I've been anticipating this for the past year and finally it has arrived. Instagram announced it was testing the effects of hiding "likes" in several markets, in an effort, it says, to “remove pressure” from users. Despite the immediate claims of many that the move would kill the influencer economy, I like it. It's good for Instagram, it’s good for brands and, ultimately, it’s good for the people using the platform.
Brands that work with influencers on Instagram, as well as those creating brand pages, will need to re-evaluate the validity of adopting the "like" as a measure of success. We can expect that the loss of the social encouragement of seeing what others like and, in turn, wanting to like the same things too, will result inevitably in a decline in "likes" across the board—and therefore the erosion of what has been, up until now, considered by some a key engagement rate.
Well, no great loss.
The whole notion of "likes" as a means of measuring success is questionable at best. Did a consumer "like" the influencer or the brand? There is no way to tell. A "like" isn’t a true arbiter of success. Yet, some influencer agencies are emphasizing them nonetheless, contributing to a false economy.
For instance, if an influencer or influencer agency is compensated on engagement rate, they are incentivized to only recruit and hire influencers who have large so-called engagement rates, the majority of which are usually composed of "likes." And at the end of a campaign, the influencer and agency are celebrated for a very high engagement rate or a low cost per engagement (CPE), mostly due to "likes." But because it’s impossible to determine what these "likes" actually pertain to, it’s also impossible to know if the brand really benefited at all.
Moreover, "likes" can be easily bought or can come in the form of bots. Fraudulent and fake engagement is a reality that deeply concerns brands, and so it should.
Now is the time for brands to totally rethink their influencer partnerships (are they driving real brand-health metrics?) and compensation models (CPE needs to be reconsidered), re-evaluating the true metrics that drive the business and optimizing toward them. Other metrics such as purchase intent, brand awareness, brand affinity, etc. should be deployed so that influencer marketing can be compared properly to other marketing channels.
One way of doing this is by using AI to analyze all conversations and comments, and by conducting pre and post surveys of people exposed to the campaign to get a more robust picture of brand health. And by applying the same rigor that is typically used for other marketing channels.
So, it's a good thing for Instagram, and it won't negatively impact legitimate influencers delivering real commercial value for brands. Whereas, influencers that are gaming the system with fake "likes" or "like bait" posts that encourage inauthentic engagement, well, this is going to be a big problem for them.
We finally get to focus on what matters: true connections delivering real commercial and brand value. Instagram is creating great opportunities with in-feed shopping/purchases that offer a new and improved way for influencers to benefit (make money) from the commercial return (sales) they are driving for their brand partners. I'd be highly suspicious of any influencer who feels that it will negatively impact their livelihood. In fact, Instagram is likely going to launch an influencer search tool that makes it easier to find the influencers who can drive commercial/brand impact.
So, it is not going to be the death of the influencer economy. Far from it. It will make it more legitimate. Influencers who haven’t relied on "likes" alone and who have created longer-term, deeper brand partnerships and have worked hard to drive real brand impact will win. The industry is growing up and this will push brands and platforms to focus on true performance, not vanity metrics like "likes."