Back in 2019, Instagram began testing hiding ‘likes’ on posts, only allowing the original publisher to view them. The objective of the test was to encourage brands and influencers to focus more on quality content and less on the social validation associated with likes. The trial was rolled out in several countries, including Australia and New Zealand, in response to growing concerns about social media’s impact on mental health and wellbeing.
Now, likes have once again appeared on our feeds, but there is a slight change. Instagram is leaving the choice up to users. Targeted towards giving users more control over their experience on the platform and reducing social pressure, like counts are visible by default, with users able to opt out of seeing them on their feed and posts. The likes feature can be switched on or off at any time in the settings menu and users have the option to hide like counts on specific posts, before and after they go live.
Regardless of whether the platform is being used as a creative, social or marketing tool for businesses, marketers, influencers or everyday users, there are key pros and cons of Instagram likes and we’ve broken them down below, to help you decide whether you’ll be turning yours on or off!
Likes prop up the influencer economy
As people spend more time on social media, they are likely to spend more time engaging with influencers and the products they promote. Likes on Instagram are a key metric used by creators and influencers to communicate their value proposition. While these metrics were still available when Instagram trialled removing likes from posts, there was a decrease in average likes on the platform as users were less incentivised to like a post without the metric count on display.
Likes increase reach of popular brands and influencers
Instagram’s algorithm prioritises engagement when promoting posts, meaning posts with more likes will have stronger reach. When people see a high number of likes they are encouraged to engage with the content.
Hiding likes may hinder impressions and engagement, which in turn has a negative impact on the reach of content.
Likes can increase pressure on social validation
Some people, in particular teens, might measure their own self-worth and popularity based on how many likes they get on their posts. The action of liking a post holds a currency – the worthiness of a post comes down to how many likes it receives. This can have a terrible impact on self-esteem and can lead to anxiety and depression.
Likes can distort our online behaviour
There is no doubt likes are associated with the validity of a post. People like to be liked. To boost self-esteem and fuel a sense of belonging, people post content with the hope of receiving positive feedback. Users often report posting content and then obsessively refresh the feed to check how it has been received because we crave the social rewards of our content being liked. When we don’t get the feedback we expected, we tend to make comparisons like ‘why didn’t this person like my post, but this person did?’ or ‘why didn’t I get as many likes as someone else?’
Chasing metrics can affect what we do (or don’t) post online
When users can see likes, they are less likely to test out new ideas because they worry about public perception. When likes are visible, there is likely to be less emphasis placed on the quality of the content and more on cheeky hacks like rehashing popular content to generate more likes.
When likes are hidden, brands tend to dig deeper to establish and nurture relationships with their followers as they share content that truly aligns with their brand values.
Even if you can’t see the likes, they affect what you see on your feed. While the platform says allowing users to hide likes is intended to alleviate the social pressure associated with chasing metrics, Instagram’s algorithm is still influenced by likes as well as other engagement metrics.
Here at Zib we’re choosing to keep the likes hidden. Likes are used to gauge the popularity or validity of a post and with likes are hidden, users will have to determine whether they personally connect with the content without knowing how others feel about it. This makes engagement, and in particular likes, much more meaningful.
Will you be hiding likes on your account? Sound off over on Zib’s Instagram Account.