Nov 26 2019
Since April of this year, the news has been swirling that Like counts might disappear from Instagram, potentially changing the platform forever. As part of a design test, Instagram is changing their interface so that the number of likes a post receives is no longer publicly displayed, but available only to the poster. The tests of the feature started in Canada and then began rolling out globally, and this month some users in the U.S. began to see their Like counts disappear. While the change is not universal yet, it’s clear the app is serious about moving forward with Likes permanently altered. According to TechCrunch, Instagram says their focus is on users’ mental health and well-being, and to “reduce anxiety” and “social comparison.”
While creating a “less pressurized environment” is the goal, there are some who are vocally opposed to the change. Celebrities like Cardi B and Nicki Minaj—who has threatened to stop using the app—are reportedly against the new feature, while some influencers worry about the impact that hidden Likes will have on their sponsored content opportunities. Young brands are also concerned about the new hidden Likes update, according to Glossy, with smaller direct-to-consumer startups worrying that hiding Likes will decrease engagement and slow audience growth.
But what do the young users who have made the app a success think about the disappearance of Like metrics? According to YPulse’s most recent social media survey, seven in ten 13-37-year-olds use Instagram—and half tell us they use it daily. It’s a major part of their social lives, and their entertainment. We asked how many are in favor of Like counts being hidden from the public. Here’s exactly how many support the change:
Over half (59%) of 13-37-year-olds tell us they are in favor of hidden Like counts. Teens are less likely to support the change, with 50% of 13-17-year-olds saying they are pro-hidden likes, compared to 63% of 18-24-year-olds and 60% of 25-37-year-olds. But the majority of young consumers over all appear to be in favor of the shift, and one thing was repeatedly named as the reason: mental health.
When asked why they supported the change, many young Instagram users spoke of the pressure and competition of social media, and their hopes that hidden likes might “decrease social anxiety.” Bemoaning the race for and “obsession” with Likes was common, with one respondent saying “social media has become toxic.” That sentiment was expressed repeatedly. One 29-year-old female told us she supported the change, “Because it’s become a competition and messes with people’s mental health,” and a 29-year-old male explained “People often get caught up in how many likes they get, even though it’s all artificial and means nothing to their real life. It will improve people’s mental health.” A 23-year-old female admitted it would improve her own mental state when using the app, saying, “It will help with this strange internalized fear of seeing how many more or less likes your content is getting compared to others.”
Some young people even feel that this is the way Instagram should have been all along. A 16-year-old male “Instagram is trying to set something right,” and a 21-year-old female said, “It was a bad experiment that costs people their mental health and should’ve never been a thing.” Some mentioned other platforms that already hide likes—including VSCO and Tumblr—and said that they enjoy those platforms more because it.
A few actually felt that hiding Likes will improve the kind of content that they see on the platform. A 16-year-old female said, “I think it will make Instagram about quality of content rather than a popularity contest.” And another respondent explained, “Hopefully it will cut down on people’s need to post dumb stuff just for likes. It would be nice to see stuff that actually matters.”
Interestingly, many young respondents told us they are pro-Like hiding because it increases the privacy on the app, with one saying “privacy is important.” As one 31-year-old female put it, “it’s none of your business how many people like my post.”
Of course, two in five young Instagram users—and almost half of teen users—are against the change. Many say they like to see when a post has a lot of likes, to find out what creators and posts are popular, or when something is going viral. Some called the change “boring,” while others were suspicious about the change, with one even saying it seems “sketchy.” And a few who oppose the change had a more shrewd take on the controversy. As one 24-year-old female explained, “Someone pointed out that this seems to be a marketing tactic so that brands stop being able to see an influencers influence and they’ll be less likely to pay an influencer for a sponsored post and more likely to pay instagram to promote their post.” Never let it be said that young consumers are not a savvy bunch.
Instagram has said that they will be looking to reactions from users to guide their decision about rolling out hidden Likes as a permanent, universal change. According to our data, the response from the majority is likely to be positive. Marketers will need to prepare for the shift. While Like counts have been an “easy” way for brands to see if an influencer campaign is performing well, some predict that Instagram will introduce paid ad-tools to allow them to access this metric in the future—just as our respondents suspected as well. Focusing on other metrics will be essential, but Digiday reports that changes to influencer marketing deals are already underway, as brands look for more clear ROI. Now, marketers are paying attention to conversion metrics, and the rise of Instagram Stories has helped fuel the shift as actions like swipe-ups, and sticker clicks are trackable through the format.
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