Cast your mind back to April 2019, when Facebook announced they would be hiding like counts on Instagram in selected territories. And to the questions raised; why’re they doing this? Will this affect how much people post? How will this affect engagement? Is the decision of a salubrious nature or not?
Up until now, Instagram has remained characteristically tight-lipped, however, this week, we got a little more insight into the thinking behind the test and the impacts thus far when Vishal Shah, Instagram’s VP of Product took part in an interview on ‘The Social Media Geekout’ podcast.
Shah first noted that the origin of the hidden like count test came from the feedback from various internal teams.
“This one came from the team that works on interactions and feed, so this team is incentivised to try to drive more likes [and] more comments, but in all of their user research, they heard so loud and clear that people felt like the public like count was a very high area of pressure for them when they produce content on Instagram […] the act of expression itself is what we cared about, not the validation, or perceived validation, that a public like count gets people.”
Of course, at the time of Instagram’s inception, a like count made sense as “this was the norm” as Shah noted. Especially when considering the rise of formats such as stories, public engagement metrics are no longer driving behaviour as they once did.
What Inspired The Change?
Shah indicated that users’ wellbeing is at the heart of it all. Internal research suggested that the test would “increase the number of posts people make to the service, by making them feel less self-conscious when their posts don’t get much engagement”.
Shah speaks of the mounting social pressure to perform well on social platforms too, stating,
“people are deleting the stuff that they posted to feed because they felt like they were competing with themselves [or] they were competing with public figures and celebrities and influencers that they felt they could never be on an even playing field. We thought this was one of the most effective ways to even that playing field and remove some of that pressure for performing”.
Instagram wants to harbour an environment in which people share for sharing’s sake, without the pressure of having to achieve social status through how many likes you’ve amassed.
Where’s The Test At Currently?
Shah mentioned this is one of the most drastic changes that they have ever sought to make, and the reason that it’s taking so long to test is because Instagram’s internal team needs sufficient time to measure the true impact of the update before pushing forward. With such a significant change, Shah said, some shifts in behaviour will occur in the short-term, but to truly understand the paradigm shift, a longer time frame is needed.
However, despite this cards-to-his-chest approach, Shah did relinquish a small indicator of how the test’s performance:
“We knew going into this that we would likely have to trade-off some amount of engagement to do this work, and we are very comfortable doing that if in the end, it makes people more comfortable expressing themselves and sharing on Instagram.”
And this is exactly in line with a recent study conducted by HypeAuditor, which found that total like counts have fallen for influencers operating within the regions where the test is in place.
It should be noted that this test was confined to influencers exclusively, however, these results seem to be inline with Shah’s predictions. What isn’t mentioned though is how Instagram is measuring the relative success or lack thereof.
It’s common knowledge that a like count does not equal engagement, so perhaps a hidden count will reveal a more honest level of engagement.
Another has suggested that Instagram is solely concentrated on user well being as opposed to being engagement led and the number of posts per user is the metric to watch.
What do you think about hiding likes on Instagram? Are you for or against? Or perhaps you have some social media questions of your own? Why not reach out to our team who are ready to answer any questions you might have.