Why Is Instagram Hiding Likes (& What This Means for Social Media Marketers)

Instagram is now hiding likes.

On November 14, 2019, Instagram announced the expansion of their world-wide test in which “you'll no longer see the total number of likes and views on photos and videos posted to Feed unless they’re your own.”:

Instagram announcement

Not everyone understands why, and plenty of people aren’t happy about it. Just a little while ago, studies indicated that a little over 75% of marketers will use Instagram for advertising their brand in 2020.

However, change is afoot. While social media marketing often goes through changes and updates, hiding likes on Instagram is a seismic shock for many marketers.

What does this mean for the future of marketing on Instagram? In this article, we’ll go over some of the most common questions we've been hearing, like:

  • Why is Instagram hiding likes now?
  • Is Instagram getting rid of likes in 2020 and beyond?
  • How do you see what someone has liked on Instagram now?
  • How will the removing likes on Instagram change user behavior?
  • How will removing likes on Instagram impact audience engagement and brand loyalty?
  • Will hiding Instagram likes kill influencer marketing?

We'll also discuss what this means for marketers and, hopefully, provide the insights you need to benefit from this major change. Let’s dig in!

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Why Is Instagram Hiding Likes?

The reason for Instagram hiding likes comes down to the negative press that social media has attracted for its adverse effects on mental health. While social media platforms bring people together, they also provide a platform for hate speech, racism and cyber-bullying, particularly against teens.

Instagram is the most popular platform among the younger population, with almost 65% of Gen Z saying they use it every day:

Gen Z favorite social media

The battle to get “enough likes” can take its toll on young minds. As Instagram's chief executive Adam Mosseri explains:

“The idea is to try to depressurize Instagram, make it less of a competition, and give people more space to focus on connecting with the people they love and things that inspire them.”

Unless you weren't paying attention to social media marketing news, the shift to hide Instagram likes doesn't come as a big surprise. In late 2018, reports emerged about the platform's attempt to combat the problem of fake likes and followers.

Recent news revealed that Instagram has been busy testing its platform without any likes in seven countries, including Japan, Ireland and Australia. Examples of Instagram posts without likes are easy to spot, thanks to the mysterious “…and others” at the end of a post:

Instagram and others

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What Do People Think about Instagram Hiding Likes?

On November 9, 2019, a tweet from Mosseri told the world to expect Instagram to test hiding the number of likes for U.S. users soon. This announcement has been controversial, to say the least:

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While the rumors had been circulating for some time, the confirmation from Instagram's chief set the industry alight, triggering reactions from many celebrities and influencers. Rap artist Nicki Minaj claimed she'll quit the platform altogether:

image1 1

On the other hand, media personality Kim Kardashian West feels that:

“As far as mental health… I think taking the likes away and taking that aspect away from [Instagram] would be really beneficial for people.”

Although it's hard to hate the move to protect mental health, many critics have their doubts about Instagram's motives.

Fine artist Peter DeLuce has over 10,000 followers, which he uses to drive brand awareness of his space-themed scenery. He attributes a lot of his sales to social media marketing in this way and believes that removing likes on Instagram is bad news for emerging artists:

Peter DeLuce Twitter

Some critics of the change see it as a cunning manoeuvre by the platform. While this update may be presented as a considerate, caring move, there is some speculation that Instagram is giving up on the newsfeed feature to invest more in Stories.

Peter Malachi, senior VP of communications of Hermès says:

“Growing regulatory pressure for transparency regarding paid posts and sponsored influencer content has also led to diminished growth, so cynically, I wonder if Instagram is hiding likes to protect investment due to decline in engagement?”

In any case, many marketers will be glad to hear that the likes feature isn’t completely gone. Yet.

How Do You See What Someone Has Liked on Instagram?

Don't worry, you can still see how many likes your Instagram posts receive. Your followers, however, will not be able to see the like count on your posts.

Jane Manchun Wong, a “technology blogger and app researcher famous for uncovering new features before they launch,” including a “feature hidden in the code of Instagram: an option to hide ‘likes' on a photo,” states: “The person who posted it still does, but as the app describes it, ‘we want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get. During this test, only the person who share [sic] a post will see the total number of likes it gets.'”

This feature still allows feedback and engagement metrics on which to guide your Instagram marketing strategy, but it certainly lacks the pulling power that some marketers have relied on thus far.

It’s undeniable that there is a herd mentality impact at play when users see a post that already has accrued hundreds or thousands of likes – or the lack thereof:

Instagram following tab

So, how will hiding that metric change social media marketing on Instagram?

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How Has Instagram Removing Likes Impacted User Behavior?

Initially, Instagram ran the test in Canada first, before expanding it to Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Japan and Brazil.

Results from early testing indicate that wherever the total number of likes on Instagram posts was hidden, there was a direct impact on the total number of likes received. Click To Tweet

HypeAuditor research on the test countries found that likes fell by as much as 15% for influencers with 5,000-20,000 followers:

image6

Influencers in Brazil were hit hardest, while Japan was the only country that actually received more likes. However, this growth was only evident for micro-influencers with 1,000-5,000 followers, and 100,000-1 million followers:

image5

Hiding likes on Instagram may reveal some trends as time goes on, but for now it's still too early to really know the full impact.

Dive Deeper: How to Grow Your Business With Influencer Marketing and Brand Partnerships

Is Instagram Getting Rid of Likes in 2020 and Beyond?

Quite probably, yes.

In the past couple of weeks, news spread that Instagram is to test hiding likes in the U.S. Indeed, on November 14, 2019, TechCrunch reported that the testing has now gone global. Things are moving fast!

If global testing goes well, marketers should expect this change to be rolled out for all users in the near future, and certainly in 2020.

3 Benefits of Hiding Likes on Instagram

It’s clear that Instagram isn’t afraid to hurt its profit margins, but the impact on influencers is not to be disregarded lightly. Influencers are vital to the lead-generation strategies of many brands.

Think about this: 70% of teens trust influencers more than traditional celebrities and 40% of U.S. consumers use ad-blockers, which means that…

“People aren't blocking videos from their favorite social media celebrities; in fact, they're eating up every word they say. Advertising power is shifting to real people and influencers.”

With this in mind, we must ask what is there to be gained from removing likes on Instagram?

Here are three benefits of removing likes on Instagram:

1) Stop Worrying about Vanity Metrics

For a lot of individuals and brands, the total number of likes on their Instagram posts has been little more than a padded bat with which to beat others over the head (figuratively speaking – I hope!). This social marker is more of a popularity vote to get attention, even when your efforts, products, brand messaging or mission doesn't entirely deserve the accolades.

AgencyAnalytics details the seven Instagram metrics you should be tracking that are more important than likes:

  • Follower Growth Rate
  • Engagement Per Follower
  • Website Traffic

instagram-traffic-ga

  • Link Clicks
  • Comments Per Post
  • Instagram Stories Engagement
  • Reach
By hiding Instagram likes, creators and influencers must get smarter about the content they publish, as well as how they track and promote it. Click To Tweet

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2) Better Content Quality and Brand Integrity

For many Instagram marketers who track their metrics, the total number of likes is the first thing they look at to gauge performance. However, now that Instagram is hiding likes, creators will be forced to focus on delivering genuine quality content.

A great way to make your products or brand easy to learn about on Instagram is to make them discoverable. Discoverable content appears in Instagram's “Explore” tab, which presents relevant posts to interested users, allowing you to gain exposure to a much wider audience segment than is typically possible. And the best way to get in the Explore tab is by adding relevant hashtags.

You can also check out this article on creating high-quality content in general.

This change on Instagram should weed out anyone who is trying to cheat the system by buying likes, effectively leading to better brand integrity and better content.

Dive Deeper:

3) Less Pressure to Get Likes

51% of girls and women between the ages of 11 and 21 wish that they looked more like the females they see in the media. With many of these young women using Instagram likes as a measurement of their self-worth, it’s a high-pressure environment that can have a negative impact on self-esteem and confidence.

As Instagram star and fine jeweler Stephanie Gottlieb points out:

“I think this will be good for overall stress related to social media performance. You will still have the ability to see your own numbers, which means that you can still analyze your metrics against yourself, which is really all you need to know.”

By taking this pressure away, it's hoped that people will focus more on sharing things they genuinely love, instead of posting stuff you hope others will like.

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3 Disadvantages of Hiding Likes on Instagram

There is a lot of hope for positive change with this latest development in social media marketing. However, the push for Instagram to test hiding the number of likes has not been greeted with unanimous approval.

Here are three concerns that marketers have about hiding likes on Instagram:

1) Brands and Influencers May Leave Instagram

When a great post generates a lot of likes, it serves up a feel-good hit that can quickly become addictive. Many will wait around to see how things go, but others may simply leave to get their dopamine rush from another platform, such as Snapchat or Pinterest.

Snapchat is already the platform of choice for 51% of Gen Z, while Pinterest drives more traffic than any other platform. Moreover, 90% of weekly Pinterest users use the platform to make purchasing decisions. As visual commerce grows, these two platforms are sure to become more important to brands – which makes them more alluring for influencers.

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Source

And there are many other channels for brands and marketers to use, including the most obvious, like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, the first, second and third most popular platforms for the younger generations:

Instagram use 2020

Source

Aside from the obvious ones that come to mind, there are also tons of other ad networks to consider.

Dive Deeper: 54 Alternative Ad Networks to Open Up New Channels of Growth in 2019

2) Influencers Will Struggle to Get Noticed

Until now, likes have been the barometer of quality content on Instagram, which is particularly useful for emerging artists and photographers. Likes gave validation to their work, attracting more attention to earn them the brand awareness and recognition that they need to grow their business.

Without these likes, there are fears that it will be almost impossible to get recognized unless you have good connections. Brands won't find it as easy to assess what influencers are worth. In the case of micro-influencers, this may dramatically reduce opportunities.

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3) Marketers Will Just Focus on Other Vanity Metrics

Will Instagram getting rid of the total number of likes just switch the focus to another skewed metric, like follower count?

Of course, getting a flood of likes can be justified in many cases, but the total number of likes that your posts get is not a reliable key performance indicator (KPI) for your social media marketing campaign. As a social-media strategist Karen Civil points out:

Karen Civil instagram metrics

How Marketers Can Embrace Instagram Hiding Likes

Now that Instagram is removing likes all over the planet, marketers are wondering what to do. Should you pack it in and jump ship to another platform? Or should you stick around and figure out a new way to be on Instagram?

Here are three tips for social media marketers to embrace this change and turn it to their advantage:

Use Other Tools to Measure Engagement

Influencers and brands can still see their like metrics on the back-end, and they can use analytics tools to track engagement metrics in their campaigns. For example, you could use:

  • Socialbakers, which allows you to analyze your posts with the help of artificial intelligence to get a better understanding of your reach, audience interactions and your most successful post types.
  • Squarelovin, which provides granular data so you can determine the best and worst times of the day to post and thus encourage engagement and ROI.
  • Hootsuite, which is a a social media management platform that helps you keep track and manage all your social network channels, including monitoring what people are saying about your brand.
  • Buffer, which helps you manage your social media accounts, analyze your results and engage with your community.

Mae Karwowski, CEO of Obviously, says:

“If you have the right technology, hidden likes are not a problem. Good influencer marketers will still have access to those metrics even if they're hidden. We'll still be able to know an influencer's engagement.”

Think about it like this: If you pay $1,000 to an influencer or agency to run some paid ads, would you prefer to generate 100 new leads or 5,000 likes?

With the right engagement analytics, you can track the metrics that really matter, and then adjust your campaign to generate better results and achieve your bigger goals – instead of just racking up likes.

Dive Deeper:

Invest More in Instagram Stories Ads and Video

 

About 500 million people use Instagram Stories on a daily basis (half the total people on Instagram), and 62% of them become more interested in a brand or its products and services after they watch Instagram Stories.

Research from AdEspresso shows that Instagram Stories get a lot of engagement, with 70% of Gen Z and 59% of Millennials watching them every day. Better yet, Stories increase ad recall, purchase intent and clickthrough rate (CTR). All things considered, focusing on Stories is a better investment of your resources.

Guy Avigdor, COO of influencer marketing company Klear, said that:

“Many marketers are now moving toward sponsored Story posts on Instagram instead of traditional posts as a way to ‘measure influencer impact and reduce reliance on likes.'”

Marketers and brands can use Stories in several ways, such as:

  • Product demo: String together several short clips to highlight a key feature or use case of the product or service.
  • Review: Travel bloggers do this all the time, using Stories to review a hotel or tour, which is shared with their dedicated audience of travel lovers. 
  • Brand storytelling: Compared to photos, Instagram Stories offers marketers more creative freedom and scope to use storytelling, which is excellent for building your brand image and forging relationships with a wider audience.
  • Sales and events: If your company has a big sale or a special event coming up, let your customers know with a call-to-action, which makes it even easier to get customers to swipe up and go straight to your store.
  • Behind-the-Scenes moments: Giving your customers or fans a sneak peek behind the curtain of your company makes your brand more “human” and accessible. Calvin Klein gave Instagram a sneak peek at Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown’s dress fitting for the 2018 Emmy Awards.
  • Retarget customers: Retargeting is a great way for online sellers to boost marketing ROI and since Instagram is linked up with Facebook, you can even use these ads to set up retargeting campaigns based on behavior tracked with your Facebook Pixel.

Dive Deeper:

Focus on Quality

Brands need to develop a solid process to identify influencers who can do the following:

  • Create awesome, unique content
  • Build real relationships with their audience
  • Get followers to convert

With this in mind, the future of social media marketing on Instagram is all about being authentic not about bloated vanity metrics.

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Wrap Up

Instagram is hiding likes for users around the world, changing the face of social media marketing and influencer campaigns. This move is a controversial one but, ultimately, a positive step forward for brands, influencers and users because not only will there be less social pressure to compete, but users will be forced to stand back and re-evaluate how they use Instagram in the future. Instagram removing likes may be the catalyst behind a new wave of higher-quality content and greater brand integrity.

The question is: How will you offer Instagram users real value in 2020?

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