What’s Not to Like?

Matt Wurst

VP, Client Management

Instagram Tests Hiding “Likes” in the U.S….
and What It Means For Brands?

By now, most of you have read or heard the news that Instagram is getting ready to hide “Like” counts in the U.S. (and other countries) in the coming weeks.  The feature allows a user to see the total number of people who have “liked” their posts as well as the individuals’ names. It hides the number of likes from everyone else.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Instagram has been testing hiding “likes” for months in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, and New Zealand. And we have access to data and case studies on a global scale. We have also talked with Instagram representatives, influencer and media platforms, creators, and several brand marketers. Thus far, feedback, implications, and predictions are mixed.

So what’s changing, exactly?

We know that the ability for fans to “Like” a photo will not go away. Channel owners and admins will still be able to see their own “likes” in their insights, but for everyone else, those “likes” will be hidden. The reason behind this change appears to have nothing to do with marketing but to improve users’ mental health. Instagram’s CEO Adam Mosseri told Buzzfeed News that he hopes the removal of users’ “likes” will create “a less pressurized environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves.”

Yet this is the exact mission for brands – competing on platforms to best express themselves, capture user attention, and (either directly or indirectly) drive the bottom line. Of course, for brands running influencer marketing campaigns, this has some consequences. Some have expressed concern that shifting away from this approach could affect social influencers’ ability to make money off their huge followings.

Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, said: “Influencer marketing continues to evolve and we’re committed to working with regulators, brands, and influencers on best practices and enforcement.”

Since “likes” is the most used metric to measure the performance of posts, how will brands without a platform measure their creator’s performance? A number of influencer partner technology and social management software platforms give us the opportunity to have insights to track likes on posts. And because influencers can still see their own “likes,” when you have access, you can see those metrics as well. It does, however, add a layer of complexity.

What is already happening in other countries?

Last week, HypeAuditor released a study of content from more than 154k Instagram influencers in those countries since the change went into effect, assessing impact across multiple influencer tiers. The data shows that the removal of total Like counts is having some impact on overall engagement stats for influencers. It is likely to also reduce total Likes allocated overall, at least to influential users.

So, if you’re an influencer in the U.S., you may well see a reduction in your Instagram engagement – but then again, that wouldn’t definitively impact reach or even engagement on balance. The data provides some interesting, yet non-definitive, insights into the Instagram Like test.

What does it mean for brands?

A percentage of marketing budgets and influencer campaigns may ultimately (or already) move to Snapchat, TikTok, or streaming platforms like Twitch, but what’s no longer up for debate is the relative value of brand-owned and operated content is on the rise again. With the proliferation of influencers and content in general, it is critical that brands take greater ownership of their own content, data, and relationship with consumers. It also makes sense to take a hard look at increasing the investment in website content, SEO, UX, and more functional pages like the “about us” and product/category description pages.

If leveraging influencers fits within a creative and amplification strategy for a specific campaign, we can, and should, continue to work with them. Recent studies and surveys may indicate that trust in influencers overall is on the decline, yet the right influencer can still help with awareness and borrowed relevance. But there must be a more concerted effort to create content that has a measurable impact on the bottom line. So, if you are a brand still running influencer campaigns manually, sending emails to influencers, and tracking engagement with spreadsheets, it’s time to turn to a partner who can help coordinate, aggregate and integrate the program within your broader marketing strategy.