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Instagram is hiding like counts—what does that mean for brands?

Instagram is hiding like counts—what does that mean for brands?
Written by
Kristi McKee

Kristi McKee

Senior Consultant

Ten years after Facebook launched the “Like” button and kicked off a new era of obsessing over post engagement and acceptance, Instagram announced it’s testing a new feature that would hide like counts on photos. The change will be tested in Canada as early as next week, and will mean only the person who posts a photo or video will see how many likes it receives.

In a release this week, Facebook—the parent company of Instagram—said it’s testing the feature because, “we want your followers to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get.”

While this move is being positioned as a step toward the elimination of social media’s negative impacts on society, I can’t help but wonder—what will this mean for marketers, influencers, and businesses who use Instagram to build their brand, message, and following? A few thoughts on what’s to come:

A change in the algorithm

Ah, the algorithm. Much debated, much complained about, much discussed. What will this change do to Instagram’s algorithm? Likely, Instagram developers would need to update the algorithm to reflect the inability to publicly see likes, creating a new way to curate content through feeds. Comments could become more important, which has the potential to further shift the way users use the app—comments are a form of active engagement (you are putting together a clear thought) compared to likes, which are a much more passive engagement (acknowledgement without context).

The fall of “engagement rate” as a metric

As soon as the trial was announced, influencers called foul. What will this do to engagement rates? Engagement rates are typically calculated by dividing a user’s average post likes by their follower count. If likes can’t be publicly viewed, it could be difficult for brands and agencies to identify true influencers and make it next to impossible to differentiate between those influencers with true engagement rates and those who buy followers.

Brands and agencies will have to work that much harder to identify influencers and request their engagement rates, and it will be on influencers to have those engagement numbers available. The whole measurement system—what really makes an influencer and their value to brands—could very well come under review.

The rise of “authenticity”

The buzzword of 2016-17 was “authenticity”—everyone and their (Instafamous) dog were talking about creating authentic moments on social media. But the term grew legs for a reason. As fake news became a more present in the conversation, follower buying spiked, and as the transparency of brand-influencer paid partnerships came under question, users began seeking truly authentic content.

Hiding the like counts could reduce pressure and dissuade brands, influencers, and the average user to post inauthentic content to bolster likes. Which could actually lead to more quality over quantity, which is a positive thing.

A change in user behaviour

Since the rise of social media, research has supported the claim that receiving likes on social media releases endorphins and that users—especially younger demographics—are more likely to like a photo if that photo has a high number of likes. If a user is more likely to like a photo their friend has liked, what will happen when they no longer know if their friend has liked it?

Of course, this can go one of two ways: users will either like photos more frequently, without fear of public judgement, therefore potentially pushing them higher in newsfeeds, or they’ll engage less because there is less pressure to participate.

Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri noted the success of Instagram Stories, where engagement with stories remains high even though engagement rates aren’t displayed to others.

At the end of the day, a few outstanding questions remain: Will hidden like counts reduce brand ad spending on the platform? Will other platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, follow suit? Will this Canada-led test turn into something more permanent? Time will tell, and in the meantime, all eyes are on Canadian users as we navigate a familiar platform in a new way.

——— Kristi McKee is a former Senior Consultant, Integrated Strategy at NATIONAL Public Relations