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How will Instagram hiding ‘likes’ affect marketing?


It’s happening: Instagram is hiding “likes.”

Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, said last week that a feature that hides “likes” from the public eye has been tested in numerous countries and will be rolled out in the U.S. over the coming days.

He tweeted: “Heads up! We’ve been testing making likes private on Instagram in a number of countries this year. We’re expanding those tests to include a small portion of people in the U.S. next week. Looking forward to the feedback!”

What impact will Instagram hiding likes have on marketing and how should brands adapt?

Mae Karwowski, founder & CEO, Obviously

We’ve known this was coming for months. If you have the right technology, hidden likes are not a problem. Good influencer marketers will still have access to those metrics even if they’re hidden. We’ll still be able to know an influencer’s engagement rates before committing to working with them, and we’ll still be able to fully report on performance metrics. Overall, it’s going to become really clear which agencies have the tech, strategy and expertise to thrive despite this change.

Influencers welcome this change for the most part, too. We surveyed more than 300 international influencers in the summer when these tests first started rolling out worldwide. We found that the majority of those surveyed, 62%, wanted their likes to remain hidden. More than 51% didn’t see a change in the number of likes they received even when they were hidden. And in our sentiment analysis, we saw more than two times the positive comments over negative ones.

Ben Arnold, managing director, We Are Social

This is a hugely positive step for the industry. Too many brands still chase likes and prioritize this superficial metric over the production of meaningful content and the development of genuine relationships with their communities. To adapt, brands should take a step back and re-examine the value exchange they are offering consumers. The more balanced this exchange, the more beneficial Instagram will be for driving true business value for brands.

Of course, this change isn’t without complications. One obvious question is how will it impact the commercial relationship between brand and influencer or celebrity ambassador, which has to date largely relied on public likes to infer popularity and favorability.

However, the net result will be positive as it will force more attention on what has been a gray area of media for too long. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, let’s not ignore the significant human benefits that should emanate from this change. Multiple research reports and studies have suggested a correlation between likes, or the lack of them, and mental health issues of day-to-day users of social. This change isn’t the answer to those issues, but it’s a significant step in the right direction.

Susan Frech, CEO, Social Media Link

Marketers will be affected by Instagram’s new change in two key ways: identifying influential content producers and measuring its effectiveness. Brands have long ditched using “likes” as the sole means of identifying influencers or for the measurement of a social media campaign. Likes have always sat among a smorgasbord of metrics including comments, shares, followers, click-throughs and ultimately, conversion. While losing likes might be frustrating, it is not catastrophic.

However, all marketers should approach this change by asking themselves a big organizational question: “Who does my brand consider influential?” Is it the blogger who amasses thousands of likes per post? Or could it be the mom who shares to her close personal network of friends? Instagram’s goal with removing likes is to eliminate the competitive nature to run up the tally and to focus on creative expression and close personal connection.

Marketers should take a cue from Instagram. With this change, the important next step is to develop a process for identifying content producers who actually build relationships with their audiences, and who can get followers to actually convert. The future of Instagram will be about authentic influence rather than bloated credit.

social media like counts

Mike Hondorp, CMO, Whalar

The announcement that Instagram is testing removing likes (hearts) in the U.S. comes as no surprise since they’ve been testing this in other markets now for a while. While this will certainly have implications for the Instagram user experience, regarding the creator and influencer ecosystem, we believe the removal of likes may lead to a rise in both creativity and authenticity on the platform.

Without an obvious engagement metric for “success,” we may find creators taking more risks personally and creatively, which is an exciting notion to consider. From an industry perspective, this will expedite the necessary focus on better and more robust measurement in the influencer space. A move away from vanity metrics toward true business objectives is positive, and frankly validating, for our industry, and we’re excited to continue to prove the efficacy of influencer marketing going forward.

Zeno Group representative

We see Instagram hiding likes as an opportunity. Hiding likes will actually force marketers to look past vanity metrics such as likes and instead amplify content with paid support so that we can better track ROI and potential conversions. Additionally, influencers’ likes will remain visible on the back-end, meaning that, for paid partners, our engagement tools will continue to deliver accurate metrics.

Fredda Hurwitz, chief strategy & marketing officer, RedPeg

It may come as a surprise to claim that Instagram hiding likes could ultimately be a positive thing since likes have always been accepted as the norm for success. Of recent, brands (and influencers) have felt enormous amounts of pressure to achieve likes before pursuing genuine engagement with their audiences. Removing access to likes allows businesses to redirect their attention to other areas (like comment sections, views, reposts, shares, saves and other calculated areas of brand-to-consumer touchpoints). Likes only really equate to interest, but these alternative areas of engagement point to brand involvement and investment. Followers can like any photo they see — but are they willing to re-share it or swipe up on a Story link? Are they willing to get more involved?

If anything, this new feature is an opportunity for brands and their agency partners to produce content and partner with influencers that are authentically aligned with their brand; nudging consumers to buy into their brands — not just double-tap their posts. Instagram is simply refocusing the attention to where it should be: away from empty likes and on consumer engagement.


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