Last week, Instagram announced that it will begin testing a feature globally that will hide likes from showing publically on certain accounts. Rather than displaying the number of likes a post has received, it will appear as ‘Liked by [user name] and others’, allowing only the post’s creator to see the total number of likes. While trials of this sort have already taken place in other countries, this move is now rolling out in full. Instagram has said that the idea behind this move is to help lessen the importance that users place on receiving validation for their content. It is no secret that the platform has been extensively criticised for the role it plays in negatively impacting its users’ mental health, with constant exposure to a never-ending stream of well-edited and expertly curated content making members of this cohort more likely to put immense pressure on themselves to gain virtual approval. As such, this test signals an important step towards making social media a healthier environment, particularly to young, often impressionable, people. As the market leader, Instagram has an even greater responsibility than most to set the standard here and while more can be done it is certainly encouraging to see them taking some measures to help tackle the issue. That being said, many who have come to rely on the platform as a source of income, including Nicki Minaj who has already claimed that she will no longer be posting on Instagram, are concerned that the removal of likes will negatively impact them. So what does this actually mean for influencer marketing and is it really such a bad thing?

Looking beyond likes

If Instagram decides to permanently remove public likes, this will result in a complete overhaul of the way influencer marketing operates and brands will need to get smarter about the way in which they approach this arm of the marketing mix. At present, the majority tend to make quick judgements on whether or not to collaborate with an influencer based on vanity metrics, i.e. only using the ratio of the number of followers they have to the number of likes they receive, with very little else considered. This happens despite the fact that the number of likes received doesn’t necessarily reflect the true quality of a post, nor the creator’s relationship with their audience. A great example of the need to look beyond likes comes from micro-influencers – those with fewer than 10k followers. While an influencer with over one million followers may generate tens of thousands of likes, their relationship with their audience could be weak as it is hard to establish a connection with such a vast amount of people. In some cases, this could result in a low return on investment for brands choosing to collaborate with larger household names as their high fees may outweigh the number of individuals actually engaging, and subsequently, the purchases being made. Meanwhile, an influencer with fewer, but more engaged followers, with whom they have a personal connection, can often yield better results. For this reason, thinks brands would do well to take a deeper dive into a creator’s account: their content, their audience demographics, and the quality of the conversations they are having with their audience, in order to gain a true measure of their influential impact and, ultimately, gauge their suitability for collaboration. They should also be mindful of the creator’s tone of voice and personality traits when determining whether they will be a good match for their brand as this will help ensure the development of inspiring stories that will actually resonate with the appropriate audience. Beyond likes, there are also a number of additional back-end analytics including reach, impressions, saves and shares which are important for brands to consider before moving forward with rate negotiations and contracts. The good news is that this process can be simplified with the help of third-party vendors which can enable direct access to such metrics. 

Improving authenticity

Aside from encouraging brands to make better-informed decisions when determining who best to collaborate with, the removal of likes on Instagram will also have a dramatic impact on improving authenticity on the platform as well as the mental health of individual creators and appears to reflect a larger cultural call for connection, community, and integrity online. With the move, less value will be placed on positive affirmations as they are only visible to the individual, helping to reduce influencers resorting to purchasing fake likes, joining Instagram pods, or participating in like-for-like programs to artificially inflate their engagement. In addition to this, creators will no longer be able to compare their engagement with other users and, as a result, will likely experience less pressure to chase after likes and risk burnout to compete.

Fostering meaningful collaborations

Reducing the importance placed on likes will likely mean that influencers will be empowered to create content that is aligned with their genuine interests, rather than solely pursuing likes through over-staged, flawless posts. The reason this is so important is that, while data crunching is certainly an integral part of influencer marketing, it is fundamentally a human-centric approach to marketing based on the fostering of meaningful collaborations and the development of content that will have an impact. Trust and authenticity are integral, and why people follow influencers that reflect their interests and aspirations, so, therefore, it is based upon the same reasoning that brands call upon specific influencers for collaborations. The best influencers tend to come from within their own audience’s demographics, are able to take a brief and interpret it authentically, and can subsequently educate the brand on the sorts of content works when trying to engage with that group moving forward. They are, rarely, those with the most likes.

What are your thoughts on Instagram hiding likes and how it will impact the industry?

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