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The Real Reason Instagram is Getting Rid of Likes and What it Means for Your Brand

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Matt Wujciak


Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri announced Friday at Wired25 that Instagram will begin hiding "like" counts on posts this week. At first, likes will disappear only for certain users as a test of the feature.

"We will make decisions that hurt the business if they help people's well-being and health," Mosseri said, according to Wired

Likes aren't completely gone. You can still view the like count on your own photos and videos — just not posts from others.

Facebook, which owns Instagram, has expressed similar interests and tests in foreign markets.

The idea, according to Mosseri, as seen in BuzzFeed News was "about creating a less pressurized environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves."

Instagram seems to care a great deal about the psychological well-being of their users, claiming to make decisions that decrease revenue if it’s for users’ mental well-being, as seen in the above quote from Wired. However, the quote from BuzzFeed News about creating “less pressurized environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves” seems to be slightly more specific and slightly more skewed towards Instagram’s actual motive.

Not to say that Instagram does or doesn’t have their users’ best interest and well-being at heart. However, there is more to their underlying rationale behind getting rid of likes than their users’ emotional health.

Instagram's decrease in engagement

While Instagram’s revenue sits at $4.6 billion in Q4 of 2019, their revenue is expected to jump to $6.8 billion in Q4 of 2020 according to Statista, last edited in July 3rd, around two months after Instagram began publicly testing hidden likes in Canada. 

Read More: 4 CS Social Media Tips That Will Grow Your Brand

Year over year revenue, may be healthier at the moment. However, the nature of social media has shifted, and it’s affecting Instagram’s engagement. As there’s undoubtedly a greater emphasis on social media performance metrics and analytics for both corporate and personal branding, Instagram users and digital marketers alike are more concerned with the performance of their posts rather than the quality of their content. In other words, their interest lies in the message that high engagement and likes display rather than what message the content displays, or how it reflects the brand. 

In turn, users are posting less and less, with a homerun approach to getting likes. Instead of a Snapchat approach that shows a larger quantity of authentic content to select viewers (or a specified target audience who goes out of their way to add a brand), Instagram users are decreasing in their frequency of posting with solely a “best foot forward” mentality. 

Snapchat approach

According to Refinery 29, engagement rates on Instagram are now approaching an all-time low. Engagement rates on sponsored posts have dropped from 4.0 percent in early 2016 to 2.4 percent in early 2019, suggesting that some influencers may be losing their influence.

Even travel influencers, known for their high engagement rates, have seen an average drop of 3.5 percent year on year, research published by Mobile Marketer found.

Interestingly, the study found that influencers with fewer followers are attracting the highest engagement rates. Influencers with 1,000-5,000 followers have an engagement rate of 8.8 percent, while influencers with 5,000 to 10,000 followers have an engagement rate of 6.3%. 

By nature, more followers means more engagement. However, this is not the case in this study, which tells you one of two things about Instagram users. Accounts with a larger following tend to either post lesser quality content (perhaps inorganic or less genuine) or post less period. Conversely, influencers, regular users, or brands with a smaller following, will post more authentic content or post more frequently, generating more engagement over time. 

Not only are accounts posting less, the ones who are may not be operated by people, but rather bots. A  Business Insider study stated that 30% of Instagram accounts are inactive, posting one to zero times a month, and 8% are fake. So when these accounts do post, they oversaturate feeds and defeat the original purpose of Instagram. 

According to a Washing Post article published in May, “Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey said last week that if he could build his social network anew, he would rethink its emphasis on likes and retweets as markers of success. In a prototype of the Twitter app, dubbed twttr, the company is experimenting with removing like and retweet counts by default. Unlike the current version of Twitter, which displays those figures for each post, the beta app only shows the metrics when a user taps the tweet.”

Read More: The Unknown History of Influencer Marketing

Twitter, Instagram, and potentially Facebook want to get rid of the most widely accepted metric for digital popularity, and social media marketing engagement – the era of the “like.” Why? Is it the psychological well-being of users or a hidden strategy to increase engagement over time? Maybe it’s both. 

Authentic content and actionable data

From the consumer audience perspective, getting rid of likes is a win. Followers and customers will still be able to engage and interact with their favorite brands and influencers, but the interaction will be more about what truly connects with them. The nature of Instagram content will be more authentic, and posted more frequently (as public likes/status won’t be a common worry) making it easier for like-minded individuals to connect rather than fish for likes and engagement.

As a result, users will “like” content that they actually like, rather than liking a piece of content in order to visibly associate themselves with a brand, influencer, or piece of content. Those (now more genuine) likes will be factored into Instagram’s algorithm and tailored for specified users, similar to the way a search engine works. As personalization for social media and social media analytics become more actionable, both consumers and brands will benefit. 

Lastly, the Snapchat approach will be more relevant and competitive for businesses, as they consider shifting sponsored content emphasis from in-feed images to stories, where likes have never been a factor. Via Instagram stories, followers and customers can get a little closer to influencers and businesses, as their content is less curated, more authentic and near real-time, all reasons why Instagram (and maybe soon all of social media) is getting rid of the “like” as we know it.