As a marketer or business owner, it’s highly likely that you reference the number of likes you receive on social media when deciding if your content has hit the mark or not.

While there are sophisticated algorithms at play which can (and do) have an impact on reach, it’s easy to look at the number of likes for any given post as a yardstick for performance. If you have more likes, clearly you’re creating great social media content. So fewer likes means you’re missing the mark and need to adjust your approach, right?

Not quite.

As already mentioned, the increasingly sophisticated algorithms deployed by the likes of Facebook and Instagram limit organic reach. A 2014 study carried out by Edgerank Checker suggested a standard Facebook Page could expect to reach just 6.5% of its audience. This means that if you aren’t paying to boost your posts, your great content may not even be showing up – so a lack of likes wouldn’t necessarily mean that your social media posts were not being well received.

This is a conundrum that social media marketers are increasingly having to grapple with but, six months ago it become even more complicated when Instagram announced that it planned to run an experiment to hide like counts from posts. Instagram said that the trial was intended to help followers focus on the content being shared, not how many likes a post gets. The poster will still be able to see like counts in the back end of the account but it won’t be publicly displayed to Instagram users.

New research released this month has tracked the impact of the removal of likes – with interesting results.

Hiding likes provokes a decline in comments

The number of comments a post receives is a longstanding engagement metric and can help to boost organic reach by signally the popularity of a particular post. However, research authors #paid say that hiding likes has had a negative impact on comments with a third of creators saying that they have seen less comments on their posts as a result.

One influencer suggested that not being able to see the number of likes on a post signals that it isn’t important or relevant, leaving Instagram’s users less likely to comment.

Half of creators say follower growth has also declined

Around half of Instagram creators say that since likes have been hidden, their follower growth has noticeably slowed. As with the decline in comments, this can have further repercussions in the form of even more limited organic reach. One social media influencer quoted in the report said, “Since launch, I’ve seen extremely low engagement and interaction because posts are not gaining enough likes/comments to be deemed a ‘good post’ and therefore it does not get shown to many people.” Even for accounts not taking part in the experiment, this nugget of information is very enlightening as it suggests that to grow follower counts, you’ll need to have an already engaged audience. For those keen to expand their social media influence, this could be an indicator that adding at least some paid social activity into the overall marketing strategy could be non-negotiable.

Disappearing likes could be impacting creativity

While you might think that not having to focus on the number of likes achieved would unleash creativity, many influencers say this isn’t the case. The #paid report reveals, “Creators who had their likes hidden were 162% more likely to disagree with the statement, “Since the start of the experiment, I feel more freedom to be creative.” 

The positives

Despite the challenges created by the experiment, many creators also reported positives with some saying they felt less pressured, better able to focus on good quality content rather than posting something simply because it was ‘trendy’.

Instagram appears to have received good feedback on its hidden likes experiment because it has extended its test from Canada into an additional six countries including Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy and Japan. 

As a social media marketer, the test and its impact highlights the need to have a robust and well-rounded social media strategy in place along with a considered approach to metrics that isn’t solely based on the number of likes a post receives.

If you’d like more information about Instagram marketing or feel inspired to revisit your own social media activity to explore new opportunities, get in touch with the Adrac team today.