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Do Instagram Likes Matter, and How Will Instagram Hiding ‘Likes’ Affect Marketing?
With over a billion active users, Instagram is one of the most popular social networking platforms for individuals and businesses. Whether big or small, every company understands the importance of having an impactful and popular Instagram profile today. But creating a brand presence on the platform requires some excellent marketing insight and planning. Ever since Instagram has moved away from presenting posts in chronological order, businesses are on the lookout for what affects Instagram’s algorithms. Now Instagram has several algorithms for the home feed, Stories feed, search and explore, reels and IGTV. Each seems to work differently as the same post often performs differently on these different tabs regarding visibility ranking. Thus, IG users are always on the lookout for clues as to what can help them build a fabulous overall online presence.
A close observation of Instagram’s insights shows that social signals are critical determiners of who is most visible and reaches the broadest possible target audience on Instagram. Apart from an active follower count, likes, saves, shares and comments are crucial for improving one’s presence on the platform. For this reason, several professionals use paid social signals periodically to boost their engagement rate as, by extension, increase their chances of ranking higher on Instagram’s visibility radar.
Do Likes Matter?
Yes, they do. Likes are an important social signal used by all of Instagram’s algorithms to determine an account’s visibility and reach on Instagram. However, they are not the most important social signals. Other ones also determine the engagement rate on your posts. These include saves, shares, and comments.
Moreover, one’s engagement rate takes into account real-time engagement from active followers. Several classifieds get taken into account while determining a post’s visibility ranking. Some of these include:
What is the post about?
What is the format of the publication?
Who has interacted most with it?
How quickly has the post received engagement?
What kind of post does a user usually engage with, and does this post belong to that category? For instance, a user who tends to use more videos may get less of your photo content displayed on their feed even if the engagement on your posts is high. This is because Instagram has chosen to filter the user’s feed based on their usual account activities.
Who interacts with your account regularly?
Hence as you can see, the same likes can affect your visibility differently on different user feeds. Likes from real and active followers are likely to matter more than, for instance, bought likes. The latter, just like inactive followers, are likely to only act as a vanity metric.
Instagram’s Shift Towards Hiding Likes: the Intent and Potential Effects It Could Have on Business Marketing
What visible likes do
Although likes may not matter much in terms of affecting Instagram algorithms compared to other determiners like saves or click-through, when visible, they do play a significant role in the consumer psychology of the platform’s users. For the longest time, one could see the likes counter under an IG user’s public post irrespective of whether one had a business or a personal Instagram account. As visitors and followers could see the number of likes on posts, likes emerged as an essential means of building social proof.
For businesses, being able to showcase “likes” received on their post meant they could:
Claim popularity, thereby mass acceptance and endorsement of their products and services.
Influence visitors into making direct purchases based on the number of likes their services/ product posts received.
Indulge peers in their industry into a competitive spirit as each battled to gather more likes from the same target audience.
Hold campaigns, contests, and giveaways using “liking” posts as an entry requirement and calculating results on its basis.
Evaluate influencers and other collaborators by using likes as a factor for generating real engagement before entering into a business partnership with them.
Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay
All of these made likes a vital component of Instagram engagement for IG users. However, the same psychological importance of likes also brought about:
The pressure of performance. No longer are Instagrammers interested in putting up their real faces on the platform. Many users began to use likes as an indicator of what is trending and conflated virtual and real-life on its basis.
Concerns of mental health. With the pressure to always be the best in everything and anything and post on social media about it, global problems have arisen about the nexus of peer pressure, social media, and mental health.
Rise of fake engagement. The same pressure to be the best and most popular in one’s niche also pushes several IG users to invest in paid social signals. Buying likes to up one’s popularity image has become common across users of different age groups and cultures.
The above applies to both business and personal accounts. Hence, Instagram began running trials to check if changing the visibility of specific engagement metrics might make the platform more about social interactions and less about pressurized performances.
To change this scenario, Instagram decided to test out hiding likes in select countries. The trial, completed in 2019, studied data from countries like Japan, Brazil, Canada, Australia, Italy, Ireland, and New Zealand. When the experiment was done, it was found that:
Hiding likes didn’t make much difference on the mental health of social media savvy users, but it did ease the pressure for many who are easily affected by social media trends.
Hiding likes polarized the site’s users. While some felt the hiding from public engagement a relief from peer pressure, it was frustrating not to know what was trending for many. The hidden likes concept proved to be an alienating experience for this section of users.
Hiding likes allowed some to concentrate on building up their social marketing based on humane interpersonal relationships. However, it still made it difficult for business profiles to understand consumer psychology as for many, the Instagram social proof was all about being a trendsetter.
Instagram decided to officially start hiding likes in select countries like the United States based on the findings. But with a slight change. The platform decided to allow individual users the choice and the agency to turn the likes counter invisible to their audience. It is now up to every user how they would like to customize the visitor experience on their posts. To enable the hiding of the likes counter, all an IG user has to do is:
Click the three dots that appear in the upper right corner above a post.
Choose the “Hide Like Count” Option.
The update only hides the counter for likes from the viewers. It is still accessible to the profile owner and their collaborators in case of a joint post. The platform remains an influencer-driven social networking site where engagement determines one’s performance success for all technical purposes.
Does Hiding Likes Change How Instagram Algorithms Worked?
No. For all purposes, the engagement ratios calculated by Instagram algorithms remain the same. Only the “likes” counter has disappeared from its original space at the bottom of a post if the original publisher has chosen to keep the counter hidden. Visitors can still click the like (heart emoticon), and the now invisible counter still counts the likes in the same manner as before. The post owner can still see the total number of hearts the post has received.
Does Hiding Likes Affect Marketing Practices?
One might think that since the algorithms behind the scenes do not change much, hiding likes would not matter. However, that is not the case. With likes no longer being a visible means of attesting to one’s social proof, businesses have to shift their focus to other aspects to retain their active followers and broaden their target audience reach. Some changes that marketing practices now see include:
Shifting CTA goals. Businesses now need to focus on gaining other high-engagement metrics like saves and comments from aiming to get more likes.
Focus on other ways of building consumer relations. Businesses now need to pay more attention to interacting with their audience to ensure they still have impressive social proof.
Focus on organic growth and audience retention. The hiding of likes counter means relying on content quality to ensure brand trust and authenticity remains intact among new and returning visitors.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Although the mechanical functions of likes in Instagram algorithms do not change much, hiding the counter from the user interface means one needs to make specific changes in their marketing strategy. Likes play a psychological role in influencing public opinion. With that role being challenged, marketing needs to focus more on value addition to keep the same social proof status among other IG users. For most businesses who have always concentrated on creating quality content, this is not a big concern. Followers are likely to return to new posts and continue to engage with the publications regardless of whether they can see the number of likes the posts have received or not. The content drives the influence and not the absent counter. If your marketing strategy focuses on creating meaningful content, then the hiding of likes is not likely to adversely affect your Instagram presence. All it will do is what Instagram maintains was the reason behind hiding likes all along – give users an agency over how they would like their social engagement experience to be.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or the management of EconoTimes