In Insight, Marketing, Tech

“Likes” are the social currency for brands and influencers, but Instagram has recently launched a test to hide the public “like” counts on a user’s post. What will this mean for the future of influence? The test began in Canada in April, and recently expanded to Ireland, Italy, Japan, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand. Instagram told TIME at the time that they were “expanding the test to a number of countries to get a better sense of how the experience resonates with Instagram’s global community.”

The feature hides public “like” counts on videos and photos in the Feed, on the web, and within profiles, but users will still be able to see the number of likes and views on their own posts. “We want your friends to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get,” Instagram said in a tweet. “You can still see your own likes by tapping on the list of people who’ve liked it, but your friends will not be able to see how many likes your post has received.”

“We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love,” Mia Garlick, Facebook Australia and New Zealand Director of Policy, said in a statement.

The goal, she adds, is to have users feel less judged and to see “whether this change can help people focus less on likes and more on telling their story.”

If public “likes” go away as a metric, what does that mean for brands and influencers?

What the experts are saying: 

Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5WPR said, “Instagram is making it clear that they are done letting people profit off their platform while using it for free. Influencers have a few choices here: they can start putting money behind their posts, cutting into profits but ultimately boosting their visibility and therefore their value to brands; continue with their current strategy and hope that their audience continues to see their content, taking the risk that brands may not see the value in working with them without being able to see engagement metrics; or shift their energy to other social platforms. Companies that advise clients on their social media presence also need to make smart choices and begin to advise their clients to seriously consider investing in paid social – organic social media is clearly on its way out as these platforms devise new ways to make money from their users. Ultimately, anyone who uses social media to make money needs to realize that the free ride is over.”

“Getting rid of likes is a big deal,” said Alessandro Bogliari, chief executive of the Influencer Marketing Factory told BOF. “There are pros and cons to the decision, but it has the potential to hurt the entire system.”

“With one less metric for engagement, I think it will be harder for influencers to be scouted,” he said. Because likes have always been an integral part of a social media presence, Bogliari believes influencers will likely start to leave Instagram and move to up-and-coming platforms like TikTok.

“Getting rid of likes will make it harder for ads to travel,” Dan Goldstein, the president of digital marketing agency Page 1 Solutions said to BOF. “This is basically going to force brands to opt for spending on ads over influencers because that’s a route they know will work, and will give them the numbers they want to see.”

“The goal of Facebook and Instagram is to push users to Stories, since they believe the future is in short form videos, not static images or [the] News Feed,” Social Native founder and CEO David Shadpour said to CNBC. “Because of this, they’re focusing on strategies to increase consumer consumption rate of video, get more creators making videos, and increase ROI of advertisers leveraging video.”

“By reducing the focus on likes as an indicator of success, creators will have more creative control—focusing on content and transitioning their content towards video,” he said. “With that shift, metrics will also have to shift. Time spent on the platform, engagement, views and other metrics will prevail as KPIs.” He said this will also have the effect of incentivizing more quality content.

“One of the number one reasons why users don’t post more now is because every single time you post you’re being heavily judged by this ‘like’ metric on the quality of your post,” Shadpour wrote in an email. “If that’s removed, then a lot of people won’t feel that pressure, and they’ll post more, and that’s good for the platform; that could probably lead to more time spent on the platform which means more ads served to the community.”

“You see a lot more influencers building careers, businesses, brands, out of their influence than Instagram influencers, because that ecosystem is about building community, responding to comments, reading fan letters in a YouTube video—a deeper engagement with the fanbase—where Instagram engagement with your fan base was based on emojis and thumbs up and likes, which is a very shallow measurement of community,” Quynh Mai, founder and CEO at digital agency Moving Image & Content, said to CNBC.

“It just hasn’t happened in the same way on Instagram or Facebook,” she said. “By removing likes, I’m hopeful that this [would] force the brands as well as influencers to take the time to build community and not just fans. As Gen Z grows up, their mandate for engagement is so different. They want a vote … they want to be a part of the conversation.”

Adam Liaw, a chef and author in Australia with more than 100,000 Instagram followers, said on Twitter that he thought the change was a “huge mistake” and would ultimately lead to the death of Instagram.

“Also, I think this move is Facebook [is] trying to de-influence influencers,” Mr. Liaw said on Twitter. “They’re seeing millions/billions of advertising dollars that they want funneled into paid promotion going direct to users outside their ecosystem.”

“Likes are powerful because they are immediate feedback,” Renee Engeln, a psychology professor at Northwestern University said to CNN. “In a way, likes give you the same kind of hit like a gambler gets at a slot machine.”

“For teenagers, this is great because it would no longer highlight levels of popularity of themselves against other kids,” Randi Priluck, a professor and associate dean at Pace University focused on social media and mobile marketing, said to CNN. “But they’re still going to see their own likes. People are very driven by rewards so they’re still going to be competing for those likes. It’s not going to fully solve the problem.”

“It will certainly create some near-term inefficiencies in how some of these deals get done,” Kamiu Lee, CEO of influencer marketing platform Activatesaid to CNN. “In the long term, the industry will figure it out. It will just shift attention to some of these other things.”

Photo: Sandrachile via Unsplash

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