Q&A: Private likes - what is Instagram up to?

Social media firm is hiding the like count to turn the focus to content

Instagram is about to roll out a test in Ireland that will see the like count on posts hidden from public view. Photograph: Getty Images

Instagram is about to roll out a test in Ireland that will see the like count on posts hidden from public view. Photograph: Getty Images

 

How important are your likes on Instagram? The company is about to roll out a test in Ireland that will see the like count on posts hidden from public view.

Why?

Instagram has become a bit of a competition. Originally about sharing photos, now it’s all about perfectly posed shots, Insta-worthy locations and how many likes you can get on your posts.

The idea is to get people to concentrate on producing content and not solely on racking up the “like” count. Because while we all like getting a bit of validation, and likes on Instagram feed into that, sometimes you get the impression that posts are created just because people know they’ll get hundreds of likes, and everyone else will see that.

It’s not you, it’s biology. Apparently getting a like on an Instagram post has a similar effect on your brain as taking a drug. It produces dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure. That’s why we’re all hooked on it. Take away the public display of likes and it becomes less important, or so the theory goes.

So no one can see likes?

The account holder will be able to view the number of likes by clicking on the likes list, but no one else will see that total.

Is this permanent?

That’s not clear yet. Officially it’s a test, an extension of one they began in Canada. Instagram is looking to learn more about how making the change will affect user experience.

There’s no firm end date for it. In Canada, the test began in May and is still continuing, although a glitch that temporarily made the counts visible again did prompt speculation that it was coming to an end.

What about influencers?

Influencers build their business based on engagement, and post likes are an obvious metric of that. But it’s not the only way to measure it, and Instagram has analytics tools that can be used to show potential clients what engagement is like. Making like totals private may even free up influencers to create more content they want to present, rather than what they know will traffic well.

In other words, likes aren’t the be all and end all.