It hasn’t been long since Instagram rolled out a beta-test to hide like counts from photos and view counts from videos. This change has come about during a period where growing criticisms are being directed at the negative effects social media, particularly for younger users. The test was initially implemented for users in Canada. Like and view metrics have not been visible to people on their Instagram feeds nor when users visit the profiles of others. That data can only be seen by the account owner or uploader.
The rationale behind hiding likes according to Instagram is to hopefully allow people to focus on the quality of content shared across the platform. This will supposedly increase the amount of deep and more meaningful engagements on the platform. This is as opposed to users being inadvertently influenced by a ‘herd mentality’. Canada was selected for the trial due to the country’s tech-savvy and highly social population. A choice that many in Canada don’t seem to be happy with.
As with any beta-test, Instagram intends to thoroughly analyse the results, including the reactions from its valued users. If it’s a success, then we can expect hiding likes and view counts to be rolled out to other territories.
Reaction To Hiding Likes So Far
Well… the Instagram users of Canada have started reacting and while the trial is still on-going, it is receiving mixed reviews at best. Some people like the idea:
Taking away the #instagramlikes will help force people to actual be creative and enable followers to focus on the content at hand.
not to mention it's a huge relief for those who struggle with mental health and self-esteem issues.
it's a win win in my eyes.
— IG: iamkitana (@iamkitana_) May 2, 2019
And then there are those who flat-out hate the new concept:
Instagram if you can’t see the number of likes… I’m afraid your irrelevant. Thank for for Twitter… far from perfect but still much better. pic.twitter.com/OxINF8zNSq
— Eddie Goes Hollywood (@eddiefilmmaker) May 4, 2019
Benefits Of Instagram Hiding Likes
The Emphasis on Quality of Content. Not the Quantity of Likes
By hiding likes, Instagram is seeking to place more emphasis on the quality of content posted, as opposed to the number of likes that a post receives. The Head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri explained this ahead of the beta-test launch at Facebook’s annual developer conference. He stated – “We want people to worry a little bit less about how many likes they’re getting on Instagram and spend a bit more time connecting with the people that they care about.”
He added that the company didn’t want the platform to feel like a competition, but to be a more welcoming environment with minimised pressure on its users to be anything but themselves. His sentiments clearly display Instagram’s concerted effort to return to the foundations of how the platforms are supposed to be used.
More Genuine & Meaningful Likes
Comedian Zach Broussard conducted an experiment in an attempt to test the credibility of likes on social media. He set up a fake engagement shoot with a complete stranger (a professional model he had hired), in which he would propose to her on camera. It is important to note that at this point, Zach had been in a long-term relationship with his actual girlfriend for years. To his surprise, however, the post was generating hundreds of likes from “friends”, who didn’t seem to catch on that the person he was proposing to wasn’t even his partner.
While this can’t be considered a scientific experiment by any stretch of the imagination, it does prove that clicking ‘like’ is merely a reflex action for many people. This begs the question; Why are likes seemingly the be-all and end-all for the majority of people sharing content on Instagram, when they are sometimes given with such little meaning?
Extensive research has been carried out on the effects of likes on self-esteem and mental health. This is explained in more detail below.
Self-Esteem & Mental Health
When people compare the number of likes they receive to other aesthetically perfect Instagram photos (that sometimes contain countless filters and touch-ups), it can do some harm to their personal confidence. The University of Copenhagen completed a study, which identified how people can indeed suffer from “social media envy’. Dr Tim Bono, a happiness researcher, psychologist and author of “When Likes Aren’t Enough” explains in an interview with Healthista, that when people seek validation on how they’re doing in comparison to others, they are basically setting themselves up for failure by leaving their happiness up to a variable that is entirely beyond their control.
In addition to unhappiness, placing such high value on likes in this way can also lead to mental health issues that include anxiety and depression. With influencers, celebrities and a lot of other Instagram users mostly sharing their highlight reels through social media, some people are unable to differentiate between these little moments and everyday reality. As a result, some can find it increasingly difficult to value parts of their own lives and their own personal identity.
More Engagement than before
By Instagram hiding likes, contrary to the expectations of some, it could potentially lead to an increased level of engagement. As the platform currently stands, some users are put off engaging with others out of fear of being judged about some of their interests. If likes are hidden and user activity becomes more private as a direct result, then people may gain more confidence and interact more freely with other users.
The fact that comments are not being stripped away in addition to the likes reinforces this point. As many people scroll through their feeds and like posts without even thinking, a comment is more likely to mean that the user has been impacted by the post; Impacted enough to type out a comment, which can in itself lead to more authentic, meaningful interactions between connections.
All this being said, there are also some remarkable disadvantages to Instagram hiding likes. In the end, the company might look to cancel the new concept of hiding likes as explained in detail below.
Why Instagram May Cancel Hiding Likes Permanently
Such a change will have profound implications for brands, influencers and the Instagram platform in general. Firstly, it makes would make the process of brands finding influencers they’d like to collaborate with a more difficult task. At present brands place particular emphasis on the level of engagement when making the decision on which influencers to work with. Like counts are a key part of that analysis and without the ability to directly view such data, extra resources may be required to assess how engaged their community really is.
Potential Less Engagement For Brands, Influencers & Regular Users
The consequences of hiding likes permanently could have far greater consequences still, and all stakeholders would be forced to adjust to change their expectations, with regards to how much they value certain engagement rates. For example, if likes were to decrease throughout Instagram, an engagement rate of 2.5% may become the new 5%. Nonetheless, that hypothetical 2.5% may be worth its weight in gold – 2.5% tomorrow could be worth more to your brand than 5% today.
Despite this, we think that if this happens, Instagram would be more inclined to bring back likes – the more active, engaging users Instagram have, the better. It’s more profitable for them to have active users on the app.
Additionally, on the face of it, it may make it more difficult to understand which influencers are more likely to produce results. This puts more emphasis on the need to analyse the profile of influencers and to delve deeper into their effectiveness.
An Increase In Purchasing Engagements
Reduced engagement would not solve the problem of user accounts purchasing likes in an attempt to pad their level of engagement. This is because Instagram’s algorithm will still be likely to use engagement (likes and comments) as the most important factor in determining a piece of content’s popularity. The more likes and comments a post receives, the more that post will be displayed to a greater audience. This key point could, in fact, exacerbate the issue as brands will still find some value in the number of likes. Taking this route is, of course, a bad idea that has its own repercussions down the line.
Additionally, if likes are removed more emphasis will be put on comments, which means many fraudulent influencers will be encouraged to increase the number of comments they receive, as a way of selling themselves to brands.
Reliance on Third-Party Software
Because of this change, brands may be driven to rely on third-party applications, in the hope of gaining the most accurate metrics with regards to audience analytics. Calculating the level of engagement manually would be more difficult, meaning brands will have to settle on the next best option. This brings with it an extra time, cost and effort factor that was previously unnecessary.
Instagram’s vision is for their platform to remain a place that users can make authentic connections with one another, and rightly so. There clearly are negative effects of comparing likes and popularity, but it is also true that many people genuinely find joy in the activity of supporting a post, a friend, an influencer or a brand! Receiving approval from others in the form of likes is one of the driving forces behind users returning to the platform repeatedly.
The number of log-ins may start to reduce if the user experience excludes visible likes. For such reasons, Instagram may eventually cancel their experiment of hiding likes, even if the idea came with the best of intentions.