‘Likes’ were the most recognisable element of social acceptance that has ever existed. With Instagram’s bold move to remove them, what will replace this social currency in the future?

  • Instagram and Facebook have recently been experimenting with hiding the ‘like’ count from all users apart from the creator in certain countries.
  • This potentially permanent change has left brands, creators, and influencers alike questioning their social strategy.
  • Social media’s inception came from a desire to be more connected with others, and the shift to hide ‘likes’ brings Instagram hope that focus will move back to creating genuine connections with users once more.

‘Likes’ used to have an incredibly strong social currency, it was used to measure popularity, approval and agreement. 

“Brands need to shift their thinking around what they measure and take a more active lead in meaningful metrics.” Daniella Smith, managing director, Communicator.

This innovation is the next logical step because user behaviour has changed over time, it makes sense for social channels to react to this by recognising the diminishing importance of ‘likes’ and adapt accordingly.

What has been happening?

‘Likes’ have always been a key metric in measuring success on the social platform, but they are not the primary metric, they are no longer necessary to indicate that an audience is in interested in a user’s content. To measure a post’s success simply based on ‘likes’ is a lazy way to define engagement, a simple double-tap can mean a variety of things to different people. For example, it can mean “I have seen your content”, “I like what you are saying” or “I agree with what you are saying”. It is almost instinctive to double-tap as a user aimlessly scrolls Instagram, it provides no valuable data of their true engagement with the content.

A smart and reactive brand or influencer would have anticipated this shift and began adapting their strategy over the last few months following this move to hide ‘likes’. They would have used this time of change to test and investigate how the platform and its audiences have evolved while analysing the new engagement metric of attention.

Why should we measure attention?

Measuring attention is a far more actionable and genuine way for brands and influencers to track engagement. It is easy to show passive approval of content by ‘liking’ the post but, posting a comment or sharing that post is a much deeper level of engagement and will provide richer context and consumer insights. However, it is important to remember that the way users show attention on social media can vary greatly. Brands need to assess all the data holistically to reveal an accurate insight into the audience and understand the impact the content posted can have on them.

It is time for brands to alter their thinking regarding what metrics they track and instead, invest more time in developing more meaningful metrics like attention. Rather than focusing time on measuring the latest fad and creating content based on that, brands need to consider the role their social media has, whilst creating and measuring content based on excelling in that role. Since ‘likes’ now have less priority, it has become evident that the best approach, in line with user's changed behaviour, is to measure attention.

The era of attention is evident from the rise in engagement with IGTV, Instagram Stories, and the following analytics this feature provides:

  • Affinity with the brand: users that watch a Story from start to finish are more likely to do so when it’s a brand they trust, enjoy and knows its content will provide value.
  • Video watch time: this provides brands with the ability to see exactly how long their users have been watching the Story and at what point they dropped off. Previously, videos also relied on ‘likes’ for engagement, but this tells brands very little about whether or not that user stuck till the end, it does not clarify what they were or were not interested in, unlike the Story analytics.

How should we measure attention?

  1. Referral traffic throughout the consumer journey.
  2. e-Commerce through social platforms like Instagram and Pinterest.
  3. Profile visits: where has this audience come from and what actions did they take to land on a brand’s page.
  4. Post saves and shares.
  5. Intimate measurables: has this user sent direct messages following content.
  6. In-bound posts: what is an audience saying about this content?
  7. More traditional measures like shares, comments, clicks and followers.

What can brands do about this?

Focus on purpose, quality, and depth.

A misguided truth is that reach and impressions will equal value. More often than not, a small but engaged audience will be more valuable than a large and passive one. Garnering attention engagement with the right audience is what matters for brands. Therefore, it is important to understand your audience and how they want to engage, from this a brand can deliver content that spikes their interest.

Connect with your audience.

Having a conversation with your audience is crucial in building a relationship and brand loyalty, but it is a brand’s job to start them. If a brand is active on their social media, this will encourage their audience to behave similarly by engaging in a two-way conversation.

Continuous measurement.

Social is a very quick and reactive platform, algorithms are continuously changing and now more than ever before, the user is in charge of what they want to see and when they want to see it. Brands should make the most of their actionable insights more frequently so that they can create an accurate picture of what their audiences’ attention engagement looks like.

Test and learn through Stories.

Instagram users have shown their desire to engage with brands and influencers via Stories, so brands should embrace this opportunity to test what content of theirs works best in this space.

‘Likes’ should not be a measurement for success, nor should they be relied on to encourage user engagement with a brand. The action that now drives sales and brand loyalty is attention, and by investing more time in measuring this, brands will get a well-rounded picture of their audience that will help create the very best content from that brand. At the end of the day, when you rely on ‘likes’ to measure the engagement of content, what are you measuring? Yes, you can guarantee that someone saw your post, but beyond that, it is unknown.

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