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Instagram ‘Likes’: what will their removal mean for the platform and Influencer Marketing?

By Ben Jeffries, chief executive officer



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November 20, 2019 | 7 min read

As Instagram reveals that they are taking the removal of ‘likes’ global, the influencer marketing industry is left wondering what that will mean for the photo sharing platform. While many agencies, creators and brands are in a state of panic - assuming that this could be the end of the creator economy - there’s a lot to be said for the changes that Instagram are making.

Likes neon

'Likes' have fallen out of favour. / Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash.

In many ways, rolling out the removal of likes could benefit the creator agenda and enable genuine creators to flourish. As with all digital industries, the influencer marketing sphere is in a constant state of flux and it is our job, as consumers, creators and brands alike, to navigate these changes in the most authentic way possible.

What changes are Instagram making?

Over the summer, Instagram revealed that they were trialling Instagram feeds without public likes in seven countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New Zealand. In recent months, they have confirmed that these tests will be carried out globally, including in the UK, and begun the process of rolling the development out.

The trials come after Instagram has faced criticism over the negative effects that the platform and social media has had on mental health. Rather than focusing on vanity metrics, Instagram wants people to feel comfortable on their platform and believes that removing likes will help users focus on creating authentic content and avoid being motivated solely by likes.

With studies proving that Instagram is the worst platform for mental health, the platform has been forced to assess the ways they can improve mental wellbeing among users.

What will this mean for influencer marketing?

The removal of likes has caused many to question the effect that this will have on the influencer marketing industry as a whole. In influencer marketing’s relatively short history, likes have been used to gauge a creator’s influence. Now they are gone, many are questioning how this influence will now be measured.

Firstly, it is important to note that likes won’t disappear completely with this update. Instead the likes will only be visible to the creator or user themselves and the APIs connected to their accounts. This means that influencer marketing platforms connected to the Instagram API will still have access to the information.

However, even prior to Instagram’s announcement we at Influencer have been encouraging brands and agencies to move away from focusing on the cheapest vanity metrics, such as likes and comments, and instead towards looking at the more valuable metrics - saves, shares and clicks, to name a few - metrics that indicate actual follower interest. In this sense, Instagram’s recent update can only be seen as a positive, as it too will encourage closer scrutiny of ‘influence’. As a result, I predict that we will begin to see increased value placed on industry expertise and established creator relationships, as well as proven historic data and the ability to tap into the Instagram API.

Will we see changes in creator behaviour? Probably not.

No article on influencer marketing would be complete without mention of the word ‘authenticity’. And Instagram hiding likes will only be beneficial for authenticity. As advertisers shift their attention away from vanity metrics, they will instead begin to increase their focus on more genuine forms of engagement; forms that are harder to be faked or manipulated.

However, this is unlikely to affect genuine content creators, who will have always been posting authentic content. In essence, how creators post and reach out to brands is not changing. Their content will still be monitored with back end data that will allow brands and agencies to look ‘behind the scenes’ at how a creator is performing. If anything, this move away from vanity metrics will lead brands to focus on other forms of engagement, sales and community which will be a good thing for content creators who have built genuine communities.

On the other hand, it will be harder for those who have not built communities, but have instead indulged in fake likes and engagement, to continue to prosper. For genuine creators on Instagram, likes have never been a commodity. Hence, authentic creators will not be affected by these changes. Those who are more likely to be affected by the changes will be creators who are relying on vanity metrics and neglecting other consumer behaviours.

Additionally, the Instagram update will encourage creators and users to be more creative and experimental with their posts, taking influencer marketing back to its roots; authentic content. As the focus on likes has increased, creators may have previously been encouraged to share content that they believed would achieve the most likes, even if it wasn’t the most creative or the content that they believed in the most. Removing likes will encourage users to post more freely, without fear of ‘like’ competition.

What will this mean for mental health?

While everyone is panicking about the repercussions of this change, there’s reason to believe that this shift away from vanity metrics could have amazing effects for users of the platform. As much as we all try to avoid falling into the trap of comparison, FOMO and self-consciousness that Instagram can become a breeding ground for, it’s very hard to avoid these whilst regularly using social media.

The removal of likes should have nothing but positive effects on the mental health of users and content creators, however that’s not to say that Instagram’s responsibility towards safeguarding the consumers of that content is over. While the removal of likes should help people look past vanity metrics and post more freely, the jury is out on whether the removal of likes will help those consuming the content.

Often, the comparisons that people are making between themselves and creators aren’t about the amount of likes they are getting. The self-criticism that has become synonymous with the platform often isn’t really about vanity metrics at all, it’s about lifestyle. While content creators can be a positive force for personal change and inspiration, they can also serve as a reminder that a person’s life is not the way they want it to be. In that sense, the removal of likes will probably be positive for the mental health of those posting but could be potentially irrelevant to the mental health of those consuming.

It is not the amount of likes on a post that promotes self-criticism and negative self-talk, but rather the nature of the content itself. Critics have done a good job of demonising ‘likes’ however, more often than not, self-criticism on these platforms comes disguised as relentless posts of avocado poke bowls and gym selfies in which the participant doesn’t appear to sweat. The true danger to mental health is inauthentic content creators. That is, those who portray fictitious, perfect lives that edit out the day to day realities of living. Hopefully the changes that Instagram are making will prompt creators to post more genuine, authentic content that takes influencer marketing back to its roots.

Ben Jeffries is chief executive and co-founder of Influencer

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