It’s no exaggeration to say that Instagram hiding ‘likes’ from everyone but the owner of the account is one of the biggest things to happen on social media in a long time.

Canada was the first to test the new feature, but Instagram has since expanded the experiment – so I think we can safely say that they are serious about making the change permanent. Currently the countries affected by the test are: Canada, Ireland, Australia, Brazil, Italy, Japan and New Zealand.

Why the controversial move?

The main reason for the test revolves around the fundamental idea that Instagram should be a place to discover good quality content.

The principle is that you’ll be more likely to find content that’s of genuine interest if likes aren’t driving content up your feed that’s manipulated to perform well. Earlier this year, a picture of an egg became a record holder for the most likes, proving to many that likes have become somewhat devalued.

So, in theory, getting rid of them has to be a good thing for user experience. But for Influencer Marketing – brands and influencers alike – this could be a threat.

No likey?

Firstly, some are concerned that hiding public likes will decrease the total number of likes on the social network, as likes seem to breed likes. Realistically though, even if this were true, influencers and content are compared against each other, so it’s simply lowering the baseline or benchmark across the board.

The concern of many is that hiding likes from public view would hurt Influencer Marketing, as brands are more aware than ever that follower numbers alone aren’t an accurate measurement of an influencer’s worth – engagement is the key indicator.

If there’s no public metric, brands looking for new influencer opportunities will find it more challenging to evaluate who they should work with.

So, is this the beginning of the end?

I don’t think so. Faking follower numbers has always been far too prevalent, and recently it’s become way too easy to cheat on engagement rate as well. (Something I had a rant about earlier this year!) Brands know this, and have already been taking steps to use other measurement criteria.

So this new update will simply force marketers and influencers to adapt and develop new, and frankly better, strategies.

A future to like

Instagram stories are constantly being updated with new features, new filters, new ergonomics and so on. They clearly see stories as the future of the platform. And Instagram stories have never revealed public likes.

At the same time, Instagram is investing a lot of time and money into making the process of buying through the platform easier.

So many feel that in the future, influencers will simply use Instagram stories more effectively, and they’ll sell products through the swipe up feature with an affiliate link. If they do this, the reach and ROI of a campaign is totally accessible by the brand or agency behind the product.

This removes follower numbers and likes (real or fake) completely from the equation. Everything becomes measurable, and transparently based on a more commercial criteria.

This will separate the influencers who have a genuine, authentic relationship with their followers (who can get fans to click on ad campaigns and purchase products), from those who have followers who will click on pretty much anything.

So… Armageddon? Or ‘armageddon new plan’?

From a marketing perspective, sustainable long-term strategies tend to trump quick wins.

But there’s a human element to this story. These changes will create a less pressurised environment, one where people aren’t anxious about how many strangers like their posts in comparison to another Instagram user who might be cheating the system anyway.

Adam Mosseri, CEO of Instagram, told NBC news that getting rid of the likes counter, could help make the platform “less of a competition”, and “prevent users from trying to outdo one another.” If users can no longer see like counts “they will be able to spend a little less time worrying about how many likes each of their posts accrue, and a little bit more time connecting with people or things that inspire them,” he added.

Anything which encourages more authentic engagement and genuinely valuable content has to be a good thing in my book.

Ben Hollom

October 22, 2019