threaten their business model. Is this true? That depends.

There is a phenomenon known as “like momentum”. If you see a friend like something, you may like it because of that reason rather than on the merits of the post. The same thing can happen if something gets a large number of likes from many people. We feel like we want to jump on the bandwagon and click the button.

Here’s the question. How much does influencer marketing depend on like momentum to be successful?

This question cuts at the heart of what it means to be viral. How much of it is because the content is relevant and how much is it that everyone else likes it? There are a lot of variables to consider, such as audience, post type, platform, and what the content is. But if Instagram does pull the plug completely, you can bet that the industry will be studying how removing that variable affects how people interact with the platform.

We do think that influencers will be much more open to producing different kinds of content if like totals aren’t public. There is pressure on influencers to make every post count. If a type of post doesn’t perform, they will shy away from that in order to keep engagement high. Once the pressure to maximize likes is gone, they may feel more comfortable posting other things on their accounts. This will give their audiences a more authentic view of their life.

How Should Businesses React?

Put simply, removing the number of likes will force businesses to use metrics that actually move the needle on Instagram, like reach and click-through rates. No amount of mashing the like button will generate actual revenue in the end. It just means people are paying attention.

Content marketers will need to dig into their data to see what content is actually driving the business towards the goal. They will have to become smarter about their audiences and the kinds of content they truly want to engage with.

We think this practice of hiding likes will be healthy because it will raise the quality of the content that’s out there. If businesses are relying too much on link momentum to make their campaigns work, they’ll need to step up their game to produce higher-quality content.

That said, it’s too soon to know for sure! Only Facebook knows for sure how things have changed in their experiments. But since they’ve been experimenting with this since 2018, chances are they like what they see.

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