Last year Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New Zealand joined Canada in trialling Instagram’s ‘hidden likes’ experiment. Overnight, users in those countries lost the ability to see how many likes their friends had on their latest Instagram posts. Not just friends, but family, celebrities and influencers.
Ah yes influencers. You would have been forgiven for thinking it was the end of days for them when the announcement dropped on Thursday. ‘Has the bubble burst?’ ‘Is this the end of the influencer?’ clickbait titles asked with glee.
Well no, not quite. The idea that social creators are nothing without likes hugely underestimates the power of influencer marketing. The impact they can have on consumers’ purchasing decisions is driven by the quality of their inspiring content and the deep connection they have with their followers – not the number of likes they have.
It will move our experience with Instagram posts, closer to the one we have with the wildly popular Instagram Stories. When we watch other users’ Stories, we don’t know how many others have seen them, or direct messaged about them. We just enjoy them for what they are.
Renaissance in creativity
That’s not to say the industry will be unaffected. Influencer marketing platforms who have relied on scraping public data, or using vanity metrics to back up their methods, are right to be concerned. Without advanced insights from Facebook, the data they’re able to offer their clients is stunted. It’s why we’ve worked so hard to be one of the only platforms with this access.
The industry will also be forced to focus on hard ROI to justify itself. Engagement is no longer an impressive result of an influencer campaign. It should come as standard. Link clicks, app downloads and sales uplift are what brands should be demanding from their influencer marketing efforts.
This renewed focus on quality and individuality should be celebrated. Creators will no longer feel constrained by a pressure to chase likes and will be free to make content that feels more authentic to them. Content that’s braver and doesn’t follow a tried and tested aesthetic. This renaissance in creativity is likely to spark a surge in engagement across the board. Weary social users – increasingly feeling as if they have seen it all before – crave this authenticity. They want to see something new.
When we reached out to our influencer community, the response to the news was positive. @theblackelegance said: “I believe it’s good as it will give more emphasis on content being created than the number of likes.” While @bpayts commented: “It’s such a good move, watching numbers is unhealthy.”
When the trial was announced at Facebook’s F8 in May 2019, it was clear that Instagram were determined to make the platform a more positive place. Along with anti-bullying features, this update was a reaction to studies that had linked Instagram to anxiety among young people. According to a 2018 report 37% of US teens feel pressured to post content that will get a lot of likes, so it’s not surprising that Instagram are looking for ways to ease this stress.
A pressure to rack up the likes had also begun hindering user experience. Some young users who failed to amass a number of likes they deemed acceptable, would delete their post after an hour. Others would feel so self conscious about what to post, they wouldn’t post anything. It was one of the driving forces behind Instagram inventing Stories, which published content at lower stakes.
Then there are the ‘like pods’, countless ‘LB’ comments on celebrity posts and practise of buying likes, all of which threatened Instagram’s pursuit for authenticity on the platform and now could be wiped out by the removal of likes.
Although the update has been one of the most controversial in the app’s history (second only to the loss of the chronological feed perhaps), it holds so much promise for improvement. Not only in user experience, with a less anxiety-ridden quest for likes, but for the influencer industry as a whole. It’s high time we focused on content and replaced vanity metrics with results that prove how powerful the channel can be.
Aaron Brooks, co-founder of content and influencer marketing platform, Vamp.