Why Are Facebook and Instagram Removing Like Counts?
It’s 2019, and companies like Facebook and Instagram are facing a growing movement to end their vanity metrics, most notably Likes.
In today’s post, we explore how Instagram and Facebook are implementing changes to hide Like totals from other users and even the users that post.
WHERE IS THIS POLICY BEING IMPLEMENTED?
In April 2019, there were rumors that Instagram was considering removing Likes in certain regions. Later that month, Instagram removed Like totals from users in Canada. It must have been successful because, in July, Instagram added New Zealand, Japan, Italy, Ireland, Brazil, and Australia to the numberless Like list.
As for Facebook, a spokesman confirmed they are testing a feature that would hide Like totals, but it hasn’t been live for users yet.
HOW IS IT BEING IMPLEMENTED?
“Currently, with this unreleased feature, the like/reaction count is hidden from anyone other than the creator of the post, just like how it works on Instagram,” wrote app researcher Jane Manchun Wong about the Facebook changes. “The list of people who liked/reacted will still be accessible, but the amount will be hidden.”
Instead of showing users their total number of Likes (and the Likes of others), users will see a couple of mutual friends who’ve Liked it rather than the total number. Users can also click to see who Liked the post, but there will still be no Like totals.
On Instagram, this feature is live. On Facebook, it’s still pending.
WHY IS THIS POLICY BEING IMPLEMENTED?
There are a couple of theories as to why the social media giant Facebook might be removing Likes totals from its two social networks.
Recently, a study came out that vanity metrics like Likes could be a mental health threat. Facebook says that it wants to protect its users from envy and dissuade them from censoring themselves.
Apparently, the idea is to keep users from comparing what they post to others and prevent them from feeling inadequate if their post doesn’t get as many Likes.
That will make them share more frequently, which Facebook would like given the mass exodus from the platform in recent years.
The other theory is that Facebook is considering hiding Likes to protect its own interests. Users won’t notice Facebook’s slow but continuous decline in engagement metrics. The platform has been losing engagement for years now, and in 2019 it’s at an all-time low.
On a similar note, YouTube says it’s phasing out exact subscriber counts for channels over 1,000 followers. It’s interesting because that is an entirely different kind of metric than Likes.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR SOCIAL MEDIA GIANTS?
Things are changing. For the longest time, Facebook and Instagram were using vanity metrics to get users to buy and sell influence. For influencers on the platform, it will mean proving real value instead of showing off the number of Likes or views a post gets.
After years of pushing metrics like Likes in exchange for ad dollars, it seems like these social media companies are looking to get users to control more of the content again.
They want to see big life events, lively Group discussions, and more personal conversations again. They need to bring users back, especially after the big data scandals like Cambridge Analytica.
WHAT VALUE DO LIKES HAVE?
Right now, early Likes on Instagram and Facebook posts are good for engagement algorithms. They may not indicate the value that a comment or profile view does, but they do get factored into how much and who sees your post.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR MARKETING?
Most marketers know that vanity metrics like Likes aren’t the best way to derive business value. Likes generally don’t amount to much. They don’t even confirm the user read the related post or article. At most, a Like is a positive indication of the headline or main idea of the related post.
Removing Likes from two of the most popular social media networks is an interesting play. It will change how social media marketers track metrics.
I’m not sure how this change affects business accounts either. Will business accounts not see vanity metrics either?
Facebook is trying to balance the need for both profit and user engagement on the platform. If it sees a decline in ad revenue after testing the changes, it will likely bring Likes back.
Only time (and Facebook’s test results) will tell.