Why Instagram is seeking to hide the ‘likes’ count

Instagram has stepped up efforts to hide the “likes” number on posts on its image-sharing platform as part of efforts to alleviate the social media pressure on its users.

Expanding on a change introduced in Canada in May, the Facebook-owned app has rolled out a test in six more countries wherein users in those markets won’t be able to see the number of likes on posts.

The company said in a statement last week that it believes the move will “remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love.”

Under the experiment, users in seven countries — Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan and Brazil — will now see the “like” feature hidden completely.

The likes on posts will be hidden from followers. Users will be able to see the number of likes on their own posts, but not on others’ pictures.

Instagram said the aim is to help users focus on the photos and videos they share, and worry less as to how many likes their posts are getting.

The move comes after the online giant has faced criticism that its platform was sparking an unhealthy obsession among users for “likes” and was fueling social anxiety.

With the likes viewed as a gauge of social approval, there were worries that users, particularly the youth, who failed to get enough attention or appreciation for their posts would suffer problems such as low self-esteem or depression.

According to a survey in Britain two years ago, Instagram was rated as the worst social media platform when it comes to its impact on young people’s mental health, BBC reported.

Experts have warned about potential issues such as anxiety, depression, loneliness, bullying and body image among the social media users.

It is clear that Instagram has paid heed to the criticism and warnings and is trying to do something to reduce the pressure on its users.

Starting with hiding the likes count, the company may eventually decide to do away with the button altogether in future.

Public health experts will welcome that move, but it may come at a price for Instagram in the initial stage as it would disturb the current business model.

As social media has become a huge and crucial advertising platform, the like button has become a key indicator for marketers to gauge the effectiveness of social media campaigns. The more likes a post secures, the higher the engagement with users, which could then be monetized.

With the like button now in danger of getting phased out, marketers may need to redraw their strategies.

Instagram has said that its new trial will not affect measurement tools for businesses, pointing out that users can still see the list of people who liked other people’s content by clicking into it.

The social media platform also dismissed talk that the era of so-called influencers, or individuals who work with brands to promote services or products online, is over, or that brands should fret about customer engagement.

Moreover, there is no word on whether the current trial would be made permanent or expanded to other markets.

Still, there is no doubt that there has been a significant change in the company’s thinking in relation to the tool made available on its platform.

Following the change, social media marketing will mean looking beyond metrics such as likes or follower counts, helping turn the focus on actual sales and other data.

Marketing experts believe the changes could incentivize brands to put paid media support behind their influencer posts, and also focus on Instagram Stories where short, temporary video clips are used for product or brand promotion, CNBC noted.

As a matter of fact, there has been a debate as to whether likes can be deemed as credible and effective figures for marketers to gauge the success of promotional campaigns. The truth is the likes or follower numbers can be inflated through online tricks or even purchased from third parties.

As “likes” will no longer be the main criteria for firms to measure marketing campaign effectiveness, Instagram’s move could help transform the social media marketing landscape from a fans-oriented to community-focused model.

Marketers will shift their focus from likes and concentrate more on the actual business performance such as conversion rate, online orders from Instagram posts, or whether consumers go to physical stores to make purchases after seeing something on the platform.

Under the new regime, creators and marketers can have broader room to work out innovative and effective marketing campaigns on Instagram without worrying about the “likes” the campaign could get.

They can focus more on the conversion of the campaign into actual sales, rather than spend countless hours monitoring the number of likes.

Given all this, Instagram’s changes could, in the end, serve the long-term interests of social media users as well as marketers.

A columnist in political development in Greater China region, technology and gadgets, media industry, parenting and other interesting topics.

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