Instagram has been testing what would appear to be a radical departure for the social network: removing likes. Facebook, which owns Instagram, is considering as well. Plus, there's buzz that Twitter may join the party and hide like counts.
While this may seem like a reason for marketer panic, it isn’t ... or shouldn’t be.
Although likes are a nice ego-boost metric, it’s well known that liking a post is the most low-maintenance way to engage. Rather, a comment, a share, or substantial video watch-time is a much better indicator of how much your content resonates with your audience. Therefore, it’s important to remember that removal of public-facing like counts is not the end of the world. In fact, it’s simply a reminder that you need to find other ways to analyze audience affinity and engagement.
Could Instagram actually be doing marketers a favor?
When Instagram first announced its decision to test removing like counts, I, like many others, questioned the reasoning. “We want your friends to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get,” Instagram said in July 2019. “You can still see your own likes by tapping on the list of people who've liked it, but your friends will not be able to see how many likes your post has received.”
The theory was that like counts foster competition, and the goal of Instagram was to encourage connection and community. A healthy environment was top priority. "We want [Instagram] to be a place where people spend more of their energy connecting with the people that they love and the things that they care about," explained Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri.
While the whole move was positioned as a mental health play - removing likes will help alleviate cyberbullying and downplay competition - I still had doubts. It just didn’t ring true that this was the genuine reason that Facebook/Instagram deeply cared so much. Of course, I believe the company cares about their users’ well-being. However, they also care about making money and ensuring the longevity of their platforms.
So how would hiding likes improve Instagram’s - and Facebook’s - bottom line? I got my answer when more information surfaced last month. Suddenly it started to make sense.
Three former employees told CNBC that there is a hypothesis inside Facebook’s growth and data science teams: Removing “likes” may be an effective tactic for getting users to post more original content on Instagram.
“The theory goes that by hiding like counts, users may feel less self-conscious when they post photos or videos that don’t receive many likes,” the article states. “This in turn may serve as a catalyst for getting users to post more often.”
Translation: If users weren’t so hung up on public-facing engagement numbers, maybe they’d feel more compelled to publish more content. And, publishing more content means they would spend more time on Instagram. And more time on Instagram means there would be more users for advertisers to target.
Anyone who still has concerns about like-counts being removed only needs to look at Instagram Stories for proof that all will be okay. Social engagement metrics on Stories have never been public-facing. Users and marketers are not consuming other people's Story content, wondering how many people engaged with it, how many people responded to the poll, or answered the questions. They just engage. That’s what’s most important to businesses… and marketers: engagement.
Bottom line: Marketers need not worry too much about hidden likes.
Note that Facebook is also in the midst of testing hiding video view counts. Personally, I really like video view counts as invariably that gives me a strong indication - and sometimes legitimacy - of the content. I find it a tad frustrating when I cannot (easily) find the number of video views on other people’s Facebook videos! Whether that’s a long-term problem remains to be seen.
Moving forward, marketers need to concentrate on creating quality, relevant content for their followers. Focus on engaging with your audience in new ways, such as further integrating the Stories format, as well as video, including Live video and building community in Facebook Groups.
The removal of public-facing like counts should not make any difference to marketers on Instagram, Facebook, or any other social platform. While it seems to be affecting influencers to some degree, that may be a good thing. It will shake out any unethical behaviors, such as artificially inflating numbers, buying followers, etc. In its place will be highly engaged users on the friendly, community-building platform that Instagram wants to be.
About Mari Smith
Often referred to as “the Queen of Facebook,” Mari Smith is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on Facebook marketing and social media. She is a Forbes’ Top Social Media Power Influencer, author of The New Relationship Marketing and coauthor of Facebook Marketing: An Hour A Day. Forbes recently described Mari as, “… the preeminent Facebook expert. Even Facebook asks for her help.” She is a recognized Facebook Partner; Facebook headhunted and hired Mari to lead the Boost Your Business series of live events across the US. Mari is an in-demand speaker, and travels the world to keynote and train at major events.
Her digital marketing agency provides professional speaking, training and consulting services on Facebook and Instagram marketing best practices for Fortune 500 companies, brands, SMBs and direct sales organizations. Mari is also an expert webinar and live video broadcast host, and she serves as Brand Ambassador for numerous leading global companies.
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