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How would it impact publishers if Facebook ditches the Like count?

pins with facbook logo

First, Instagram started hiding the Like count. It began the experiment in Canada, and has further expanded the test in more countries, including Italy, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. 

It appears the experiment has demonstrated the desired results, and now Facebook is thinking about hiding Like counts, too.

“The fact that Facebook is following suit after Instagram indicates they have confidence the pros of hiding like counts outweigh the cons,” says Jane Manchun Wong, the security researcher who uncovered the project by reverse-engineering the Facebook app.

Why is Facebook experimenting with this change?

The apparent objective is to bring back the focus on the quality of content shared, rather than only on posting content designed to increase the Like count.

A spokesperson for Facebook, Instagram’s owner, told BBC that “This test only makes your like count private to others, so that you’re able to focus less on likes and more on telling your story.”

TechCrunch’s Josh Constine believes Facebook’s reason for doing so are more complicated. “It could also obscure Facebook’s own potential decline in popularity as users switch to other apps,” he says.

While it’s difficult to gauge the impact of this probable redesign until it’s rolled out by Facebook, we can get a general idea by taking a look at what happened when Likes started disappearing on Instagram. 

Since Instagram is a more visual medium, influencers are well-positioned to explain the impact of the Like being phased out. This is from a BBC report on how turning Likes invisible is changing Instagram.

Interestingly, a month into the change, many influencers – at least publicly – are welcoming the move, and shrugging off concerns about the threat to their income.

Celina Ribeiro, Journalist

While a number of views, often contradictory, were expressed, the overall consensus seems to be that for influencers, the removal of Likes is “more of a shock to their ego than their trade”.

Nonetheless – the new era is here, and we believe it will be defined by personalized content,” say the Hamilton twins, co-founders of Supernova.

In a world without “likes”, influencers would be pushed to create not only better content, but more diverse types of content such as videos and Instagram “stories”. We believe this change can result in a stronger engagement between influencers and their followers, as it could cause more reading of captions and more thoughtful content.

Emily and Sarah Hamilton

Having no likes will force the businesses to measure what actually matters: value, relevance and impact. This will most likely force brands to take time to build a community and not just fans,” they conclude.

It seems logical that Facebook’s hiding of Likes will have a similar impact on those who use the platform for business, including publishers. With Likes possibly becoming less of a determinant of content popularity, focus on community building and content quality will increase. 

We have already seen Facebook’s policy changes lead to a reduction of sensationalist and provocative content on the platform, and this step, along with Facebook’s launch of a News tab, should lead to more focus on value creation, personalization, and stronger community engagement, just like it happened on the sister platform.

After Jane’s exposé, Facebook confirmed to TechCrunch that it is considering removing Like counts, but provided no further information, including any timeline for rolling out the redesign.

“It takes time to develop, observe, research and release experimental features like this,” Jane wrote on her blog. “Experimental features could come and go. But I am certain hiding the public like counts will be beneficial to the digital wellbeing of a large chunk of users.”

If that leads to more posts on Facebook, and more time spent on Facebook, then we’re likely to see tests like these continue to expand,” concludes The Verge’s Jacob Kastrenakes.