It's been in testing for a while, and has even been implemented as the only display option in some regions. But today, Instagram has announced the next stage of its experiments in hiding like counts on posts, with all Facebook and Instagram users soon set to be able to choose whether or not they display like counts on each of their updates.
As explained by Instagram:
"You may have noticed that we’ve been testing hiding like counts on Instagram for a while. Today, we’re announcing that everyone on Instagram and Facebook will now have the option to hide their public like counts, so they can decide what works for them."
Here's how the process will look on Facebook:
Instagram first started testing hidden like counts with some users back in 2019, before expanding it to selected regions over time. Then COVID-19 happened, and the project was shelved for most of last year, but recently, Instagram chief Adam Mosseri explained that it was back on the agenda, as the company sought the best way forward to provide an optimal user experience.
That's now lead to this next development, giving people who want to share like counts the option to do so, while others can leave things as they are, and always have been, with no impact on their process.
"We tested hiding like counts to see if it might depressurize people’s experience on Instagram. What we heard from people and experts was that not seeing like counts was beneficial for some, and annoying to others, particularly because people use like counts to get a sense for what’s trending or popular, so we’re giving you the choice."
'Depressurizing' the experience is a term that the platform has used repeatedly in describing this experiment, with the idea being that if you take away public like counts, you can reduce some of the performance pressure of the platform, and the competitive nature of Instagram engagement.
Incentivizing engagement - or incentivizing the right kinds of engagement - has become a more significant concern for social platforms of late, with the original focus metrics like Likes and followers now being seen by some as potentially harmful, and not conducive to a system that should be framed around enhancing social connection, not gamifying perceived popularity.
Back in 2018, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey explained that he now felt that they'd gone the wrong way in focusing on Like and follower counts on that platform, and that he, ideally, would seek to now de-emphasize these metrics, where possible, as they no longer reflected the right focus for social media engagement.
As explained by Dorsey:
"So when you open Twitter and you see that [follower count] number is five, it's actually incentivizing you to increase that number. That may have been right 12 years ago, but I don't think it is right today. I don't think that's the number you should be focused on. I think what is more important is the number of meaningful conversations you're having on the platform."
How you quantify 'meaningful conversations' is more complex, but Snapchat, for example, has been able to succeed without the emphasis on follower counts and more performative stats like Likes, which you could argue has had some benefit in improving engagement within the app.
That's the idea with this new process on Instagram, and now Facebook too - and while Instagram hasn't shared any specific insight into how the initial tests of its hidden counts have gone, it has alluded to the fact that overall engagement rates have declined as a result of that figure being removed in testing.
Which doesn't mean that it hasn't had equivalent benefits in other ways, but it may be another reason why it's now decided to make this an optional function, rather than forcing the change onto everybody.
"You'll have the option to hide like counts on all posts in your feed. You’ll also have the option to hide like counts on your own posts, so others can’t see how many likes your posts get. This way, if you like, you can focus on the photos and videos being shared, instead of how many likes posts get."
The wording here suggests that Instagram itself believes hidden like counts are more beneficial, overall, in directing user focus onto the content, rather than the response. But the strong opposition to the change from users has now necessitated the optional approach.
For brands, that's likely a good thing, as measuring Likes is still an important part of the analytics process, and providing insight into your efforts. It's also a handy tool to have as a comparative measure in competitor analysis, so for business accounts, it makes sense to keep those like counts active, in order to encourage more engagement.
But then again, maybe, if you're not getting so many Likes, removing it could also be beneficial. Worth noting too that you can also stop displaying post likes at an individual post level, and within the composition sequence.
So, now the choice is up to you - you can display your Instagram post like counts as normal, or you can choose to hide them, in order to avoid potential criticism or bullying as a result of lower post engagement. And as Instagram notes, that could take more focus away from these metrics, and put more emphasis on the content - which, overall, is likely a good thing.
But it does come with some additional considerations, like, potentially, reduced like activity overall (as users feel less compelled to Like something without that added group insight) and fewer data points for comparison or display.
Really, this seems like the best solution, as some people have been really angry about the proposed change, while others seem to be okay with it.
Now, you'll have the option if you want it.
The update is being rolled out across Instagram and Facebook from today.