Ireland is one of a number of countries where Instagram is trialling a new feature where likes are hidden to users.
This feature has already been tested in Canada, and Australia, Italy, Japan, Brazil and New Zealand join Ireland in this trial period. Users can still see who has liked their own post, but not how many likes someone else has received.
A statement from Facebook (which owns Instagram) outlined the reasoning behind the move;
"We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love."
So, taken at face value, the move is designed to take emphasis away from the “vanity metrics” a post receives, such as likes, and rather focus on the quality of the content.
However, on a more practical level for Facebook, it indicates their belief that the future of the app is in the Stories function, where short-form video reigns supreme. Both Facebook and Instagram are trying to corral users into creating this sort of content rather than posting static images, and moves such as this go a long way towards that goal.
Of course, it may also reduce the pressure on users to chase likes, and this can only be a good thing, particularly for younger users. Chasing the small hit of dopamine that a new like notification provides has become an obsession for many, and research shows that it had a negative impact on young people’s mental health.
The move may actually lead to more engagement with the platform, as without the pressure of garnering likes people may be inclined to post more often. No longer will foodies care when a picture of their beautifully lit (and now incredibly lukewarm) food gets just two likes.
It does pose problems for influencers however, in how they work with brands going forward. No longer will likes be the most important metric for many brands, but rather the more tangible success of online or instore sales as a result of influencer posts. Brands may start investing more money in amplifying posts, particularly as another recent Instagram update has allowed them to promote influencer content.
If there is a negative to the trialled feature, it’s that there’s a risk that users will start trying to be controversial in order to promote discussion and engagement in comments below the post, as a means of showing their reach. In this day and age controversy doesn’t need to be incentivised.