Instagram’s Private Like Counts — what’s it all about? | h2o | Creative Communications Ltd.
Instagram is testing a feature that hides the total number of likes on photos and videos to try and focus attention on posts rather than likes.
marketing, digital marketing, social media, private like counts, instagram, mental health, online bullying, influencer, influencer marketing,
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Instagram’s Private Like Counts — what’s it all about?

Instagram’s Private Like Counts — what’s it all about?

What is PLC?

PLC (in this instance) stands for Private Like Counts. In July, Instagram announced it would start the rollout of PLC’s, meaning when you scroll through the feed there are no like counts. It’s currently being introduced in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Ireland, Italy and Brazil.

The viewer can see who liked a photo or video but the owner of the account will be able to see the number of likes their content receives. The number won’t automatically appear under your post, instead, you’ll have to tap ‘others’ under your post to go through to the total number of likes.

What’s the point?

This is part of Instagram’s vision to make everyone feel safe on the platform and lead the fight against online bullying.

The company said it was doing it because they want followers to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get. In other words, when likes are public, people care too much about them. People view it as a metric of success — teasing those who get too few, or buying likes to try to gain popularity.

It comes after Instagram started testing a new feature that allows you to secretly ban comments from users so their posts under your photos aren’t visible to anyone other than you and the viewers. This is called ‘shadow banning’ because the person who has their comments blocked will be none the wiser.

Instagram will also be warning bullies when they go to post something that it deems to be offensive. The app will use artificial intelligence to spot comments that could cause offence so it can ask the user: “Are you sure you want to post this?” It will also provide a message to users it confronts which states: “We’re asking people to rethink comments that seem similar to others that have been reported.”

Obviously, this is a controversial topic — will peoples profiles still be as valuable if their photo-like counts are hidden?

The reaction online is mixed — from influencers who were freaking out that the update would destroy their livelihoods, to mental health supporters welcoming the trial.

Mia Garlick, Director of Policy for Australia & NZ Facebook said: “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…”

In the social media economy, likes have become a kind of currency — the pursuit of which can negatively affect mental health and breed addictive tendencies among users. We get a buzz when we get likes on Instagram and we keep checking every 10 minutes to see how well our post has done. We are left feeling a little disappointed if our post doesn’t do as well as we hoped. Why do we even care in the first place!? Surely we should be posting because it’s something we like and not to impress our viewers?

This is undoubtedly great that Instagram aspires to lead the fight against online bullying but how will this affect influencers?

Like count is an important metric by which influencers can determine follower engagement and deals with brands. But it’s not the only metric that brands value when it comes to partnering with influencers and creators.

You could argue that it’s not the likes that drives engagement but the content itself. There are several other metrics that can be used to measure the effectiveness of a brand’s campaign, such as, story engagement and follower growth.

Instagram recognises the importance of like count for creators and the platform is considering how potentially hiding like count could impact influencer-brand relationships. Instagram hopes that by making the number of likes private, people will be able to focus more on the photos and videos posted in Feed and that this should drive deeper engagement.

Lyndi Cohen, TV Dietitian, pro PLC

Ani Acopian, a video director who uses Instagram to showcase her work believes: “Instagram has started to feel like a competition instead of somewhere to go for inspiration. I think hiding like counts will encourage people to share things they truly care about again instead of things they think other people will like.”

Influencer & model, Alexa Galante, has a mixed view of the trial: “Removing Instagram likes would allow users to focus on content and not be concerned with the amount of likes the photo gets.”

“I think removing likes would reduce the activity of Instagram but increase the amount of content being put out through the platform…You can’t see how many people publicly engaged with you and liked your photo. It’s nice to be able to see who’s engaging with your posts. It creates relationships.”

Lia Haberman, formerly VP Audience Development at Livestrong, believes that hidden likes could result in a spending shift away from influencer marketing and towards paid advertising on Instagram. “This will likely increase the amount of ads as brands look for more exposure and make it difficult for anyone but established influencers to get a foot-hold.” Cynics could possibly view it this way but I don’t think this would be the full intention of the change. It’s a valid point though as it means Instagram could make more money from even more adverts.

Alexis Davis, Founder of the social agency The Content Plug, predicts that “Brands will need to convince stakeholders that organic Instagram still has a place in marketing plans based on the ‘hidden’ analytics.”

I think this is a positive change. Instagram Stories has flourished and has become increasingly popular with users, brands and influencers but it doesn’t have any public metrics. This hasn’t affected the usage, so why should PLC?

If your business relies on social media and you use likes as a metric to demonstrate the engagement results of your campaigns and activities, this could potentially affect you.

I understand the implications for influencers as the change could make it difficult for brands to find Instagram influencers to work with. According to statistics, brands care more about reach and engagement rate than they do followers. So without the ability to publically view influencers likes, it could make it difficult to measure how engaged their community is.

I believe it will help towards mental health in regard to people comparing their own content to others. It will probably affect the marketing world but its a trial and we are yet to see the negatives and benefits from it.

Megan Tyce
megan@h2o-creative.com