Will Instagram removing like counts make the platform a more accommodating, better experience? Will it actually help in any way?
Looks like we're going to find out, with the platform this week expanding its test of removing like and video view counts to six more regions, including Ireland, Australia and Brazil.
We’re currently running a test that hides the total number of likes and video views for some people in the following countries:— Instagram (@instagram) July 17, 2019
✅ New Zealand pic.twitter.com/2OdzpIUBka
The test is already underway in Canada, with the total like count now replaced with a non-specific 'Liked by...' message below post images.
Instagram has said that it's removing likes as part of a broader focus on user wellbeing.
In a recent Interview with Gayle King on CBS News, Instagram chief Adam Mosseri explained that:
"We don't want Instagram to be such a competition. We want it to be a place where people spend more of their energy connecting with the people that they love and the things that they care about."
Individual users can still see their total like counts in the test, but they're not publicly displayed, which, Mosseri says, reduces social comparison, and its associated negative impacts.
And those impacts can be significant - according to a survey conducted in 2017, Instagram is "the worst social media network for mental health and wellbeing", with the platform contributing to higher levels of anxiety and depression, among other issues. That study, published by The Royal Society for Public Health in the UK, specifically highlighted a "compare and despair" attitude in young people, with users regularly feeling that their lives don't match up to the highlights posted on others' Instagram profiles.
When you add that to the fact that teens regularly delete Instagram posts which don't get enough likes, it's fairly clear that such metrics are contributing, at least somewhat, to these concerns. The weight of evidence, then, would suggest that removing likes can't be bad thing in this respect - but whether it will be a net positive is another question completely.
Sure, you won't have likes anymore, which is a measure of social proof within itself, but the images - the most commonly identified source of negative comparison - are the key part of Insta, you can't have the platform without them. Any move to reduce the potential for anxiety is helpful, let's be clear on that, but it likely won't address the most prominent issue, which essentially can't be addressed without removing the platform entirely.
Does that mean that Instagram shouldn't bother at all? Absolutely not - it's definitely worth the experiment, and mental health advocates would no doubt be in overwhelming support of the test. But it will be interesting to see the actual impacts - if they can even be measured.
It'll also be interesting to note the overall effect on like counts - will the lack of a total number increase people's propensity to like a post, or reduce it? If it leads to more likes, you can bet Instagram will be keen to keep the change, regardless of the other impacts.
But if it is fully rolled out, it will lead to other challenges. At the moment, brands looking to work with influencers can use post like counts as a measure in their assessment - someone with a million followers, but four likes on each post, is probably not the 'influencer' they claim to be. With this change, you won't be able to see that. You can still use comments as an engagement measure, and you can ask for engagement stats from the influencer his or herself, based on their analytics. But it adds another challenge, which is a subsidiary consideration for marketers, in particular, to keep in mind.
Mosseri has also acknowledged that it may not be good for Instagram engagement overall - but that's a risk they are willing to take:
"We will do things that mean people use Instagram less if we think that they keep people safe or generally create a healthier environment. And I think we have to be willing to do that."
Hopefully this is a positive move, and Instagram is serious about its commitment to protecting vulnerable users, and lessening potential harm, even in the face of declining performance metrics.
Instagram must have internal metrics to measure the success or failure of the trial, and given this expansion, you would have to assume it's already proving beneficial. Either way, it'll be a key area to watch for the industry, and Instagram marketers, moving forward.