Will Instagram’s Tool to Hide ‘Likes’ Impact Brands?

This week, some Instagram users in the United States might start to notice something different on the app.

For an undetermined subset of users scrolling down through their feeds, one metric that has become a pillar of the photo-sharing platform’s networking service will be hidden from their own followers: the number of “likes” per post.

Instagram chief Adam Mosseri said Friday that the Facebook-owned app would run a test as soon as this week that would hide the “likes” counter on some accounts across the globe. While impacted users can still see the “likes” on their photos or videos, the general public and even their followers — including those of private users — will not be able to see them.

The feature has already been tested in seven countries, among them Australia, Canada and Japan. Although starting out as an experiment, the company is planning for a complete rollout on the app depending on the beta performance.

According to Instagram, the idea behind the move to tuck away likes is to “depressurize” the app and “make it less of a competition” as it seeks to create a safe and inclusive online community. “It means we’re going to put a 15-year-old kid’s interests before a public speaker’s interest,” Mosseri said at Wired‘s annual summit in San Francisco. “When we look at the world of public content, we’re going to put people in that world before organizations and corporations.”

A Facebook spokesperson added, “While the feedback from early testing has been positive, this is a fundamental change to Instagram, and so we’re continuing our test to learn more from our global community. We understand that like counts are important for many creators, and we are actively thinking through ways for creators to communicate value to their partners.”

The idea itself has been met with reactions that range from praise to concern: Some have hailed the move as altruistic — including reality star Kim Kardashian West, who boasts more than 151 million followers on the platform. She said last week at The New York Times DealBook event that hiding “likes” would “be really beneficial for people” because it could reduce competition and put less pressure on users to post.

Others, however, have suggested that losing the metric could have financial repercussions; some influencers and businesses may not only claim to see a correlation between “likes” and sales, but they have also come to rely on the platform for marketing or even as a revenue source. Some have suggested that masking the number of “likes” could negatively impact content creators and companies who bank on being discovered on users’ feeds or on the app’s Explore page — considering that Instagram’s algorithm operates based on what and whom a user “likes.”

“The vast majority of user engagement on Instagram is through “likes,” with just a fraction taking place through comments, swipe-ups and shares,” explained John Acunto, CEO of social networking service Tsū. “By removing “likes,” Instagram is taking audience feedback away from the brands and businesses that depend on it.”

Getting rid of “likes” could also make it more difficult for businesses to vet influencers whom they use for promotional or sponsored content. Creators with high follower counts and low engagement through “likes” and comments, for example, could prove less valuable to a company compared with those who have lower follower counts yet high engagement numbers. As such, brands that aim to expand their businesses through social media but don’t already have existing partnerships might have a tougher time assessing which influencers are a potentially lucrative fit as they approach new clients.

Despite this potential challenge, other experts appear bullish on the change. “This makes brands evolve beyond vanity metrics and not solely focus on their owned and operated handle,” said Ryan Detert, CEO of influencer marketing platform Influential. “Sales [are] about distribution, content and media alignment; sales metrics and ‘likes’ do not correlate. … It shouldn’t affect brands given that swipe-up clicks are not going away.”

Whether the tool ends up as a permanent fixture on Instagram, depending on public approval and the success of the trial run, remains to be seen. However, the test has already prompted a national conversation, with some experts noting its potential to launch a broader shift in social media toward “sharing value” versus “seeking validation” and posting content that prioritizes quality over quantity.

“Volume, activity and growth comes from finding ways to expose your brand to a bigger and broader audience, and, in particular, one that is very comfortable tapping into it,” added Marshal Cohen, chief industry advisor at market research firm The NPD Group. “You really have to be able to continue a relationship with the influencer, and the influencer ultimately with the consumer base. It’s one thing to get introduced to the following, but it’s another to maintain it.”

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