We’re a few months into Instagram’s decision to hide the number of likes within newsfeed content. Since this rollout originated in Canada, we wanted to know firsthand how this move was impacting Canadian influencers’ approach to creating evergreen and branded content on their channels, and how we as marketers can adapt and incorporate these changes in our influencer marketing programs. It’s more important than ever to look at the impact of this change, especially as new reports claim that Facebook itself may be removing the like count soon.
ICYMI: To get users to focus more on quality content and to protect the platform against a “comparison culture” that may have negative implications on the mental health of its users if a post does not garner enough likes, Instagram announced it would test the elimination of likes in the platform. The rollout began in Canada in May, followed by Australia in July. Other countries that Instagram has rolled the trial out to include Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New Zealand. While this reasoning is noble, the change is likely also a business ploy by Facebook to make Instagram more profitable. Eliminating likes may be one tactic Facebook, as the owner of Instagram, is taking to try to move brands to purchase more ads directly rather than paying influencers.
It is important to note while the number of likes will be hidden from users, likes themselves aren’t going away. Comments will become an even stronger indicator of how people interact with a post. Influencers will work harder for comments, shares and follows when considering their followers’ overall engagement with them and may create a higher quality product.
“Instagram has come a long way and there is no doubt that recent updates/changes have made creators like myself stress. The changes are real and the question is how do we adapt in a way that is comfortable and true to who we are. Let’s watch as the year unfolds.”
Feedback from influencers
Many influencers are concerned this will impact their revenue streams, and thus their livelihoods, if their sponsors aren’t able to use likes to determine the value of their content. But likes have never been the only way to measure success – nor should they be.
“I worked hard to get to where I am, and having a like count is how I book paid work as an influencer. Instagram won't be a "thing" forever, so I'm actively nurturing and growing my blog and YouTube channels, the two platforms that I like the most. No matter what, I will always have complete control over those two platforms that truly focus on organic, engaging content that my following loves.”
"I think it has affected the potential reach for a post. If an Instagram user isn't "liking" a post because they don't need to any longer, it can result in less overall reach due to a lower rate of engagement. The reality is that Instagram is always changing which means we have to adapt to the new changes whether we agree with it or not."
Early tests have received positive feedback from influencers. The majority of Australian influencers considered the removal of likes as a positive thing. And, out of 100 Canadian influencers polled, 62% said they considered the test as a positive for high-quality content.
“With the old Instagram, influencers would generally follow trends when it came to creating content. Everything became about doing something for the gram, and less about doing something for your audience. By removing likes, Instagram will get rid of the popularity contests and bring back originality and creativity to the platform.”
What this means to marketers
We all know the influencer space is rife with fraud, and likes is one place where false inflation can take place. With less emphasis on likes, we may see less fraud. Any opportunity to clean up fraud in this space is a good thing for the industry.
So what now? Here are five things the FHR team is doing to ensure our influencer partnerships are still driving value for our clients in this new Instagram environment in light of this change:
1. We’re focusing on creative direction. We’re briefing influencers thoroughly so they understand brand stories and how they might resonate with them and their audience. We’re giving them more time and room to develop content they know their audience will love, as opposed to asking them to repeat key messages and deliver an ad. The more compelling their content, the better it will perform in a world without (visible) likes.
2. We’re leveraging influencer-provided data. We’re requiring sponsored influencers to share screen shots from their own Instagram back-end analytics and adding their per-post metrics into campaign reports.
3. We’re considering total value, not just vanity metrics. FHR has developed a proprietary methodology to determine the value individual influencers’ content provides the brand sponsor from not just a quantitative perspective, but also assigning value to qualitative factors. The methodology assigns weights to metrics to give an influencer a total score. As a passive action, likes have always been weighted in a low- to mid-range of the total score. As we move forward with this new Instagram world order, we will weight likes even less in the total factor and focus instead on the brand and business value KPIs that matter most
4. We’re adding paid amplification to influencer budgets. Don’t forget that Instagram’s algorithm will still prioritize posts with high engagement levels, and likes may still feed into that. We’re putting more emphasis on amplifying influencer posts with paid media dollars, which allows us to target content to the more of the right people beyond the influencer’s direct audience.
5. We’re shifting to Stories. We’re shifting sponsored content emphasis from in-feed images to Stories, where likes have never been a factor. Via Stories, followers can get a little closer to influencers, and the content is less curated, more authentic and near real-time.
No, Instagram removing likes is not the end of the world as we know it, nor is it the end of Instagram itself. From a marketing standpoint, it’s a cue for all to move away from counting likes as the primary measure of success and to reconsider how we partner with influencers in meaningful ways and what success looks like.