What Hiding Likes on Instagram Could Mean for Marketers

by Tom Burg
June 7, 2019

There are more than 4 billion likes each day on Instagram, but soon they might be hidden.

Much of Instagram’s success, home to 1 billion monthly active users and with engagement that rivals Facebook, can be attributed to their practice of testing and releasing new features. Their latest test has been met with mixed feelings from brands and advertisers.  

According to TechCrunch, Instagram is currently testing the concept of removing the number of likes on posts from public view. Considering there are, according to Instagram, 2 million monthly advertisers on the platform, marketers clearly view Instagram as a valuable social media marketing tool to promote their brands and drive sales.

Will Marketers “Like” This?

We ran user discovery tests on Alpha to gain real-time feedback and data into what impact Instagram’s experiment would have on its users, particularly marketers and advertisers. We gauged reactions to this change with more than 418 individuals who allocate marketing budgets and advertising dollars to Instagram. Will they continue to spend on Instagram and will this affect their ability to accurately measure engagement?

We discovered that some advertisers are hesitant to embrace this concept, because they feel likes are an important measurement tool or KPI. On the flip side, there were some positive feelings about this latest product iteration. Some respondents felt this will bring more quality traffic to their brand.  

“As someone who uses Instagram to advertise, what is your initial reaction to this change?”

Of the people we talked to, 59% had a negative reaction to the public removal of likes. In general, advertisers feel that likes and views are important engagement metrics. Other engagement opportunities like comments would still be visible to users. But comments, marketers said, are not good indicators of reach, unless you’re running a giveaway that requires commenting or tagging to win.

Likes, on the other hand, offer a quick and easy way for customers to view support for a brand or company, as one panelist noted: 

The “likes” option on a post is the most direct and efficient way to let the person that posted it and their followers that you like that post.” 

“In what way, if any, would this affect how much you spend on Instagram advertising?”

Over 200 people said they would most likely spend less money if Instagram made this change. Their concerns center around promotion of their brands and offerings. Because users are influenced by what other people want, they are more likely to spend money on items that have more likes. How will a potential customer be able to tell if the company or its products are popular, well-received, and reputable if they can’t see how many other customers liked the company’s posts?

“Likes represent customers’ interest in the product. Also, potential customers check how many “likes” each product has.” 

Marketers would be less inclined to advertise on Instagram if they took away this major KPI without replacing it with an equivalent metric. They need feedback from customers to be visible, so that prospects can see that their ads and products are popular.

“As someone who uses Instagram to advertise, what is most appealing about Instagram taking away the ability to “like” posts?”

Not everyone we talked to thought this change would be negative. Some marketers believe it might make the Instagram community more focused on content creation, originality, and self-awareness. Respondents who felt positively about this change view likes as vanity metrics that produce misleading positive data points for brands. That’s not to say that likes hold no appeal for marketers, but measurement can’t be directly tied to their business goals. 

Removing them will encourage users to follow their own instincts and focus on the actual content you’re sharing. This switch could potentially turn Instagram into more of a brand-friendly storytelling platform.

“People will genuinely react to a product rather than like it because a friend or large group of friends do.”

Using Tests to Get Product Iterations Right

Using Alpha, we were able to gain insights from the marketing community within days. Based on both the positive and negative feedback, it appears Instagram may not get many likes from the advertisers spending on their platform.

Tom Burg

SVP of Marketing at Alpha, the platform that enables management teams to make data-driven decisions about users, products, and new markets.