Instagram now has well over a billion active users. Many users even spend some money on it, and some spend a lot. In spite of this, Instagram has barely tapped the goldmine for businesses. 

Whether they be ‘physical’ businesses looking to establish an online presence or part of the rapidly growing category of purely online companies, it is mandatory to have a powerful presence on the platform.

The issue is, that’s easier said than done. How that algorithm decides what appears on your feed is not completely clear. 

To make things even more complicated, every feed on the app has a unique algorithm meaning the same content does not necessarily perform equally well across feeds.

The traditional view has been that obvious numerical factors such as likes, follows, shares, and comments determine an account’s visibility,

However, given that the algorithm is constantly evolving to cater the most relevant, quality content to the consumer, the question is, why care about likes?

Why Instagram Likes are Important


instagram graphic

The primary metric for account visibility on Instagram is the prevalence of social signals. In other words, increasing instagram follow count, save count, share count, comments, and the sort. Remember, Instagram’s primary objective is to keep users on the platform for as long as possible.

Accordingly, indicators of high user interest by engagement are precisely the stuff the algorithm looks at.

While likes are certainly a significant player, they are not all that matters; while you should maximise them, aim to do so without coming at the cost of the other social signals since they are just as if not more important.

However, not all likes are equal. A like’s effect on a post’s visibility varies based on the topic, format, rate of engagement, and the demographic that has interacted the most with it. Thus, a like can have different results depending on the nature of the account of the ‘liker’ and the ‘liked‘ account.

Consumer Psychology 

hands clicking to like a photo on Instagram

Regardless of the specifics of the nature of the algorithm, The other core impact of likes has more to do with psychology. Many view Instagram as a numbers game, i.e., your followers, likes, etc., being the most important thing about your account.

That sort of thing has only gotten stronger with time. The effect has bled across the platform into areas such as business and even handles for organisations. 

When a user sees a post or reel on their feed, the first thing they do is take a glance at the like count. If it is ‘too low for their standards, then they won’t give it another thought and scroll past it. At this point, it’s barely even a conscious effort. It might as well be muscle memory.

Despite that, the presence of a like count has enabled significant opportunities for businesses. They can, among other things:

  • Evaluate an influencer to determine whether they are a potential business partner by looking at the level of engagement they draw in to estimate the monetary gain from bringing them on board.
  • Nudge users towards making purchases by displaying the number of likes of the item/service that they are offering. Accordingly, they can drive home the idea that their business leaves little to be desired in quality and image.
  • Use likes as a ‘claim to fame’ pushing the narrative that they are a beloved, prestigious entity, thus significantly improving brand image.
  • Enter mutually beneficial ‘like wars’ with competitors where they compete to amass more likes, pushing interest towards both platforms.


The growing necessity of likes meant that the pressure to push a number higher was becoming increasingly intense. This was to the extent that there were serious concerns about users’ mental health, who felt that their social standing was determined by how many likes they could amass.

The burden of raking in likes also took a toll on the nature of the content on the site. All accounts were interested in appealing to as broad a demographic as possible and being as likeable as they could be. 

Thus, a severe discrepancy developed between the lives people displayed on Instagram. As compared to what theirs were actually. As a byproduct, this led to people having a distorted perception of what ‘normal’ life was supposed to be.

The borderline obsession around maximizing like count meant that the practice of ‘buying likes’ became increasingly popular to the point where the integrity of the like system and the algorithm could be called into question.

Hidden Likes 

hidden likes on a post on InstagramSeeing the rise in the above issues, Instagram decided to consider a solution, hiding likes. Of course, this is a rather extreme response, so the natural thing to do was to assess whether doing so would bring positive change.

Accordingly, in 2019, Instagram chose to hide likes from the app in specific countries on a trial basis. After the conclusion of the experiment, the primary results were as follows.

  • There were divided opinions about the change. Some users preferred an idea of what was received well and what was topical and relevant. Other users felt they no longer had to ‘keep up with others’ by maximizing their like count. Consequently, there was a significant debate and controversy between the two poles.
  • There was an insignificant difference in the mental health of users. While users did not feel as much urgency to conform to the latest trends, the effect was not enough to make the change worthwhile.
  • The removal of likes meant that businesses had to place a greater emphasis on empathetic ‘social’ marketing. However, this did mean that it was significantly more complicated for them to carry out any commercial activity as they had a more limited understanding of what users were receptive to.

While the positives were too limited to justify a blanket policy against likes, the experiment proved fruitful. It displayed that a significant portion of the user base would prefer to be free from the peer pressure of aiming for higher like counts.

Accordingly, Instagram rolled an update enabling users to hide likes for their posts. However, note that this did not go as far as it did in the experiment, as the profile owner could still see the like count, making them vulnerable to the same feelings of inadequacy and a desire for conformity.

Does Hiding Likes Make a Difference?

hidden likes on instagram graphic

Yes and No. From an algorithmic standpoint, there is no difference between whether or not likes are visible. They still have the same impact on engagement metrics. 

The likes still exist. Users just cannot see the number of likes. They can still like, and the likes still are recorded and parsed through the algorithm. From all objective functionality, there is no difference.

However, things always become more complicated when psychology gets involved. Since businesses cannot display their like count as a sort of internet social status, they have to evolve to keep their followers engaged in a more meaningful way.

There are merits and demerits to this strategy, the core issue being that it is not as straightforward to grow and establish a more extensive following. Businesses do not have as easy of a claim to fame and cannot utilize the benefits discussed above.

However, there are specific reasons which make this a viable strategy. The algorithm considers the engagement ratio massively. Accordingly, having a more significant proportion of engaged users, not just a greater number, will promote your account significantly.

Therefore, if likes cannot be relied upon to grow and maintain a following, businesses have to rely on being genuinely appealing to potential customers. Thus, audience retention is much higher in these cases, and growth is more likely to be organic.

Closing Remarks

Likes on Instagram have been controversial and confusing for a few years. But the general facts are that while they matter, they are not the core determinant for account visibility. You should not prioritise them at the expense of other ways of engagement.

The situation with hiding likes has also caused significant confusion, but no, Instagram did not remove likes. No, they will not remove likes in the near future. 

The status quo is where a user may hide likes if they feel they would be counterproductive. The reasons one does so may range from protecting their mental health to being an intentional business strategy.