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Instagram expands ‘hidden likes’ test to Australian users – win or loss for marketers?

Social & Digital

Instagram expands ‘hidden likes’ test to Australian users – win or loss for marketers?


Instagram has started running a test in Australia to hide like totals on photos and videos in Feed, Permalink pages and Profile.

Individual users will still be able to see their own likes through their account; however, followers will no longer see total like indications within the new test. Users scrolling through their Feeds will still be able to see if members from their own Instagram network have liked a post, but Instagram says the test is designed to encourage users and their followers to focus on the content of posts rather than how many likes they are amassing.

“We want Instagram to be a place where people feel comfortable expressing themselves,” says Mia Garlick, director of policy, Facebook ANZ. “We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love.

“We are now rolling the test out to Australia so we can learn more about how this can benefit people’s experiences on Instagram, and whether this change can help people focus less on likes and more on telling their story.”

Instagram like hiding screenshot

The like hiding test first began in May in the Canadian market, and has since expanded to Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Japan and now Australia and New Zealand.

Daily Hive Toronto has since reported, however, that public like counters have returned to Canadian Instagram Feeds. The social media giant is yet to make an official comment on the test’s end in Canada.

“There’s no denying that likes are critical to the success of an Instagram account,” says HubSpot director of APAC, James Gilbert. “In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in the economy of likes, whereby a double-tap is used as currency to drive business. But while a bunch of likes are a valuable metric, it’s only a productive marketing strategy if these interactions are genuine.

“It’s never been more important to make use of key engagement tactics. ‘Hope marketing’ (trying random efforts on social media and hoping they’ll work) is a thing of the past, and Instagram’s trial is much welcomed. As we move into a social media era whereby visible comments will reign supreme, the responsibility is now on brands to ensure they are building an authentic connection with their audience by re-evaluating their Instagram strategy.”

Instagram has assured businesses and creators on the platform that the test will not affect their measurement tools such as Insight or Ad Manager, which they can continue to use in the same way to understand account engagement.

“Instagram’s decision to hide likes in Australia is a positive move for the influencer marketing industry and all content creators,” says Detch Singh, CEO and cofounder of Australian influencer marketing provider, Hypetap. “With the prior test in Canada, our view was that this was inevitable. It was driven by a need to address the anxiety and stress that stems from being judged and valued through the currency of engagement.”

“We agree that the mental health and well-being of creators is a priority above the needs of those using publicly available data for business purposes, and should always come first. Creators and those who have access to their data will still be able to see likes as it serves a valuable measure in gauging content resonance with their audiences.

“The greatest commercial impact of the removal of likes is on influencer providers that are still manually using public data for their identification and appraisal processes. While the change will come as a shock to some, it gives Hypetap more relevance in the space.”

When Marketing asked Singh if the removal of total like displays poses to change user behaviour on the platform, he responded, “I think that people will start to think for themselves more and follow less of a herd mentality when engaging with content. I also think it relieves that feeling for content creators around searching for validation through others seeing how many likes they have. From a mental health standpoint, that’s really positive.”

Marketing also asked Singh if the change will lead to users being less likely to like posts on Instagram, with the metric losing its visibility and possibly some of its relevance. “It depends on why people like something,” Singh tells Marketing. “Certainly when I like something it’s to encourage someone to create more of the same type of content. It also serves for the platform (Instagram) to serve you more of that type of content.

“Likes only form one element of how we measure engagement. Our benchmarks for likes are temporal so they may move, but we certainly wouldn’t change how we interpret engagement more broadly.”

The decision has split users across the board – some are singing Instagram’s praises for prioritising mental health on the platform, while others see it as an ineffective and unnecessary hindrance.

Why remove likes?

Senior lecturer in population health from Victoria University in Wellington Dr Terry Fleming tells stuff.co.nz likes are a ‘very powerful commodity’ in the modern age.

“They do feed into our wish for social status and validation,” she says.

According to Flemming, as ‘social apes’, humans are wired to want to belong and be popular. In the digital age, the social media ‘like’ adds to that desire.

“The public validation of other people seeing lots of likes would feed into that slightly competitive social status thing.

“The amount of likes certainly indicates that people are watching.”


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Image credit: Supplied

Josh Loh

Josh Loh is assistant editor at MarketingMag.com.au

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