Instagram hiding likes: implications for companies and influencers

As most of us marketers have been reading since the summer, Instagram has been hiding likes from users in selected countries. First on the list were for example Australia, Brazil and Japan. And as we heard in the middle of November, the test is set out to go global.

There are already studies out there about the results of hiding likes. For example in Australia, a 15% drop in likes could have been reported in a study by the Remarkables Group and HypeAuditor.

The results are not that surprising as we humans tend to be herd animals. That means we like to do what others do as well. So if we do not see if a post is popular or not (we can’t see how many likes it got) we might be less inclined to give our own likes to it. 

Even though the test is not final and people can still see their own likes, the discussions have been heated. Marketers and influencers are of course worried about losing one key measurement for their Influencer Marketing campaigns. Others think the move towards a “like-less” world will bring mental health benefits. 

In this article we discuss how we think hiding likes COULD impact both the normal users, influencers, and the companies involved in Influencer Marketing. Spoiler alert: we do not see the test as solely as a bad thing.

Less pressure for individuals

Instagram themselves claim that by removing likes they try to “…depressurize Instagram and make it less of a competition…” They took steps towards this mission already previously this year, by banning cosmetic surgery ads and filters from the platform.

Instagram is thus answering to the critic of the platform being a place where a lot of people feel the pressure to look and act a certain way. Whether or not they do it truly for the well-being of the users or just to keep them on their platform for making more money can be debated. Most likely it is a combination of both.

The ultimate motive of Instagram aside, being on the platform can be harmful. Comparing yourself to other users and their looks and wondering how to get as many likes and followers as them can become exhausting. Especially to people who are more sensitive to outside validation and who struggle with low self esteem. So for these people hiding likes can be a possible move.

Also as TechCrunch puts it in their article, removing likes might do good for the content diversity as well. No more pressure to produce similar content which has generated a lot of likes for other people, even if you are not really interested in posting it. 

For companies working with influencers this can also be a beneficial thing. Influencers can concentrate on being creative and making the content to stand out from the masses. Meaning, the content mentioning your brand is also most likely to stand out more from the sea of other content.

More authentic likes

As stated above, we humans tend to often go with the pressure of the group. If we think that something is popular, we also tend to think it must be good. I mean, if 12 000 people have liked a post, it MUST be a good one! 

So we might “like” something even if we do it just because others have done it. For Influencer Marketing this is of course not a good thing. We don’t want the likes on the paid posts coming from individuals who are not truly liking the offer. 

On the other hand, when people can’t see the likes of posts, they can’t have such a strong “popularity bias” to affect their own opinions. Thus, they can just concentrate on whether or not THEY themselves like the post.

Meaning: possibly less likes on your paid posts but with a better quality. Better quality because the likes would be coming from people who like the post because of the content or product. And not because the post is popular.

More focus on value creation, not like generation

Influencer Marketing industry should move away from relying to much on vanity metrics such as likes. Instead, we need to concentrate on value creation through the influencers.

When creating the paid posts the influencers should not aim for likes but to creating value for their followers. They should create posts and stories which make people click, share, comment and tag their friends. They should not just make people like the post.

Only if the influencers are able to create true value to their followers through the product can Influencer Marketing be successful. Then the industry as whole can move towards making a lasting impact on sales and brand trust.

In fact, the Australian study mentioned above stated that there was only a 0.3% decline in the engagement rates of the studied influencers. Thus, likes are only one part of the picture. Alone they do not make or break anything.

Alternative measurements for companies

Of course a lot of people working or involved with Influencer Marketing are worried about losing likes. With likes would disappear a big part of the current success metrics: engagement. But as stated before, we can’t base the campaign success on likes alone.

If a person likes the influencer’s promoted post, there IS an indication that they also like the product. However, liking is easy and rather passive.  There are a lot of other metrics which can show the success of an Influencer Marketing campaign more profoundly. 

In E-commerce of course sales are a followed metric. And it should be so in Influencer Marketing as well. The campaigns need to be optimised for conversions and not just likes. This means for example having a landing page which is optimised for the influencer campaign. This landing page will be then linked from the influencer’s bio and via the story. 

One should also pay attention to the shares of the post and story or if people tag one’s friends in the comments of the post. These actions indicate that the topic is so interesting that it has to be shared. And all these actions take longer to do than “just” liking, so they are a very strong indication of interest.

One should also pay attention to a surge in brand searches on e.g. Google, or surge in the amount of social media followers following an Influencer Marketing campaign. The results from it might not always be straightforward. So one needs to dig in deep in the analytics to see any sudden changes in the normal metrics following an Influencer Marketing campaign. 

Alternative methods for seeing likes

However, as likes are still one indication of the popularity of the post, we are not saying that marketers should not use them at all. And as is the nature of this test from Instagram, everyone can still see how many likes they got. The numbers are just not shown to outsiders. 

Of course this can make the measurement harder for companies who need to manually collect screenshots from influencers, and try to check that they are not manipulated. This might also pose problems for influencer platforms who don’t yet have sophisticated methods to showcase the influencers’ statistics.

But this only means that the influencer platforms and software providers need to start building these alternative methods of counting likes.

However, we don’t think that Instagram would not offer a separate API or another method for marketers to still be able to see their likes. In fact, according to the aforementioned TechCrunch article, Instagram is “…actively working on ways that influencers will be able to communicate their value to partners.” What that method will be, remains to be seen,

Conclusion

The possibility of hiding likes won’t come without problems for Influencer Marketing. However, it could be exactly what the industry needs.

Companies need to think differently about how we measure the campaign successes. We need to pay less importance on vanity metrics such as likes. Instead, we need to build more performance-based metrics systems.

In addition we also need to do Influencer Marketing in such a strategic way that it is truly bringing value to the target audiences.

Influencer Marketing campaigns need to also be seen as a long-term effort. They should be tied to the other marketing activities and especially the marketing goals of the company. If it is only seen as a one-off event where the most important (read = easiest) metric for success is likes, then there is no way it can be profitable. 

What are your thoughts on Instagram hiding likes? Have you already been preparing for the possible change?

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