For months, Instagram has been testing an option of hiding likes on posts in select international markets. The test first occurred in Canada, and then expanded to Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New Zealand. Last week, they announced they would be running the same test across a number of user accounts in the United States.

 

The What:

The total number of likes on a post, which appear as hearts on the app, will disappear from Instagram’s main feed, profile pages and permalink pages. However, the functionality to like a post will still be there. While a post’s like count will no longer be seen by the public, account owners and brands with API access will still be able to track how many people are liking and interacting with their content. Likes will also continue to affect the overall algorithm and how likely a post is seen in users’ feeds.

 

The When:

The test will roll out to some users in the United States as early as this week (week of 11/10/2019). If your account is selected as part of the test, it’s likely the account will receive a message notification at the top of your feed.

 

The Why:

Removing the public nature of a post’s like count is one initiative Instagram has taken towards making the platform a safer, more inclusive space. The hope is that:

  • Everyday users, especially young people, will feel less pressure to compete for engagement, and cyberbullying amongst peers on the platform will decrease.
  • Influencers will feel less inclined to delete posts that “under-perform” or inflate a “vanity metric” by purchasing fake followers and likes.

 

The Impact:

While hiding likes will have an impact on the way we evaluate and measure campaign success, it’s not all negative:

  • Identification: Hidden likes could make it more difficult for brands to find and partner with influencers natively through the platform because they’ll no longer visibly be able to evaluate an influencers’ content performance against their follower count. Ethical data gathering through influencer marketing platforms with approved API access now becomes paramount to vetting and evaluating influencers.
  • Measurement: Campaign measurement needs to shift from prioritizing likes to a focus on performance KPIs that better measure a brand’s objectives. It’s less about engagements at the post level, and more about how the campaign drove awareness, consideration, sales or brand health metrics.
  • Consumer Behavior: Hidden likes could shift behaviors for brands, influencers and users across Instagram in a positive way. Based on information from some of the tests overseas, users feel freer to authentically engage with posts they genuinely like. Users who may not have liked a post in the past – either because they felt their like would be insignificant or that their friends would judge them – may now base their decision to interact with content on whether they actually like it. Brands will then be able to use that to target their true audience based on user behavior. For influencers, they’ll be able to focus more on the content itself instead of a number, allowing them to post more freely without being limited to “best posting times”.

 

The Bottom Line:

The ability for all users to create content based on genuine affinities and connections without feeling the pressure to perform fosters a more positive atmosphere and allows influencers and brands to evaluate performance based on true, high-value success metrics.

 

The jury is out on whether Instagram plans to make hidden likes permanent within the US market, but the success of the international tests and decision to test here could indicate a more permanent change is coming.