The role of an influencer just got a whole lot more interesting.

  • The Facebook-owned platform has announced it will be removing the visibility of ‘likes’ on Instagram profiles as a test in seven countries.
  • Users will still be able to see their own ‘likes’ but the number will not be on display to other users on the platform.
  • Influencer marketing is currently very reliant on the visible, popularity-style metric, but will the removal of ‘likes’ affect an influencers income or ability to attract sponsorships?

Why now?

‘Likes’ have always fallen under the umbrella term of ‘vanity metrics’, but now marketers believe brands should not rely on this when working with influencers.

This test has come before the UK Government’s online harms legislation comes into play, which could mean the creation of a social media regulator, that would implement a statutory duty of care on social platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

The above tweet shows the countries where Instagram has expanded its test, with it live in Canada already. Instagram posts will now appear as - @userX and others - as opposed to - @userX and 200,000 others - that liked that same post.

Impact on ‘regular’ users:

According to the Global Web Index, Gen Z spends an average of three hours per day on social media. As a demographic, they have grown up in an environment where online popularity is equal to, if not more important than offline popularity.

Instagram chief, Adam Mosseri states,

“We don’t want Instagram to be such a competition. We want it to be a place where people spend more of their energy connecting with people that they love and the things they care about.”

Currently, some users of Instagram are quick to delete a post if it does not reach a certain number of ‘likes’ and so, by not having the ‘likes’ visible to the public, Instagram hopes this will reduce social comparison and the associated negative impacts.

According to a report conducted in 2017 by RSPH and the Young Health Movement, Instagram has been ranked as the worst social media platform for young people’s mental health, as the platform can contribute to increased levels of anxiety and depression. The premise of Instagram is to connect and share stories with other users however, this now seems to come second to the number of ‘likes’ garnered per post.

Mosseri goes onto add,

“We will do things that mean people use Instagram less if we think that they keep people safer and generally create a healthier environment.”

In the face of potential declining performance metrics, this change will hopefully lead to a more positive environment by protecting vulnerable users and decreasing the opportunity for harm.

Impact on ‘influencers’:

Industry experts argue that ‘not a lot’ would happen to the influencer economy with the removal of 'likes' but as brands continue to utilise social media personalities more, they will need a way to measure their ROI.

Influencer marketing has received a lot of negative attention surrounding the legitimacy and transparency of content posted, however, through eliminating vanity metrics these issues should lessen, and in turn, the problem of influencer fraud should also decrease. Adam Williams, the chief executive of influencer marketing agency Takumi, agrees with Instagram’s move to change the reliance on ‘likes’ as he believes influencer campaigns should not be affected.

Influencer marketing agency Obviously, surveyed Canadian Influencers after the ‘like’ test had been put into action and of the approximately 100 influencers that answered, 62% said they spent the same amount of time on their content and gave the test a vote of confidence for promoting high-quality content.

According to Amy Luca, chief executive of TheAmplify, the You & Mr Jones Influencer agency, ‘likes’ are not representative of success from influencer campaigns as,

“it’s impossible to truly tell if the ‘like’ is for the influencer or the brand. On top of that, ‘likes’ have been a huge source of fraud and fake engagement in the industry, because they are easily accomplished with bots and can be readily purchased to boost engagement.”

The hope from removing focus on ‘likes’ as an indicator of success, is that influencers and brands will have more creative control, shifting more focus on content and the transition towards video-heavy content, as this will ignite the shift of other metrics, like average time spent on the platform, engagement and views.

Is the influencer - brand relationship on the rocks?

In the past, ‘likes’ were one of the crucial metrics considered when measuring the engagement and the success of influencers, especially when securing brand sponsorship. However, the influencer marketing industry is evolving, and an improvement in transparency and authenticity can already be noticed through a deeper measure of engagement, like swipe ups on stories or saves and shares on posts.

New regulations have also been put in place that means when a brand gives an influencer a payment, gift, or any perk, the resulting posts made by the influencer must follow consumer protection law. This new requirement means that consumers must be made aware when they are being advertised to. Brands and influencers alike have a responsibility to make sure this reality is completely transparent. If the content fails to reflect this commercial relationship, both parties are at risk from the ASA.

Williams also adds, 

“Responsible advertisers should already be employing strategies that focus attention away from vanity metrics such as ‘likes’ and instead towards measuring ROI through relevancy of audience and more meaningful engagement such as click-throughs.”

In light of this change, brands should move away from engagement metrics that are more easily faked and instead look to metrics like purchase intent, brand awareness, and brand affinity, which more accurately drive a business.

Will this change bring about an end to influencers or will it simply pave the way for a different style of influencer marketing? Only time will tell, but if brands can abide by the ASA regulations and focus on creating authentic and transparent content hopefully influencer marketing will evolve into a strategy that accurately represents brands and influencers in real life, rather than posting simply to fish for ‘likes’.

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