Instagram Continues Experimenting with Hiding Likes: Why It’s a Game-Changer
As you may have heard, Instagram started playing with the idea of hiding the number of likes a post receives back in May of 2019. While the experiment began only with a test group of Canadian users, Instagram announced late last month that it has expanded the feature to 6 more countries (including Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Japan, and New Zealand).
For users in the test groups, public likes are hidden by default, but like count data is still visible to users on the back-end of their account. Instagram has yet to release any data on how hiding likes has changed browsing habits, but the expansion of the feature to new countries signals that the social media giant is confident with the preliminary results.
During his keynote, Mark Zuckerburg explained the motivation for hiding likes on Instagram, saying, “We want people to be less interested in how many likes a post gets and focus more on connecting with other people.” This change comes after years of scrutiny regarding the role of social media on mental health.
While everyone who’s ever set foot in a high school knows that it’s a natural thing to worry over popularity, social media amplifies that anxiety by putting a quantifiable metric on social status. Taking away the ability to see and compare likes takes away some of that stress, proponents argue.
While most people have praised Instagram’s response, others are more skeptical, suggesting that Instagram’s motives are less altruistic than they seem. Some influencers have floated the idea that, by hiding likes, Instagram is really interested in taking power away from influencers and thereby encouraging brands to spend more on paid advertising.
My Take: Time to Stop Relying on Vanity Metrics
A post’s number of likes has never been a very good metric for the overall quality of your social media strategy. So often, I talk to clients who are only concerned about raising their like count, to the point where they ignore other, more valuable, metrics of engagement.
When you’re only concerned about likes, you stop creating content for yourself and your particular followers and start creating content that’s meant to appeal to the widest possible audience. Yes, food and bikini pics get a lot of likes, but is that really going to drive quality traffic to your business? (Obviously, you can ignore this criticism if your business is based around food or bikinis, but you catch my drift.) Likes matter, sure, but comments and swipe-up rates are going to tell you a lot more in terms of what content actually converts.
Instagram’s decision to hide the like count also prevents other users from prejudging content based on its number of likes. It forces them to make the decision for themselves on whether or not the content is good.
At the end of the day, most people, whether they’re business owners or just casual users, put too much emphasis on this so-called vanity metric, and if hiding likes helps alleviate the pressure of popularity and encourages people to put out more authentic content, then I’m all for it.