Social media is a crucial component of your brand’s digital marketing strategy, with the various platforms housing millions of active users seeking new and engaging content. However, these platforms are evolving and adapting constantly, and understanding what these developments mean for the industry is key. One of the most recent developments is the ability to hide ‘likes’ on Facebook and Instagram, which has the potential to shape the industry and the direction it’s heading in permanently. But what exactly has changed and how will it affect businesses, influencers and users?
As part of a joint initiative, Facebook and Instagram both recently decided to publicly roll out a feature whereby their users can hide their post ‘likes’. Although the project was tested back in 2019, experimenting within different jurisdictions, likes have long-dictated the content shared by users. They have been regarded as a metric of success, popularity and high engagement for those that use the platforms.
However, the tech giant announced in May that global users will now have greater control over the way they display and view likes. In particular, they have empowered users to:
◾ Hide the number of likes on other people’s posts from their feed
◾ Hide the like count on their own post (unless they click to see them)
You can remove Instagram likes on your posts by tapping the three dots in the upper right corner of a post, which will then take you to an option that reads ‘Hide Like Count’, under "Archive". This will hide the like count on that one posts only and can be altered at any time. If you're looking to hide likes on new posts, start a new post as usual - but before posting tap 'Advanced settings' at the bottom of the menu then turn on the 'Hide Like and View Counts' option.
To hide the Instagram likes counts on other peoples’ posts, just go to Settings, Privacy then Posts. Under this, select the toggle that says ‘Hide Like and View Counts’.
With ‘likes’ carrying such enormous weight, it appears that many Instagram and Facebook users have become increasingly pressured to post content that would make them popular online. These scenes have resulted in many people criticising the platforms for creating a toxic, false and intensified environment online.
In fact, one of the biggest concerns has been that likes can drive obsessive behaviour and have a negative impact on the mental health of those that pay too much attention to them, with research appearing to back this up.
Dennis Relojo-Howell, the founder of Psychreg, explains:
'There are plenty of studies that have identified the negative aspects of social media ranging from narcissism, usage by extremist groups, to cyberbullying. Yet, there are conflicting evidence about the direct causative relationship between social media and mental health. However, it seems more than a coincidence that rates of anxiety and depression in young people have risen concurrently with those of social media usage.
But research has also identified some positive benefits: Closely linked to collective self-esteem, research has shown that social media can increase our individual self-esteem. This is common with teenagers who would normally find face-to-face situations daunting and uncomfortable, which is great as it means that social media can increase social capital for many teenagers who may feel unable to make friends.
By removing ‘likes’, the tech giant may lessen the need for social comparison and reduce the pressure involved when posting online. In fact, Instagram found in earlier experiments that those who liked the removal of likes felt that it depressurised the experience and that they had more autonomy over their online activity.
But will it have the intended effects, and how will it affect the industry at large?
Likes have been used as a metric for platform success and engagement for years now, so offering users the option of turning off their likes or hiding the like counts of others will naturally cause a stir.
The ramifications for the influencer industry are obvious, as influencers often regard likes as a form of validation and measurement of performance. Likes play an important role in assessing engagement, as they are a clear indication of an active and interested following, especially for smaller businesses who are not as equipped to measure more complex metrics when seeking commercial relationships.
Many brands and agencies who choose to approach influencers about potential partnerships will base their decisions on the number of followers and likes they achieve. Removing these would make this more difficult. Not only that, but there may also be a reluctance amongst influencers to post as often, or participate on the platform at all if they feel as though they are not being recognised as much as they previously were.
Of course, even if some users choose to display like counts on their profile and others don’t, this may also result in subsequent shifts as far as algorithmic updates are concerned. This means that even influencers who choose to keep their like count visible and fixate on likes may find their content performing differently than before, especially if likes begin to have even less bearing on the content we see as consumers. Ultimately, Instagram and Facebook’s decision has brought about uncertainty amidst the industry. Many influencers and brands are cautious of what future updates might bring and how this may affect their social media performance.
However, the effects may not be as drastic as we might first imagine since the choice to hide likes is ultimately up to the individual user, and as it stands, influencers can choose to keep the likes visible on their profile. It remains the case that agencies and brands can still gain access to these metrics or be given them by the influencer.
During the initial tests, some users had their likes automatically disabled without their consent and others didn’t, but now those that want to continue to place emphasis on their likes can, meaning that the impact of this new feature may be overstated.
In fact, from a business and brand perspective, Facebook and Instagram’s decision to hide likes could also be a positive thing as it may empower labels to pursue genuine engagement rather than fixating solely on the most visible metrics.
We may even see businesses redirecting their attention to other metrics like views, link clicks, comments per post, reach, reposts, and saves - all of which can be more valuable and detailed to use when assessing brand loyalty and investment. For businesses that were previously fixated on tracking the single and most obvious metric, it could push them to expand on their social media strategy into something more calculated, allowing them to reap the benefits as a result.
As an agency that puts emphasis on original ideas and high-quality, user-centric content, we are optimistic that the new initiative may result in more authentic content and greater integrity from brands. By moving away from the fixation on a superficial metric such as likes, we hope that brands will feel empowered to drive engagement on a deeper level by creating more creative, bold and useful content that consumers genuinely enjoy interacting with. This will prove refreshing for the industry at large.
For the first time in a long time, we may see a departure in focus from empty likes towards consumer engagement, organic growth and more authentic brand alignment.
To gain even more insight into the topic, we discussed the development with our Social Media Executive, Helena, who made the following points:
In order to understand how this change will shape the social media industry, we have to investigate why Instagram and Facebook have made these changes.
In 2016, the platforms' algorithm changed, which signified the end of the chronological feed. From then on, the content was ordered based on the users’ interest in the content, their relationship with the poster, and the post’s timeliness. It is clear that the platforms have begun focusing on what users are truly interested in rather than the number of followers, likes of each account, or the frequency of the posts per day.
3 years later, in 2019, Instagram started banning accounts that were using bots, meaning the use of bots to gain followers/likes became extremely challenging, if not impossible. Again, this demonstrated the platform’s focus on authenticity and organic engagement rather than numbers. The option to hide likes is an extension of this focus and is certainly representative of continued efforts by the platform to focus on what consumers genuinely want to see, which will naturally shape the industry in years to come.
Although this is an optional feature, it won’t have a tremendous effect in the industry but may nonetheless shape it for users, businesses, and influencers.
From users’ perspective, having the option to hide their number of posts reduces the anxiety and stress of constantly producing content to increase the number of likes.
From a business perspective, finding Instagram users to promote their products could become slightly more challenging as they wouldn’t be able to check influencers’ authenticity by simply looking at their follower-like ratio anymore. Instead, more companies may begin using online tools to assess account engagement, which is more advanced.
Within the influencer industry, hidden likes could pose a red flag by companies and clients, and transparency may remain favourable. It will likely also increase competition within the industry as new metrics may grow in importance.
All in all, the latest changes indicate a departure from ‘likes’ and towards genuine engagement and consumer experience. However, this means that increasing your follower count has become more challenging, but that your followers may be more loyal and engage with your posts more authentically.