The End of ‘Likes' Is in Sight


Tara Pijs

It’s been the subject of many an article in newspapers and blogs; Instagram is currently testing hiding ‘likes’ from public view in a number of countries, and Facebook is thinking about following suit. Likes are an easy to way to react to people we follow, and we use them to measure the popularity of messages, so this is a bold move by Instagram. What will it mean for marketers if likes really do disappear?

It appears to be a radical change, because Instagram and Facebook would be removing one of the most easy and accessible ways of expressing recognition or appreciation on social media. However, let’s make something clear first: You will still be able to like posts, you just won’t be able to see how many likes other people’s Instagram photos have. Instagram is testing the effects of hiding this data from the public. The person who posted the photo will still be able to see the number of likes.

Like-minded Community

The controversy this has caused worldwide immediately confirms why Instagram wanted to implement this change in the first place. The number of likes affects our sense of validation and our self-confidence. All this is nothing new by the way. Getting likes makes us feel good: it proves we’ve been accepted and that we belong. Not getting likes, on the other hand, generates feelings of uncertainty and the absence of appreciation. As a result, we end up comparing our best photos with those of others. Instagram wants to do something about these negative aspects of social media, and this is a first step. According to Instagram, it would be better for our mental health if we could no longer make comparisons with others. The number of likes obviously shows how popular a social post is, and liking posts is also a very easy and accessible way of expressing recognition. But what does a like really mean?

Meaning of the Like

Chris Taylor wrote an article for Mashable Middle East about the meaning of the like. The like button has a whole range of meanings in the world of social media. The like can be used in different ways and have the following meanings:

  • Yes
  • I agree
  • I hear you
  • Sure
  • Why not
  • I think so

A like can even be used to bookmark a post. These are just a few examples, as there are a whole lot of other reasons, both personal and political, behind a heart or a thumbs up. A number of platforms have changed the way they operate because of these different meanings, and you can now react in a variety of ways on Facebook and LinkedIn. The way we show our engagement is slowly changing.

Interest in Each Other

Are things moving faster than we realize? And have things already gone far enough? The introduction of stories on Instagram and Facebook has done away with likes completely. Another example is a platform like Snapchat, which is all about sharing photos and videos with friends and mutual engagement. Interaction and interest in each other are important when it comes to stories. Sharing stories and short videos is becoming more and more popular, and has even led to the LinkedIn business platform experimenting with them. There is a high level of engagement in these stories, which can also be measured. Your story analytics identify the following metrics, for example:

  • Your reach.
  • The number of people who watched your story to the end (completion rate).
  • The number of people who left before the end (exits).
  • The number of people who skipped your story (skips).
  • The number of people who watched again (back).

More Social Media Data

Likes have always indicated how well a post scores on social media, but it’s not the only signal which reveals that a post has grabbed attention. The platforms’ algorithms analyze a lot of other data to decide how popular your messages are, such as where we scroll to, how long we view a post, and what we click. The popularity is calculated according to the number of shares, comments and clicks, referral traffic, the number of followers, and last but not least, how many people view your profile and stories.  This data reveals much more than likes alone, and they can all be measured.

To conclude, it’s clear that we’re getting beyond the superficiality of likes, and placing more emphasis on interaction and attention. Perhaps it’s not such a bad idea after all for Instagram and Facebook to get rid of the hearts and thumbs up currently attached to public data.


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