How would an Instagram without like counts disrupt social media marketing?

A recent leak of coding showed Instagram is testing hiding likes. But if the hearts did disappear for good, what would happen to social media marketing? How would brands and influencers adapt, and most importantly, prove their clout online?

When it comes to paid media on the big platforms, we can see actionable results that impact not only a brand's business but their ability to connect with a new audience. However, the stigma of organic content has stayed the same over the years – it has not been prioritized by brands while algorithms continue to deprioritize organic reach.

Because ot this, advertisers have been living in a world where they haven’t had to put as much thought, care and budget into organic content. Now, Instagram may take away the one thing that the executives and board members care about – likes.

Good marketers have been attempting to reframe thinking around follower counts and encourage senior management to focus on post engagement and engagement rate for months. Now, we may even lose that.

But thankfully for marketers who have always pushed clients to think about organic through the lens of “would I like this?”, the definition of “like” may regain its original meaning - which is exactly that: to actually enjoy something.

Outside of strategy and content, community management will hopefully (and finally) get the credit it deserves, versus being handed down the totem pole to the most junior team member.

With the focus potentially switching away from simply looking cool and gaining status based on follower counts, building a meaningful one-to-one relationship will become more important than ever. If vanity likes were to go away, we could showcase the connection with fan comments and responses, instead of blindly reporting metrics such as like counts at the monthly review.

As marketers, we should already be planning for the apocalypse of the loss of likes. Strategies should already be in place. Conversations around resetting brand goals, sales KPIs and brand health trackers, and reassessing the purpose of content, need to start happening with clients.

Maybe now we have even more leverage to take a risk on TikTok or Amazon Influencers.

However, the most important shift will happen to the consumer. Instead of trying to fit in and interact with brands that are seen as popular, consumers will have a new opportunity to make choices based on the reason the content was originally created - to engage or not to engage with an image, video or story that was made just for them.

The mindless action of double tapping will be stripped away from everyday life, and consumers will have to decide for themselves if they actually like something.

Let’s be real: Instagram won’t let this data disappear – it needs your advertising. But consumers won’t know how popular your brand is. The question is, is that a good or bad thing when we’re speaking to a world focused on digital currency?

We can only hope that marketers and brands will get the chance to throw the old rules out the window, and jump on the opportunity to make the internet fun again.

Kristin Busk is director of social strategy at The Many.

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