APR. 19, 2019
JUL. 18, 2019 update: According to Tech Crunch, Instagram is extending the test to six more countries starting today: Ireland, Italy, Japan, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand. When the like-hiding tests were first discovered by software engineer Jane Manchun Wong back in April, the test was only rolled out to Canada.
For years Instagram influencers have relied on engagement numbers to secure partnerships with brands. “Liking,” in particular, has become such an integral part of the Instagram experience that it’s hard to imagine the app without it.
Recently, Jane Manchun Wong, who reverse engineers apps to uncover unreleased features, found a code within Instagram that signals a big change to the app: the removal of like count.
“We want followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get,” said a message in the app. “During this test, only the person who shared a post will see the total number of likes it gets.”
In Wong’s screenshot of the test, her number of likes are missing. In its stead is this message: “Liked by deletescape and others.” Only the user who published the image, Wong, can see the number of likes her post received. That number is not visible to her followers.
If this test rolled out, it’s unclear whether users would still be able to view the accounts that liked the post. In Wong’s screenshot, the like count is missing and the “others” text is no longer in bold. This suggests that people who liked the image may not be visible to the public, either, since the bolded “others” signals a text as a clickable feature.
Instagram’s test may throw users in a panic, for good reason. Influencers, in particular, rely on engagement numbers to secure partnerships with brands. These brands measure influencers’ likes and comments against their number of followers to determine whether or not to offer a collaboration. By removing like count from the public, Instagram may be putting a wrench in influencer marketing.
Like count’s removal also makes engagement groups, which exist to inflate engagement numbers, obsolete. Without the ability to show like numbers to the public, there’s no point in creating and joining these groups.
Not only that, without like count, brands may have a difficult time establishing credibility. Likes often function as social proof. People use it to determine whether they should follow an account. After all, if a lot of users like and follow a brand, then there must be a good reason to follow it too.
Those who are alarmed by this feature need not worry prematurely. Because it’s still a test, the feature may not roll out. If it does roll out, engagement and follower numbers, which Instagram is not removing, can still be used to determine an account’s credibility.
Still, maybe removing like count could be a good thing. Sure, it may make influencer and social media marketing more challenging, but it does relieve users from the pressure of gaining more likes to feel popular or important.
Written by Anne Felicitas, writer & editor