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What is Instagram without “like” counts?
Many users found out after Instagram on Tuesday suddenly — and accidentally — expanded widely a test to remove the public displays of the number of likes. The test didn’t actually remove the functionality of likes, since creators could still see the total number on the backend of their accounts, and users could still like posts. But it made many contemplate what a world without seeing how many likes a post got would feel like.
The wide expansion of the test was due to a bug, but Instagram has been contemplating (and testing) removing public like counts for a long time. In November 2019, Instagram announced that it would begin hiding the number of likes on feed posts as a part of a test. For some users, like counts never went away, or came back after a test. Others saw them disappear for good.
We’ve been testing a new experience to hide likes on Feed posts. We unintentionally added more people to the test today, which was a bug — we’re fixing this issue and restoring like counts to those people as soon as possible.
— Instagram Comms (@InstagramComms) March 3, 2021
While many influencers and users alike questioned on Tuesday why Instagram was removing their like counts — again — some industry insiders not only anticipate it will eventually happen permanently, but also see it as positive.
“Although my likes were never removed, I felt a slight sense of happiness,” influencer Khadijah Lacey-Taylor told Insider. Lacey-Taylor, a micro influencer with about 17,000 Instagram followers, said her husband’s like counts disappeared on his feed on Tuesday.
Seeing the number of likes is a constant source of competition for many creators, said influencer Andrea Pion Pierre (273,000 Instagram followers). She added that removing the public counts could help creator mental health.
Lacey-Taylor said this could also be an opportunity for creators to look more holistically at how engaging and enjoyable their content is, rather than simply chasing likes.
“Luckily, we’re still able to view our likes with having a business profile,” she added.
An Instagram account registered as a business or creator profile has access to an in-depth insights dashboard. That dashboard has an array of metrics including likes, comments, impressions, reach, shares, and saves. And the combination of these backend metrics — rather than simply likes or followers — has become more important as the influencer-marketing industry has matured.
“That’s the information that brands are really, really interested in,” Jess Hunichen, the cofounder of talent management agency Shine Influencers, said of “qualified engagement” metrics such as saves or shares. “How many people looked at a post and saved it?”
Shine Influencers has a roster of North American influencers, and for a majority of its Canadian creators, they’ve already had like counts disabled since January 2020, Hunichen said. There hasn’t been any negative impact for brand deals, she said.
Instead, brands have asked for more screenshots of the backend metrics that creators have access to.
Another influencer-marketing firm, Village Marketing, includes a requirement in contracts that influencers share screenshots of that data.
Without public like counts, brands will dig deeper into that data, Village Marketing founder Vickie Segar said.
“If you want to understand their influence, you have to look at the metrics,” Segar said, even if that slows the process down.
Still, there could be downsides. For emerging creators who’ve quickly gained a following but aren’t on brands’ radars yet, their number of likes is one of the few ways to prove their influence before a brand asks for more in-depth metrics.
“Because engagement is one of the key markers of a creator’s value, not displaying it publicly could lead to those creators not being noticed for opportunities, especially if they don’t have strong management advocating for them,” said Julian Andrew, a talent manager at Select Management Group.
And above it all, creators and industry players like managers and marketers want a clear answer to the question: Are likes here to stay or will they soon be gone for good?
“Instagram toying with this is more of an inconvenience to us — it’s not the end of the world,” said Annelise Campbell, founder of the talent management agency CFG.