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Sign showing zero likes to illustrate the impact of Instagram hiding likes

Instagram is hiding likes: what does this mean for brands, influencers, and you?

Reading time: 5 minutes.

What’s happening?

Instagram is considering changing one of the backbones of its platform: likes. As of last week New Zealand has been added to the list of test countries where Instagram is hiding likes.

It’s not the first time a major tech company has used our backyard as a testing environment. Let’s get into why Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, is doing this and what it means for you.

Why is Instagram hiding likes?

Mia Garlick, director of policy for Facebook in Australia and New Zealand, hopes the test will restore the joy of sharing photos on Instagram.

“We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love,” she says.

Don’t mistake this for an altruistic gesture. Instagram may be the worst rated platform for mental health and wellbeing but this is not Facebook’s primary motivation. What they’re concerned with is encouraging people to post more photos more often.

For the last few years Facebook has been under pressure from investors to increase the number of ads displayed to users. However the platform needs to be concerned about ‘ad load’, or the number of ads a user sees relative to the amount of content they see. If a platform’s ad load is too high it risks scaring off users. If its ad load is too low it risks scaring off investors.

So there are two ways to show more ads: you either increase ad load, or you encourage users to post more content. And by hiding likes Instagram is attempting to do the latter.

More content. More time on app. More ads. Happy investors, happy Instagram, happy Facebook. Happy world?

What does Instagram hiding likes mean for brands?

What’s social in a world with no likes? Don’t worry. Unless you’ve been relying on cheap tricks like buying likes, this change probably doesn’t mean too much for your business. But you should consider what this change looks like and the impact it has on the value of engagement.

What impact does this have on Instagram advertising?

Likes add social proof to your advertising. People pay more attention to a piece of content that has accumulated a lot of likes. We’re more likely to watch a video that thousands of people have liked. And we’re more likely to trust a brand when we see others engaging with their messaging. Instagram hiding likes makes this harder to achieve.

Screenshot of the impact of Instagram hiding likes shown on Coca Cola's Instagram post.
Engagement is what makes Instagram ads social

Many brands use a combination of engagement and reach objectives when running Instagram ads and we believe that this is even more important now.

How do brands stay effective?

In short: don’t panic. This change is likely to have very little impact on your brand’s Instagram strategy. The foundations of strong social strategy haven’t changed. Keep producing strong content that engages your audience in a way that is authentic to your brand. 

This doesn’t mean that Instagram hiding likes is meaningless. Here are the key takeaways.

  1. Don’t think Instagram ‘Likes’ no longer matter: they do. They might matter more than ever. If none of your followers have liked a post then now it’s as if no one has liked the post. However if someone you follow has liked the post this is prominently highlighted, as you can see in the comparison below.
  2. Focus on developing deeper engagement with your audience. Comments are a sign that you’ve elicited a strong emotional reaction and they provide an opportunity to build a real connection with your biggest fans. Even before Instagram started hiding likes the comment section was becoming the most valuable part of your Instagram presence. Please don’t resort to gimmicks to earn comments.

What does it mean for analytics?

This has no impact on the analytics of your accounts. You’ll still see the same metrics that you always have, including your like count. This is true for all users. Instagram have only hidden the like count for other people, not account holders.

However, this change does make it harder to judge the performance of others’ posts. If seeing like counts for competitors, influencers, or any others is important to you then you’ll need to invest in a quality social analytics tool. Or work with an agency that does.

What does it mean for influencers?

Has anyone relied on a high like count more than influencers have? Instagram hiding likes may have a major impact on the type of content that influencers post. And it will certainly change some of the more unsavoury parts of the industry.

Bye bye bye to buying likes

As covered above, with Instagram hiding likes the only likes that matter are the genuine ones. This means that with one line of code Instagram has killed all of the fake like buying services that have been increasingly popular.

Screenshot of Instagram Fake Like search results. Instagram hiding likes will remove the appeal of these fake like services.
Instagram’s ‘Fake Likes’ economy will not be missed.

True influence will shine through

Influencers who have built a genuinely engaged audience won’t struggle in this world. And we don’t think there’s much truth to the idea that this will make it harder for new influencers to grow their brands.

As Pead’s Managing Partner Sarah Munnik says, “It’s about how you behave and how you make people feel.” The influencers that live up to their hype won’t be impacted by Instagram hiding likes.

In fact, we’re hoping that this change will allow influencers, and all Instagram users, to focus on content that genuinely adds value to their followers. It’s another sign that the influencer industry is continuing to grow up.

Conclusion

Likes have become a sort of self-worth currency. More likes on a post typically tells the poster and their followers that the content is more impressive, attractive, entertaining, or valuable than others. This currency increases some people’s self-esteem, at least in the short term. While at the same time it brings down others’. 

We don’t think Instagram are motivated primarily by looking after its users wellbeing. But we are encouraged by this move and hope that it will help to build a healthier, more vibrant ecosystem. With less pressure to gain lots of likes users can post photos the photos they love, rather than focusing on only those that are guaranteed to earn high engagement.

And if you’re craving the Like-filled Instagram that you were used to, don’t worry: you can still see the like count on instagram.com. For now.

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