Instagram Hides Likes – Yay or Nay?

Two Vanguardians weigh-in on recent news from the social media giant.

Last week, Instagram announced it was in the process of removing the public display of “likes” below posts in its newsfeed. The move has the social media world split: Some experts think this change will produce more authentic, less forced social media posts, while others consider it a mere attempt to get a bigger cut of the advertising money that is making some ‘grammers millionaires.

Given the swirl of opinions in the air, two Vanguardians break down how they see this move changing (or not changing) the platform’s popularity among nonprofit organizations. Below are thoughts from Director Crystal Borde, lead of Vanguard’s Diversity and Inclusion team, and Associate Director Kate Fink, lead of Vanguard’s Digital team.

Do you agree or disagree with this change?

Crystal: I’m concerned about this change, especially for organizations trying to engage younger audiences on Instagram. When the likes count disappears, will users — especially Generation Z and millennials — still engage with the content? Do users consider the number of likes as they use Instagram — that is, are they more likely to stop scrolling and engage with the content if a post has more likes? If seeing the number of likes is a factor in a user’s behavior, this change may be a damaging one for Instagram, and users will stop using the app altogether. However, the change will only benefit the platform, and maintain or even gain, just as adding Instagram Story feature did in 2016.

Kate: I love this change! I think it begins to address in a tangible way some of the broader conversations happening in the tech world about the lack of authenticity and the stress that some influencers feel to post high-quality content near constantly. For the nonprofit world, I think the move will help push executives and leaders to see beyond “vanity metrics” such as post likes and take a harder look at how their social media activity is helping them reach their intended goals.

Do you think hiding likes will impact post engagement?

Kate: This will be an interesting psychology experiment. My sense is that engagement will stay the same, if not rise, given what we know about Instagram Story engagement, which is also private. If engagement does fall unexpectedly, you can almost guarantee that Instagram will revert back to public likes quickly. Remember, more engagement = more advertising dollars!

Crystal: My prediction is that engagement will decrease — but only slightly. TikTok is proving to be a social media behemoth and may draw users from Instagram. The ability to boost the heart count for TikTok content may provide those Instagram users who miss the likes count an opportunity to gain that validation. Perhaps Instagram expects that defection to TikTok too.

Will this change how you personally use the platform?

Crystal: As a user, likes seem to be more a factor for accounts with large numbers of followers, or ones that have extensive reach. For those accounts, the possibility for high number of likes is possible. Since my personal following on Instagram is smaller, I haven’t paid attention to the number of likes I receive. Instead, I’ve focused on inviting more comments or reactions to my posts as opposed to gathering more likes. Moving forward, increased conversation in the comments will continue to indicate the quality of my posts. However, once the switch happens, I’ll be interested to see what my Top 9 Instagram posts will be. Once the likes count disappears, that year-end reveal will now be a surprise.

Kate: I think it may push me to post more in the newsfeed portion of my account. It alleviates some of the (completely silly, I know) pressure to post only the “best” photos. And only because these experiments interest me, I’ll probably spend more time researching influencers’ accounts to see if their content quality or frequency changes.