Instagram started testing hiding public likes early this year, and as of last week, they started to roll the test to select users in the US. But what does this decision really mean for influencers, brands, and more importantly, users worldwide?
We shared our early predictions for the impact of this move on brand marketers in our blog post last week. In order to dig a little deeper into what the immediate and long-term effects of this test might be, we heard from Nathan Jacroux, Head of Brand Marketing at CAULIPOWER, Ryan Reid, Director of Brand Engagement at Sky Zone, Olivia Smith, Growth Marketing Manager at HopSkipDrive and David Shadpour, CEO of Social Native.
Users will get used to the change sooner than they may think. That said, likes are still viewable on the back end, meaning the argument around mental health and reduced competition in social media may be a fallacy. Shifting away from likes is more of a shift toward story-based content that can drive traffic and engagement in higher volumes and more trackable ways.
Instead of seeking likes, brands will likely be baiting comments as a means of engagement, changing the nature and call-to-action of posts. The hiding of likes will shift brands away from vanity metrics and towards more business driven outcomes - including traffic driven through story-based content.
Influencer vetting is going to be even more important than ever before. Brands will want to see influencers’ performance across other platforms where baselines for expected performance will be clear to ensure ROI, likely requiring screenshots of backend metrics in the absence of likes as a data point for influencer engagements.
Bhaji Illuminati: When Instagram started rolling out the test, what was your initial reaction/thoughts?
Olivia Smith: We use Instagram pretty heavily because we run a ton of paid advertising campaigns, in addition to using it for employee engagement. I did have a private account impacted in the rollout. It was interesting - it is supposed to protect your self esteem, but at the same time I could still see my own likes even if I couldn’t see the likes of others. The main call out for my team is that it will make us focus on developing good content. We need to make good content, we’ll still have the data to keep track of, but engaging in our content is about strength and experience.
David Shadpour: I think that viewership is the primary currency on these platforms. The more we create content, the more we look at it. We started with a yearbook, then a newsfeed, and now we’re story driven. You can consume a LOT of videos this way. This is an open direction to go in, but how do we feed this beast and create snackable video content every single day? It’s a tough task and will be a totally different way to engage users.
Ryan Reid: We use Instagram for brand building, employee engagement, and revenue generation. When the news first came out, it started as being mental health based, but as Olivia Smith said, you still know the engagement. It feels like the feature is a bit overstated. At the end of the day - was this as big of a change as the headline seems? Likes aren’t going away, they are just invisible. The algorithm is still somewhat fueled by the likes. This is not as fundamental a change as the headlines may tell you. Instead of likes we’ll start baiting comments. It will change the face of Instagram from a user’s perspective, but the core way it functions will remain intact.
Bhaji Illuminati: You can also still see the number of comments, so that may become a new determination.
Nathan Jacroux: We’re still a young brand, and a lot of our momentum was fueled through Instagram. It’s a prized internal possession and the most important channel in our marketing mix. For better or for worse, there are a lot of internal conversations around our media spend. We post Instagrams organically rather than as a paid spend, so it’s more hidden. There are optics perspectives where we spend a lot of hours talking to our marketing and media team about the back-end metrics internally. We talk with stakeholders a lot about our social media metrics that they don’t understand, so it’ll streamline internal communications. It makes our job more difficult with vetting influencers. The challenge as a brand will be determining what the influencer is telling me. Are their metrics real? Do they really perform? What likes and engagements are they giving us? Maybe it’s screenshots for us to show how their content actually performs. That will be the hardest adaptation to this change. I would love the influencer space to move to a pay for performance model. The world of influencer marketing is crazy; you can pay for pieces of content with no idea how it will perform. We do a top tier when paying for awareness, or a lower tier around clicks and coupons where we can tie this to be more specific around what we’re getting for the money. Have to negotiate a lot and it could be a hard time adapting to that change.
Bhaji Illuminati: Do you think it will shift what metrics you’re measuring on a reporting?
Nathan Jacroux: I’ve always been a dreamer in that space. I would love for it to be a paid performance model. Some work on that model, but it’s gotten to a crazy space where you charge high dollars for pieces of content for no guarantee on how it will perform. Performance based is possible, but takes a lot of negotiation.
David Shadpour: It’s important to remember that Facebook was all about followers in the start. Then it became likes. Not sure how valuable likes are today. We can’t sell things with likes. That’s a good thing about removing them. It challenges us to think about real metrics. We ask ourselves, “I want to do X, how will I do it?” I wonder if we don’t rely on influencer posts and just challenge ourselves to set more specific goals. Collaborating with influencers is great, you pay dollars to drive results. Influencers are a business, you should only want them to opt in when they love your brand, and not earn money from being a sellout, but rather by achieving the brand’s goals.
Nathan Jacroux: Yes, but in the performance-based model where influencers are tied to delivering business results for me, there are 100 brands behind me that will let them post whatever they want. You need a relationship based influencer and those are hard to find and hard to incentivize. We need a longer-term partnership.
David Shadpour: That’s the genius of the industry. There are differences in partnership for influencers.
Ryan Reid: Vetting influencers creates opportunities for companies like Social Native. They can help spot what’s real and what’s fake, which will be harder to do and will need to lean into partners like Social Native, who have quality influencers on their platform.
David Shadpour: There is a massive ecosystem of fraud. It started in followers and now it’s in likes. To take away the vanity metrics could protect brands and ourself. We’re no longer engaging on metrics that are easily hacked.
Ryan Reid: Aside from that, it’s an aging platform and there are tons of influencers garnering huge followers from 2013 that are relevant today. All we have to go on is followers. Used to be all about followers but now it’s likes.
Olivia Smith: It’s interesting how influencer ecosystem have changed. I was part of what used to be a blogger network and it’s now an influencer network. Bloggers had to put in a lot of work to prove worth. For influencers we just rely on what they say. Will it cause a shift to go back to analytics reports like bloggers did? I wonder if brands will require that to have social proof of what an influencer is doing.
Bhaji Illuminati: How will the decision impact your marketing strategies in the short & long run?
Ryan Reid: On the influencer front, we’ll look towards other signals to gauge the validity of an influencer. It’s going to incentivize influencers to go to other platforms that have different metrics to provide their validity. We’ll need to partner with people that have a legitimate presence on other platforms beyond Instagram. From an internal content perspective, it’s going to mean more internal communications around our strategies and channel performance. I worry that now that everything is blind externally, if it looks good it must have worked, right? But, that’s not true - if it looks nice, a lot of times it doesn’t engage well. We need to understand what the new strategy is to ensure engagement.
Nathan Jacroux: The vast majority of content that we have out there is brand awareness content. That’s almost entirely what we give to our content on Instagram. We’re in a good place to get the right number of eyeballs for our marketing programs. We look at likes, clicks, engagement metrics as secondary KPIs. But we need to brand build. We have low awareness and penetration, so I’m constantly looking to get my brand out there. It’s constant hounding internally to explain what’s happening. I am confident I’ll have the right people in place... to see the right changes and quickly move to a place to vet partners outside of just like counts.
Olivia Smith: Echoing what Ryan Reid said, when it comes to working with influencers, it’s about people that have a diverse social spread. Just weighing in on the people we’re looking to work with and have worked with…we need screenshots. We need to see what the likes are today while we can see them, then get backend data later. We need benchmarks to know what consistency looks like. Internally, I don’t think it’s going to greatly impact that, as long as we are staying consistent with our content and using many different ways to engage people. We have a strong opportunity to stay consistent and keep quality going. With our paid advertisement… how big of an impact will we see - is it a drop for likes? How will the data line up?
David Shadpour: How much of likes are herd mentality related? Because I can’t see the likes, do I even like it myself? We see the C-suite looking at these metrics today and asking more surface level like questions. As we move towards stories, it’s about traffic. It’s built to drive traffic directly to your site. So maybe the new metric is about the traffic driven to our channels. This could be a new expectation with social, because away from likes we’re stepping towards viewer and traffic related metrics. A shift from vanity metrics to meaningful metrics will help to drive the bottom line.
Bhaji Illuminati: We’ll obviously see the change based on what we do ourselves, since we’re the brand and the consumer. Thanks for participating, everyone.