In May 2019 Instagram began testing a fundamental change to the social platform, which has been making great waves since: for a selected group of users, likes are no longer being publicly displayed. After starting in Canada, the test has been extended to more and more countries over the past few months. Now, Instagram is globally hiding likes for a randomly selected test-group of users.

Why is Instagram hiding likes?

"The idea behind it is to take the pressure out of Instagram and reduce its competitive character. We want to give users more room to focus on the people they love and things that inspire them," said Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri earlier this year. Lately, social networks have repeatedly made negative headlines, especially in connection to the negative impact they are proven to have on the mental health of young people.

In fact, various studies point out that young people who spend a lot of time on social media are also more likely to show signs of depression and low self-esteem. More and more influencers are also reporting to be suffering from burnout or struggling with the steady pressure to deliver new creative content, while constantly comparing themselves to others. In a survey conducted by the influencer marketing platform HYPR in 2018, around 64% of respondents admitted to have bought likes before. Further have bots wich simulate engagement become quite a common thing and the option to illegally obtain an account verification for lots of money blurs the lines even more. Consequently have likes on Instagram long  lost their validity. Matt Zuvella, spokesman for the Influencer marketing platform FamePick, sees the change of Instagram as a step that will shake up the industry: "Those who are faking it will slowly disappear and only those who really are creative are going stay".

What is the change going to look like?

First things first: Likes are not going to disappear entirely, but are going to be no longer visible to everyone. In the current test phase, followers can only see a list of those who have liked a picture. "Those who have the time," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said jokingly at the Facebook Developer Conference F8 in the spring of 2019, "can add up the list themselves in the future."

However, for pictures you have posted yourself, the total amount of likes is still going to be visible with just a few clicks. In the current trial version, "liked by xyz and others" is displayed below images shared on Instagram. A click on "others" shows the list, which is also visible to other users, with the difference that it reveals the magic number at the very top.

Which consequences are hidden likes going to have for brands and influencers?

Opinions about the change within the Instagram community are of a pretty wide range. While Kim Kardashian advocates hidden likes and sees many benefits for mental health, especially among younger users, Nicki Minaj has railed against the social media platform,suggesting that she will no longer use it, should the change really prevail. Especially young, up-and-coming brands and artists see hidden likes on Instagram as problematic. Over the past few years, likes have evolved into a form of digital social proof  and are widely regarded of a measure for quality by brands trying to establish themselves via the platform. The disappearance of likes could now lead to young brands struggling to generate reach and attract attention.

Many influencers, on the other hand, have learned to value the change after a first moment of shock. Since Instagram has become more and more of a competition for the most followers and likes in recent years, the change is shifting the focus back on creativity. This means that in the future, brands will possibly no longer select influencers to cooperate with based on the size and reach of the account, but rather the uniqueness and creativity.

How will hidden likes influence User-Generated Content?

Eliminating the like-count on Instagram moves the focus away from what is "working well" back to what really inspires and moves users. This aspect is exactly what distinguishes User-Generated Content from paid influencer contributions and branded content, as Sally Möller, Social Media Manager of The George Hotel, points out in our case study:

"Emotions are the biggest asset of UGC. By integrating content from our customers, we have the opportunity to present countless authentic impressions, experiences and moments that we could not possibly capture ourselves."

Consequently, it can be expected that with the hiding of likes to the public, User-Generated Content is going to thrive even more, as taking away the pressure of fitting in might motivate more users to share private moments and impressions. This, of course, would also be beneficial to brands who integrate User-Generated Content for marketing purposes.

squarelovin’s UGC tool helps brands collect customer images based on mentions, hashtags or geo-locations, filter them according to individual preferences, legally secure their use and place the content on all relevant marketing channels. For each image and video essential usage rights are requested individually in accordance with data protection law. The effective integration of User Generated Content strengthens customer loyalty and significantly improves the performance of websites and web shops.

To learn more about squarelovin, click here to arrange a demo with one of our experts.