It’s a small step toward addressing some major concerns about the addictive nature of social media and the pressure it brings to post that perfect picture with an elegant caption that will rack up likes at a head-spinning rate. People spend huge chunks of time editing and reediting, changing tags, tweaking captions and deleting posts entirely to try to get the best possible engagement, said Rebecca VanMeter, an assistant professor of marketing at Ball State University who holds a doctorate in marketing and studies social media.
Hiding likes could help cut down on some of the FOMO (fear of missing out) that people feel when they see a post start to take off.
“Likes drive people’s engagement,” VanMeter said. “The more likes, the more likely people are to engage because they see it is popular to other people and they don’t want to miss out.”
Instagram chief Adam Mosseri said the company also is considering a similar choose-your-own-like-settings option for Facebook.
“Last year we started hiding like counts for a small group of people to see if it lessens some pressure when posting to Instagram,” he tweeted Wednesday. “Some found this helpful and some still wanted to see like counts, in particular to track what’s popular.”
An Instagram user viewing a post with like counts turned off would simply see “Adam and others like this,” rather than the number of faves.
Likes, favorites and upvotes have become a cornerstone of social media sites, from Instagram to Twitter to Reddit. They often are used to measure the success of a post, both personally and professionally. But in recent years, companies have toyed with moving away from the tendency to measure performance in likes. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey told The Washington Post in 2018 that he was open to changing how the site shows likes and follower counts.
“The most important thing that we can do is we look at the incentives that we’re building into our product,” Dorsey said at the time. “Because they do express a point of view of what we want people to do — and I don’t think they are correct anymore.”
Twitter still shows like counts on tweets.
Instagram’s earlier attempt at testing switching off likes in 2019 was far from universally popular. The company also briefly confused people last month when it turned off like counts to more accounts — a move it quickly said was an unintended bug. Instagram’s earlier test had mixed results, spokeswoman Liza Crenshaw said. Some people liked the lack of likes, while others wanted them to remain to see what was trending.
“That’s why we’re testing this new option that lets our community decide the experience that’s best for them — whether that’s choosing not to see like counts on anyone else’s posts or simply turning them off for your own posts, or keeping the original experience,” she said in an email.
Influencers especially were concerned during earlier tests about how the lack of public engagement statistics would affect their businesses. Influencers generally make money by partnering with brands and showcasing their products on social media, and they often get paid more based on the number of followers, likes and general engagement they have.
Nayamka Roberts-Smith, an esthetician who has 130,000 followers on her labeautyologist Instagram account, said it’s jarring for her to see screenshots of posts where likes are turned off. She relies not just on her own analytics but also on seeing how other influencers’ posts perform to make her social media strategy. She analyzes how others’ posts perform at different times of day and with different types of captions and photos.
“In hiding likes, it’s difficult for me; it feels like it prevents me from learning how other people use Instagram and how I might want to use Instagram,” she said. “I would still have my analytics, but that only shows one side, and I really like seeing how other people’s posts perform.”
Still, she said, she supports everyone having a choice in how they personally use Instagram, especially if she and other influencers get to choose to keep like counts on.
The current test may not be as bad for influencers as it initially sounds — Instagram is not turning off the ability to like posts, and users still will be able to see their own analytics even if they aren’t shown publicly.
Mae Karwowski, CEO of influencer marketing company Obviously, said not much would change in terms of the nuts and bolts of social media campaigns if influencers and marketers could still get access to post analytics. It might make it harder, however, for smaller firms to scour Instagram on their own and assess which influencers are getting the most engagement to decide whom it might make sense to hire. The option for each user to decide whether to turn likes off might make sense, she said.
“I think especially if you’re not someone who’s trying to be a creator, not trying to actively grow your audience, if it’s literally just a way to post photos of family, like counts could just be an added stress in a stressful world already,” she said.
Crenshaw said Instagram is working with businesses and influencers to get feedback.
“We hope that by giving people a way to choose how they want to experience Instagram and likes, they will be able to focus more on the photos and videos posted in Feed, and that this will ultimately drive deeper engagement,” she said.
It’s unlikely that the option to hide likes will dramatically change the overarching tenor of Instagram. For now, the Instagram test is small and even if it did expand to all users, it seems likely the company would keep the default setting as the status quo for seeing like counts.
“I would assume the default is to show like counts and people would have to take an extra step to hide them,” VanMeter said. “Most people will not take the extra step.”