A few days ago Facebook started a trial in Canada to hide the number of likes on Instagram posts.

Not all users are part of this trial, and the actual numbers have not been confirmed, but rumours and independent calculations estimate the change could have affected up to 75% of Canadian users.

The effect of likes

Lately, social media platforms have been the subject of addiction research and it’s been confirmed that social media can be addictive, under certain circumstances.

As with all other addictions, not everyone will be affected and tolerance levels will vary wildly. However, there are some aspects of social media that are more addictive than others.

The rush most people feel when they see their follower count rise or their likes go up can be exhilarating.  As a result, these are the two most addictive features on social media. Concepts like digital detox or social media fasting are becoming more and more popular to counter-act ‘addiction’ to Instagram, Facebook and the other social media networks.  The effect is that social media platforms are taking notice and reacting to the new research.

How personal users are affected?

The goal of the Instagram trial is to allow users to be more authentic online and stop focusing on the numbers game of social media. Not showing the amount of likes a post gets could take away from the pressure of ‘keeping up with the Joneses.’  It might also help to modify posting behaviour to get the highest possible number of likes.

If no-one can see how popular a post is, and judge you for it, your content will become more real. Or, at least, that’s what Instagram claims. The truth is that users can still access the number of likes a post receives on Instagram, the only change is that the number is not public. Those who feel the need to change the way they post, based on engagement results, can carry on doing it with the minor added inconvenience of a few extra clicks.

Instagram trialWhat will happen to brands?

The amount of likes is a very popular metric that all brands and social media agencies use as a measure of the success of a post. But brands should be more interested in engagement on Instagram as well as follower numbers.

If this trial were to go ahead and become an official feature of Instagram, or even Facebook, brands would still be able to retrieve the same information they do today. However, if the number of likes is eliminated completely, a different kind of engagement measure would have to be used as the main metric. Right now, the best contenders seem to be the number of comments, saves and shares.

After the initial panic passes, most brands will probably realise that active engagement is what they should have been pursuing all along. The action of liking a post is mostly a passive one, people can easily go ‘tap tap’ on their phones without even stopping to look at the post. But posting a comment or sharing it with someone else means you are actively engaging with the content posted. And that, surely, is what all brands want: creating a real connection with their fans.

What happens now?

We don’t really know. This is, after all, a trial on Instagram. Facebook hasn’t confirmed how long the trial will go on for or whether it might extend to other users or locations.

No matter what happens, it has been made clear that social media is changing with the times and the platforms are working on going back to what made them popular in the first place: social connection.



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