Will Instagram hiding likes make us happier? @notaboutthekids

Will Instagram hiding likes make us happier?

Instagram says it wants to make the app a more fun – lighter – place for us to be. So, in May it began hiding likes (or at least the number of likes) from posts for some users in Canada. Woah there, no one likes change, and surely what’s Instagram without the likes? But now, the trial is being extended to 7 countries including Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. Mia Garlick from Facebook Australia says IG should be somewhere “where people feel comfortable expressing themselves”. So is this really a big deal for our mental health, and honestly, what is going on with our relationship with likes on Instagram anyway?

What’s in a like?

Instagram has been dubbed the worst social media site for users mental health and wellbeing (click here to read the research) and like culture is seen to be at the heart of the problem.

When we receive a like on social, we get a dopamine hit – a little chemical reward bomb going off in our brain. Marketing and psychology expert Adam Alter says –

When someone likes an Instagram post, or any content that you share, it’s a little bit like taking a drug. As far as your brain is concerned, it’s a very similar experience. Now the reason why is because it’s not guaranteed that you’re going to get likes on your posts. And it’s the unpredictability of that process that makes it so addictive. If you knew that every time you posted something you’d get a 100 likes, it would become boring really fast.

Read more from Adam here or watch his Ted talk

So if you don’t get the likes, you don’t get the dopamine hit you were hoping for. But even if you do, it’s a cheap, temporary high.

Hate like;  the act of “liking” someone’s photo on social media even though it fills you with intense jealousy.

Likes, or the lack of likes, is used as a weapon by bullies. And they’ve caused an epidemic of comparisonitis – a condition that causes suffers to question why their likes aren’t as big as yours.

No likey

So Instagram’s solution is to hide the number of likes from view. Users can see the number of likes they get, but noone else can.

A follower whose account has just switched over sent me this screenshot of how my most recent post looked on her phone.

But we all like to be liked

My first thoughts on the trial were – I’ll miss my likes, but I think it’s really cool for the kidsI’m a grown-up and don’t care about likes, this stuff really affects young people’s self-esteem. Ha. I kid myself.

Just one week ago I deleted a post from my feed because it didn’t get very many likes. It’s lack of likeability changed my feelings about the photo, and about what I had written underneath it. Admitting that makes me feel very silly, but I was just having a predictable response to the dopamine kick in the teeth (I’ve reinstated the post by the way).

Tastes like freedom?

The theory with hiding likes is that this will free up users to post exactly what they like, when they like, without worrying about how popular it will be.

New Zealand based Instagram user Simone McCallum’s account has switched. She told me it may have already impacted the way people are liking and commenting –

You get used to it pretty quick. You can still see if someone has liked a post, you just can’t see the total likes (unless you count them all). I feel like I am seeing different posts in my newsfeed – possibly because engagement has changed?

Another user Tracey MacKenzie – who’s in Canada where Instagram started this trial says –

We’ve had the no likes for a while now and I think it’s great! Instagram wasn’t suposed to put pressure on people. The person who posts the pic still sees the amount of likes an I think it’s much better that way. People will get to see a different side of each other now – not just the perfect side.

What’s not to like?

So from a personal perspective – bring on invisible likes. We’ll still have all the information we need to judge how our posts are performing but will be liberated from the pressure of anyone else seeing it.

But for influencers and brands – is it a nightmare? It’s easy to see how hidden likes could lead to less engagement, and affect audience growth (read this piece in the New Statesman). If that happens in the trial, businesses could put pressure on Instagram to stop them rolling it out globally.

And what I would really like…

Are likes really the most significant metric for Instagram to address? I don’t think so. With engagement rates already down I sense people are less bothered about likes than ever.

Follower numbers are still the vanity metric du jour. When I speak to individuals and businesses about their social strategy – how can I get more followers is their number 1 question.

A recent study suggests that half of all Instagram users have bought fake followers and likes (here’s the BBC report). So unless the emphasis on follower numbers is removed too, Instagram will still be awash with dodgy practice.

And removing likes doesn’t remove the constant stream of perfected images we scroll through – which many judge to be far more damaging psychologically.

This trial is groundbreaking and could entirely change the social media landscape, but it will be months before we know the results of the experiment – and many months after that before it could be implemented for everyone. I’d love to know what you think about it. Comment below and we can chat.

What's your View?

10 comments on “Will Instagram hiding likes make us happier?

  1. jo Richardson heimalytham on

    Very interesting Helen
    Personally I can’t wait
    I would like to post many more pictures each day (like I do on stories) showinb my range of stock but obviously most of them would bomb! Should I be bothered?

  2. Helen on

    Ah another fabulous post Helen! Such an interesting thing about hate likes too … incidentally I was surprised recently in a recent poll that I did where I asked people if they had seen my post on their feed as the engagement was dire … several people (who I would class as close London blogger friends) said they had … I was surprised as they hadn’t liked or commented on my post … I hadn’t realised until that point just how some people are more competitive on here than they care to admit! Or maybe I’m too carefree with my liking and commenting? Who knows! Anyway, my post this morning has crashed and it had made me feel a bit poo about it and it made me think that I’d probably still feel a bit poo even if the likes were hidden as I would still know it was a rubbish flop. Made me think that perhaps we will still feel a little rubbish if our hard work isn’t shared but at least we aren’t advertising to the world that result!! Anyway, another rambling comment from me! xx

  3. Candy Queen on

    Just for the record, i ‘Liked’ the flowers photo on the right, i Love it : )

    I didn’t ‘like’ the trainers photo on the left because i didn’t see it, i don’t use Instagram every day so perhaps that’s why, if i’d have seen it i’d definitely have ‘Liked’ it : )

    I feel like i’m the Only Instagram user that literally doesn’t give a monkey’s how many Likes something get’s. The entire concept is lost on me. I post what i want to post when i want to post it. I reply to comments, always but i don’t look at or register the likes or follows, and it has absolutely no effect on my self worth. I literally have no idea and it doesn’t cross my mind to look. I post things because i want to post them not because i want strangers to like them (WT!? That’s just a totally bonkers concept to me) The only time i noticed was when photo got 300 plus likes and i spent about 7 hours on my phone in two days replying to everyone.

    I kind of actually don’t want that to happen too much, i just want to crack on with what i’m doing and spend less time on my phone!

    *this might be why i only have 1500 followers in 5 years………
    *This also makes me exceptionally happy that i have this many real, true, loyal followers that i can count on. Imagine that many people in a room!? That’s EPIC!! and Enough for me : )! Any more and i’d start to get overwhelmed and shy ; )

    Keep up the Awesome work xx

  4. Helen on

    Hey Jo, lovely to see you here 🙂 – I think a great piece of advice about posting content to your social accounts is ‘get it all up there – just bloody post it’. Only a fraction of our followers will see any post, and it’s really hard to know what they will like unless you try it all out. It’s liberating to accept that some posts will do better than others – for LOTS of reasons. Looking forward to seeing more from you in the future…Hx

  5. Helen on

    Helen, your rambling comments make my day! Our emotional responses and the psychology of how we behave on social media is rather fascinating, isn’t it? The photo that you posted this morning was gorgeous – it’s a little different from your usual shots (not in London) which could well be why the algorithm didn’t pick it up and run with it. You’re building a body of work, which is about so much more than the engagement on our most last post. Hx

  6. Helen on

    Thank you thank you for this BRILLIANT comment. You are so right – can you imagine all of those people knocking on the door for a chat and a cup of tea? I think that we all need to achieve this kind of relationship with Instagram, it’s about showing images or video that you believe in – to your right people. Good things can come from that (if you are using it for marketing purposes) or it can just be pure FUN if that’s what you prefer. Hope to chat again soon, H x

  7. @bysarahmostly on

    I must confess that I’ve never felt any pressure over the number of likes a picture gets on Instagram – even when it was how I made a living! It’s only natural that some pics will be more popular than others and of course the messed up algorithm means that sometimes our posts aren’t being seen at all.
    My worry would be that the focus would switch to follower numbers which we all know can be bought. You see ‘big’ accounts who have massive follower numbers but the number of likes they have is disproportionately low so screams *fake bought followers* to me and I’ll give them a wide berth (sorry but we all know there are accounts out there doing it!)
    Plus I can’t help but think that it will decrease overall interaction on the platform. Will people bother to like or comment anymore? I don’t know but it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Social media seems to be getting less and less sociable! 😂

  8. Helen on

    Ha, indeed, our attention seems to be spread more thinly over various platforms, the main feed, Stories, video…
    I would love follower numbers to be much less of a ‘thing’ on Instagram as I see so many people getting anxious about it. I’ve long wished that they would remove the 10k barrier for gaining extra links in Stories – it creates an arbitrary number goal that I’m sure encourages dodgy tactics. We’ll have to wait and see where it all goes won’t we? Thanks so much for stopping by, Hx

  9. Neha on

    Ah helen didn’t think you would delete the post that didn’t get many likes. I just leave mine and I have had some with dreadful number of likes. I just think my followers have bothers to at least like and comment and I don’t want to just delete that. I have a feeling you may put it up again soon just to see if it was time of day etc that affected it cause I love it.
    It is a tough industry and I don’t understand how PR firms still look for the likes and followers.
    I read somewhere we need to branch out more and that is what I am trying to do though I have no idea how. IG is always so easy and self explanatory
    Thanks for another great interesting read

  10. Helen on

    I solemnly vow never to delete anything on that basis again! So daft. I’m still super at home on Instagram, but I’m also trying to use Pinterest and LinkedIn a bit more too. For slightly different reasons. The world of social is interesting and baffling in equal measure! Thanks always for reading, Hx

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