Social media is many different things to people. While the majority of users use social media to stay connected to friends and family, business owners and influencers use social sites to build their brands and make money. A big part of that includes the amount of engagement that these business accounts receive.
The number of likes a photo garners is a badge of honor and shows others how many people have positively responded to a particular post. Seeing a high number of photo likes can give any user a clue as to how influential the post, and the poster, are to the public. Plus, one could even argue that if a particular photo is receiving many likes, including from a user's friends and family, it could persuade a user to like the picture as well.
Businesses work hard to develop content that users will actively engage with, and even share with their friends. Having the number of likes prominently displayed shows the fruits of their labor and, as mentioned above, could unintentionally encourage other users to like and engage with the post as well.
Whether we want to admit it or not, the more people like and approve of a particular product, the easier it is to convince others to buy it as well. If a company releases a new product and develops a social media campaign around it, the number of likes these posts receive could be significant. When users see that a post is liked by friends and has thousands of other likes as well, it's an unofficial stamp of approval.
Influencers build their entire empires around how many likes and comments their posts receive. A user could have a million followers, but if their posts only receive 50 likes, it's evident that either their followers are fake, their content isn't good, or, more importantly, that they have very little influence over people.
The most popular form of online marketing today is influencer marketing. This is because (as mentioned above) when something has a stamp of approval from someone whose opinion you care about, it makes you more receptive and open to see what the product or service is all about.
A big part of influencer marketing, on the influencer side, is engagement - particularly 'likes.' If a business is searching for an influencer to promote their product, they're going to care about the number of followers the influencer has and how many 'likes' their photos receive. Instagram is arguing that influencers will still have access to their analytics, which they could share with businesses. However, it will be interesting to see how hiding likes will play out in this process. Will the number of comments become the new determining factor ahead of likes?
This is why panic began to ensue when Instagram started testing out the concept of hiding likes. Influencers affected by this initial test were outraged and even spent time creating posts and content that reflected their discontentment with the idea. Instagram has already shut down the 'Following' tab, so you're no longer able to what actions your followers are taking. Instagram is claiming that hiding these features will allow users to more freely 'like' and engage with content without fear of what others will think.
It will be curious to see how this will all play out. Will users feel empowered to like more posts? Or will they feel like it doesn't matter as much since no one is watching? How much weight does approval from friends and family when it comes to interacting with certain content, and how much does it help to shape a user's view of new products? Only time will tell.