Instagram’s announcement yesterday that it is trialling removing ‘likes’ from being publicly visible has caused a stir among the influencer marketing community. Facebook said its aim is to remove the pressure that likes can place on Instagram users regarding their posts, which is a reaction to the greater debate around social media and its contribution to mental health issues.
However, influencers on the platforms have had a mixed response, with many claiming it will hinder their chances of growing their profiles and businesses, while some more established influencers have welcomed the move. For brands using influencer marketing on Instagram as a channel to reach new audiences, what are the implications? Campaign spoke to industry experts about the matter.
‘I see nothing but positives’ – Matt Sutton, Asia CEO, Whalar
Likes are an extremely superficial metric and are not a good reference point for the quality of content. In many ways likes are to social content what the click-through-rate was to banners – a measurable statistic that misses the point and undermines the medium.
I see nothing but positives in Facebook’s stance. For starters the platform must be successful in its core utility of connecting people as a force for good to maintain its relevance in society and overall user affection, so it’s great to see them promoting social beyond chasing instant gratification. Secondly, brands have a chance to ‘take the hint’ and focus on the real impact of the content they share on achieving their marketing and business goals.
In a world of omni-channel marketing, every piece of content needs to fit seamlessly in to the whole brand narrative and be serving its purpose on an integrated marketing funnel. Brands can and should be measuring the success of the influencer-led activation using the same or equivalent metrics as all the components that are combining to drive that part of the funnel.
Technology is the great enabler of our times and it can liberate the creative voice in an infinitely more powerful way than simply chasing likes. Authentic, inspiring content properly curated and harnessed can transform how consumers feel about a brand and drive sales. We need both creators and brands to look beyond the like; and we need to be focused on how consumers really feel.
‘It reduces the hunger for success’ – Matt Barnes, head of digital, Colenso BBDO
I see it as a digital wellbeing play. Facebook and Instagram are obviously aware of some of the negative behavioural trends that their platforms encourage and are starting to respond. I think it is a really positive move for people, and a new challenge for influencers and marketers.
Removing the metric of likes reduces the hunger for success and the urge to compare yourself against your peers. It should reset the experience, make it less addictive and competitive, and more about sharing and connection. As brands, clients and agencies we have to be supportive of any move towards positive health outcomes for audiences and users.
‘A stronger emphasis on campaigns that drive results’ – Callan Green, head of social and content, Sling & Stone
The pressure to achieve vanity metrics has been a long-standing pain point on the platform, restricting creativity and limiting what we share. This shift gives brand managers and influencers back a bit of control, letting them determine what to post based on brand strategy, not just what will get likes.
Although only a small step, it's encouraging to see Instagram making a change aimed at decreasing anxiety and pressure on social media. The more we evolve these platforms, the longer they will be viable tools to help us tell our stories.
Removing the visibility of likes puts a stronger emphasis on campaigns that drive results like sales lift, increased in brand awareness, or click-throughs. This is what we need to be tracking and how we should be designing our content and influencer strategies.
Should the test become permanent, it reinforces the opportunity for agency partners and 3rd party analytics tools to help brand managers make informed decisions. The metrics will all still be available, it will just require a bit more work and resources to obtain them.
‘Low value content will not be significantly reduced’ – David Ko, MD & head of Asia, RFI Asia
Instagram removing likes is a commendable step towards a world where the quality of content should improve because readers are not driven by the lowest common denominator of mass appeal. However the post creator, such as influencers, can still see the number of likes, so technically they are still being incentivised to create content with mass appeal but not necessarily quality. Since influencers are compensated by reach and engagement, low value content is not going to be significantly reduced unless Instagram has a step two in this experiment.