Last week, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri announced the company is going to start trialling a big change: Some American users will no longer be able to see the number of likes on posts in their feed.
Users in the trial will still be able to see the number of likes on their own images, but for everybody else on the TL, the likes count underneath a photo will be replaced with "Liked by @username and others", instead of a number.
Mosseri said the change is supposed to reduce pressure on young users.
So how will this affect the platform’s most vocal users: influencers?
As usual, Australia is ahead of the world, and this time not just in the literal sense (hello from the future!). Instagram has been trialling this change Down Under since mid-2019. We spoke to Australian influencers about what it's been like.
Georgia McDermott runs @georgeats, a food account with 156,000 followers that focuses on the FODMAP diet. She was sceptical about whether hiding the like count would make a difference — but once it rolled out, she was pleasantly surprised.
"It has relieved a lot of pressure and angst around posts 'doing well'," McDermott told BuzzFeed News. "I also find I’m posting less often and generally spending a bit less time on the app, which has been great for my mental health."
Sarah Jane Wardle, who runs @faceofsjw, believes it's a positive change for the platform's users, particularly if it removes anxiety around posting.
"In my personal experience, it has resulted in more confidence in what I post without being concerned about 'how many likes' a post gets, as I personally do not check the likes often anymore," Wardle said in an email to BuzzFeed News.
Popular meme curation account @browncardigan’s Toby noticed that hiding likes reduced a feeling of competition. He said it takes the pressure off when posting to his 730,000 followers.
"I think if it’s taking away the front of mind feeling of metrics from overly obsessive teenagers worrying about likes, it’s a good thing," Toby (who only provided his first name) wrote to BuzzFeed News in a message. "I was never ‘stressed’ but I would stack up other posts against others. Now, not so much. I think it’s good overall."
Not everyone feels the same way. Cassie Moxham’s mood is still influenced by whether the 11,000 followers of her @chic_mama account are liking her posts even if she can’t see how it compares to others.
"The fact that I can see how many people like my posts, psychologically for me, can still inflate or deflate me," Moxham said. "But perhaps in a very small way, it’s given me a bit more confidence to post some traditionally 'poorer' performing content."
Some influencers have noticed that it’s changing the way followers are interacting with their posts. Perth-based influencer Izzy Smith noticed larger swings in the number of likes on her posts.
"One of my posts reached 2,000 likes straight after likes were removed. It was on a photo that I didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary," Smith told BuzzFeed in an email. "This was around 4x my usual likes. Other times, some photos don’t do as well as I would have expected."
Smith suspects removing the like count means that people aren’t influenced by the number of other users who’ve already liked the post.
"I feel as though the removal of likes really shows me what my audience actually likes to see. They’re not just liking my photo because everyone else has. People aren’t afraid to like posts that they genuinely like now because the activity tab has been removed too," she said
Some users are worried that their followers are liking fewer posts following the change.
While most people interviewed by BuzzFeed News said they hadn’t noticed any change, food photography account @thegourmetguerrila’s Lindsey Hoad said he’s seeing up to 40% decrease in engagement on his posts.
“Removal of likes appears to be changing user behaviour. Certainly engagement rates seem to be dropping,” Hoad said. “The organic reach door is closing as it did with Facebook.”
Moxham also noted a big drop — but attributed it to a recent change in Instagram’s algorithm rather than a result of hiding likes.
Luxity Media’s content lead John McMahon said it is changing the type of posts on the company’s accounts — which includes the Boss Hunting account.
"Over the last few months, we’ve realised that it’s more important to be genuine, as real and as raw as possible," McMahon said. "We’re getting our faces out there more, we don’t care as much. We’re not worried about whether it’s getting as many likes as a Leonardo Di Caprio picture."
However, McMahon fears that removing the visible number of likes will make businesses more hesitant to work with influencers.
"There’s a lack of transparency where those engagement starts are no longer as visible," McMahon said. "You have to trust influencers to provide those."
Crystal Conte, who has created sponsored content on her account, pushed back on that idea.
"When it was announced and rolled out, I know there was a huge uproar about how it would affect influencers and how they do their jobs," said Conte. "Ultimately, if a brand wants to work with an influencer, they simply ask for your Insights."
Instagram hasn’t released any information about the trial, telling BuzzFeed News "it’s still too early for us to share any results from the test in Australia or globally".