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How Brands Can Approach Instagram Hiding Likes

September 11, 2019

What’s Happening

In an effort to get users to focus more on quality content and protect the platform against a “comparison culture” if a post doesn’t garner enough likes, Instagram announced it would test the elimination of likes on the platform. The rollout began in Canada in May, followed by Australia in July. Other countries in the test group include Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New Zealand.

What it Means for Influencers

Many influencers are concerned this change will impact their revenue streams, and thus their livelihoods, if their sponsors aren’t able to use likes to determine the value of their content. But there’s more to measure than likes.

It’s important to note while likes will be hidden from users, they aren’t actually going away. This move will not affect analytic tools, ‘Insights’ and ‘Ad Manager’, used by businesses, agencies and creators on the platform. Additionally, there are third-party platforms that allow businesses access to influencers’ analytics and engagement rates. Meanwhile, comments will become an even stronger indicator of how people interact with a post.

Influencers will focus on comments, shares and follows when considering their followers’ overall engagement with them and may create a higher quality product as a result.

The early tests have received positive feedback from influencers. The majority of Australian influencers considered the removal of likes as a positive thing. And, out of 100 Canadian influencers polled, 62%said they considered the test as a positive for high-quality content.

What it Means for Brands

Brands that sponsor influencers will still have access to their data and engagement rates through their back-end or a platform with legitimate API access.

From the consumer audience perspective, this is a win. Followers will still be able to engage and interact with their favorite creators, but the interaction will be more about what truly connects with them.

We all know the influencer space is rife with fraud and likes is one place where false inflation can take place. With less emphasis on likes, we may see fewer fakes. Any opportunity to clean up this space is a good thing for the industry.

The Path Forward:

1. Focus on creative direction. Thoroughly brief influencers in terms of content mandatories and thought starters and collaborate with them. Allow them room to develop content they know their audience will love, as opposed to asking them to repeat key messages and deliver an ad. The more compelling their content, the better it will perform in a world without (visible) likes.

2. Mandate influencer-provided data. Brands and agencies will need assurance on the metrics. Sponsored Influencers can share screenshots from their own Instagram back-end, and sponsors should consider requiring influencers to add per-post metrics to invoices.

3. Consider total value, not just vanity metrics. FleishmanHillard has developed a proprietary methodology to determine the value individual influencers’ content provides the brand sponsor from not just a quantitative perspective, but also assigning numbers to qualitative factors. The methodology assigns weights to metrics to give an influencer a total score. As a passive action, likes have always been weighted in a low- to mid-range of the total score. As we move forward with this new Instagram world order, we will weight likes even less in the total factor.

4. Add paid amplification to influencer budgets. Instagram’s algorithm will still prioritize highly engaged posts and likes may still feed into that. Put more emphasis on amplifying influencer posts with paid media, allowing you to target it to similar audiences not already following the influencer.

5. Shift to Stories. Consider shifting sponsored content emphasis from in-feed images to Stories, where likes have never been a factor. Via Stories, followers can get a little closer to influencers
and the content is less curated, more authentic and near real-time.