Instagram is the undeniable (current) king of platforms when it comes to influencer marketing, at least in the B2C space. Every move and update they make presents new challenges and opportunities for businesses and creators who leverage the platform to their benefit. 

So, when Instagram proposes a HUGE and controversial update, of course, the whole digital marketing world erupts. But Instagram’s latest major platform move has been met with mixed reactions. With some hailing it as the first move that will seriously damage the level of usage they currently get…

But this pessimism is short-sighted. I think this latest move is one of the best the ‘gram has ever made…


What’s Instagram doing?

To put it concisely, Instagram is looking into removing the representation of likes throughout its platform. Practically, this will mean you will no longer be able to see how many likes a post has gathered over time. 

Instagram has already started trailing this in several countries including Japan and Australia to test its popularity and the impact it has on overall engagement on the platform. During this trial phase, Instagrammers can still like posts and still see how many people have liked their own posts. However, the generic like counter previously located under the image or video has been replaced with a more simplistic, less specific reference to likes. 

Instagram has suggested that removing likes from images is part of a campaign to remove social pressure from the platform. 

Like it or not…

Should we, as marketers be concerned about this move? After all, we rely in big part on likes as part of the social media marketing machine. 

Firstly, likes act as social proof. So whether on our own brand posts or on those of influencers we work with, likes help us prove to our audience that the brand-related content they are looking at is worth their time and consideration. To a certain extent, more likes mean more trust…and trust is what marketing is all about.

The level of use on the social platform also matters to us as marketers. We put time, money and resource into growing our reach on Instagram due to the level of engagement we get from our target audience. There is no denying that people use the platform due to the dopamine hit they get when people interact with their content (likes). By removing this aspect, could we see a drop in activity on the platform? It’s a worrying thought. 

But are likes really that great for influencers and marketers?

Out with the fake followers and likes

Likes are sexy…we have already discussed how like figures act as social proof, which can be leveraged by businesses to their advantage. 

But this obsession with like-counts has led to something far from authentic social proof. Many influencers and brands now invest in the dark art of like-buying. This is much as it sounds, purchasing fake likes in the effort to make your content more socially accepted than it really is.

I often imagine this like having a dinner party and filling over half the seats with robots/inflatable dolls. Seriously creepy in real life, but somehow acceptable in the social media space. 

Of course, getting rid of likes isn’t going to eradicate shady tactics from platforms like Instagram. We will likely still see the purchase of fake followers and even comments…but it’s a start. 

Vanity metrics suck

As marketers we LOVE metrics. Those lovely little (or hopefully large) numbers help us prove our return on investment, control our spending, improve our campaigns and discover what is going to take our business to the next level. 

But sometimes metrics suck. This is especially true when those metrics become the goal rather than an indicator of success. In fact, a focus on metrics such as number of likes have led to many of us losing our way with influencer marketing.  

When I meet with clients I am often met with comments including:

“We want our influencers to have 30k+ followers”

“We want their posts to be getting 4k likes/comments” or worse still…

“We want to pay influencers based on post-interaction (likes/comments)”

Let me be clear. Likes, on their own…don’t mean sh*t. 

In fact, likes aren’t really much of an indicator of the quality of content. For example, someone may like your image because:

  • They want you to like their post back
  • They are using a hashtag connected auto-liker
  • They are a robot
  • They are bored
  • Their finger slipped.

None of these interactions helps you as a business. Focusing on likes takes away from what brands should really be focusing on when executing influencer marketing: 

  • Brand alignment 
  • Content quality
  • Niche understanding
  • Genuine advocacy
  • Audience relevance/quality.

Mental health

Whether Instagram is really considering getting rid of likes to “put less pressure on people” is debatable (it’s more likely to be a financial/strategic reason). However, the immutable fact is that social media, as it is today, negatively impacts the mental health of its users. 

By removing aspects of platforms that put social pressures on individuals (“how can I get as many likes as possible”) it will allow influencers, businesses and other users to focus on why social media is actually great (“What can I post that represents me and connects with my community). 

Although the short terms impact of removing likes may be negative in terms of platform usage, the long term will likely benefit all users of Instagram. By shifting focus from any metrics to what really matters, marketers can increase the quality of their influencer marketing campaigns. 

About the author

Owain Williams is the founder of MAKE IT MANA an influencer, content and social marketing agency based in the UK. Owain is a thought leader in the influencer marketing space with extensive experience in speaking and writing about the topic. His agency works with a variety of businesses, helping them set strategies and execute powerful influencer marketing campaigns.  

Need some influencer marketing support? Get in touch direct: 

Instagram: @ojawilliams

Twitter: @ojawilliams