Instagram Tests Hiding Like Counts, Receives Backlash

Instagram recently started testing “private like counts” – a feature that hides the number of likes a post has on users’ news feeds. The social media giant is currently running this test in seven countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan, and our very own New Zealand.

While this feature was framed as a step towards rehumanising the platform and removing the pressure of quantifying people’s sense of value and self-worth (phew!), it’s been caught in a whirlwind of controversy within the marketing community.

We explore what this potential change in the platform could mean for users, advertisers, and the platform’s business at large. Read on!

Private Like Counts

The “private like counts” feature was announced by head of Instagram Adam Mosseri on the 30th of April at Facebook F8.

Adam Mosseri at Facebook F8

As you scroll through your Instagram feed, the number of like counts will no longer appear. People will still be able to see who liked a post (and can manually count it – if you’ve got the time). However, only the post owner will be able to see the number of likes if they tap through to the likers list.

“We want people to worry a little bit less about how many likes they’re getting on Instagram, and spend a bit more time connecting with the people they care about.”

Adam Mosseri

Instagram and youth mental health

It’s no secret that social media has been branded as “bad for mental health”, and it’s not hard to see why. With the number of followers and likes open for everyone to see, people easily attribute value to their numbers, in relation to others’.

A UK survey done as early as 2017 suggests that Instagram is rated as the “worst social media platform when it comes to its impact on young people’s mental health”, as it brings about feelings of inadequacy and anxiety.

Scrolling through your feed exposes you to other people’s highlight reels, making it easy to compare your success to others’. People on social media tend to look happier, more successful, more fit, more exciting, etc.

Theoretically, users will stop measuring their worth by removing total like numbers, and Instagram is “looking forward to learning more about how this change might benefit everyone’s experience.” (Source: Twitter)

But is that really all there is to it?

Marketing experts slam Private Like Counts, saying it’s a “money-making tool”

Instagram has become a strong force when it comes to advertising and sponsored content, especially considering the band of creator-influencers that rely on the platform for their livelihoods. According to the company, this won’t affect measurement tools for businesses, but it does affect something else entirely.

As soon as the announcement was made, influencers and marketers alike were in a flurry. Marketing experts, in particular, slammed the company, exposing the ‘dark truth’ about this alleged mental health advocacy. Experts claim that this change will make it easier for businesses to spend ad dollars on the platform and compete with influencers.

How? By hiding the total number of likes and getting rid of this ‘barrier of social proof’, Instagram can level the playing field for both influencers and businesses. Brands will then be more inclined to pump more money into the platform to advertise their own content, instead of just paying influencers to do it for them.

It’s about raising ad revenue for the platform, and [making] Instagram more appealing for small businesses and brands to pump dollars into the growing social behemoth,” Dave Levett told Daily Mail. “Instagram wants businesses spending money on its platform instead of with influencers. This is purely a money play.”

So what now?

If Instagram decides to stick to this change, then business advertisers have a lot to think about.

Working with influencers, in particular, will see some sort of shift depending on how hidden like counts affect the success of their sponsored posts. Advertisers will need to look at other post metrics such as sale generations, reach, and the quality of the content.

Mental health advocates or not, it’s clear that Instagram has something to gain out of this feature. By making it geared more towards “reconnecting people” and less of an “influencer market”, they make more room for their own advertising tools, such as Story Ads, Sponsored Posts, IGTV, Carousel Ads, among others.

Dallas Rabot

Dallas has over a decade of local and overseas experience in digital marketing & web development. He previously co-founded a web & mobile app development company and holds multiple industry-leading SEO certifications.

Dallas is interested in the intersection between digital media & business. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Auckland - a Film, TV & Media Studies major, and a Diploma in Business from Auckland University of Technology.

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