Why is Instagram Trialling Hidden Likes?

Everyone who’s on social media wants their content to be liked by others. Whether it’s close friends or complete strangers, receiving a like from them is a feel-good experience that for many people comes with a sense of validation. That’s why the latest news from Instagram is being met with very mixed reviews, as it begins to trial a one-of-a-kind concept.

It all began in May, when Canadian users suddenly found that they could no longer see how many likes other people’s content had received. They can still view how many likes their own photos have gathered, but their users are unable to see how popular it is. This has now spread to Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Italy, Japan and Brazil, so it’s looking likely that it could become a global system very soon.

The reason behind this bold move revolves around how social media affects self-esteem and puts pressure on users to be the most liked. Instagram has said that it hopes this change will remove the obsession that people have with wanting large numbers of likes – though they can still see the amount themselves, hiding the total from other users makes it an almost entirely redundant drive behind posting. As a result, the team behind the app believes that users will focus more on storytelling and less on trying to go viral.

It’s true that most people are guilty of feeling judged when it comes to how many likes they receive, even though the quality of the content should always be the primary factor. As for businesses that use the platform, you don’t have to worry too much, as the concealing of your total likes won’t affect the measurement tools that you may use to shape your future content plan.

What’s more, the likes aren’t really hidden, technically speaking. Rather than your upload having ‘Liked by drunkanimaluk and 52 others’ beneath it, instead it will give a list of people who have given you a like. This means that if someone desperately wanted to see how many likes another user has received for their post, they can scroll down the list and count them… but then is it really worth it? And that’s exactly the point that Instagram is making – by removing an in-your-face grand total, we’ll hopefully all focus more on the post itself, rather than its engagement figures.

Funnily enough, our copywriter, Rich, was in York the other week and got chatting to an Australian couple in a bar. Whilst the husband didn’t really use Instagram, the wife said that it was crucial to the expansion of her independent retail business. She explained that the change hadn’t affected sales, and if anything it had removed the stress of trying to get likes for the sake of it. Now she can invest her attention into creating and sharing visual content that people will like on a deeper level than a perfunctory double-tapping of the image.

We think that this is a very strong development by Instagram and respect the intention behind it. Whether social media is used by an individual to share stories or a business to grow brand advocacy, the focal point should be how followers feel and connect with the content, not how many people have quickly pressed the heart icon.

Do you think a social media experience with hidden likes is the way to go? Let us know your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.