The industry has been buzzing over Instagram’s test to hide likes. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that without likes influencer marketing is dead. Since we were introduced to social media, we’ve associated it with likes, be it a blue thumb under a Facebook post, or heart on an Instagram post, and we aren’t used to having any other way to quantify if people appreciate our content.
More than likes and follower count
Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that Instagram is toying with the idea of hiding likes, not removing them. Posts will still have likes, they will just not be front and center of the Instagram experience. Many mental health experts seem to think this is a good idea, and users in Canada (one country where Instagram is testing it out) seem to be on board. But, what about influencers? As we know, there is much more to influencer marketing than likes and follower count. Assuming that without likes influencer marketing is over is a misunderstanding of what influencers actually do. Influencers are individuals that are able to impact a network of like-minded individuals. However, impact isn’t really measured by likes or follower count – these are indicators but they do not tell the entire picture. We’ve observed that network quality is by far the most important way to asses influencer impact. If a travel influencer has a large audience, and none of the followers are particularly interested in travel, will a travel brand benefit from partnering with them? And, do the number of likes matter if the audience does not benefit brand goals? Not really. Many brands that are already utilising influencers have accepted this notion, which is why there has been a growing demand for micro-influencers.
Another feature that proves likes are not the life-line of influencer marketing is Instagram Stories. Launched in 2016, Instagram Stories 24-hour content was a game-changer for marketers. Prior to Stories, the only way for brands to share external links with consumers was to direct them to their brand’s Instagram bio; i.e. “link in bio”. Stories’ swipe up feature presents brands the ability to directly share a URL with users. Many brands used this feature to direct consumers to shopping pages, blogs, and external campaigns. This value of Stories capability has been demonstrated in recent reports. By 2018, one out of three sponsored posts on Instagram was a Story meaning 34% of all influencer activity was through a medium that does not use likes as a metric to quantify impact. Instagram Stories does not use likes yet it is still a desired platform for influencer campaigns. The reality is, even if Instagram goes ahead with this move, likes won’t go anywhere, they will just be harder to find. But, in the world of influencer marketing, likes have already taken a step to the side. As seen with Stories, likes are not vital for running a successful influencer campaign. Influencer marketing is about creating feelings of authenticity and sharing brand values that customers relate to on a personal level. And, brands linking to shopping pages in influencer campaigns proves that influencers are a strategic component of the sales funnel. In fact, 59% of all “swipe up” links were directed to shopping pages in 2017. The influencer industry is maturing, and so too are the metrics we use to quantify success. Instagram Stories is just the beginning. Influencer marketing is far from over – in fact, we’re just getting started.