Most Instagram users won’t remember a time when double tapping a picture wasn’t an option. However, a mere nine years ago when the app launched, the ‘like’ feature didn’t exist. What was that sound? Perchance the collective gasp of influencers around the world as they contemplate the world without that tiny love heart we’ve all come to know so well?
Well, buckle up because Instagram may be taking things back to its roots this year as it trials hiding likes on posts in a few select countries. Since then there have been several think pieces about what this gesture really means and whether it will have any real impact. The move was made to make the platform less competitive but the consensus seems to be too little too late.
Whether or not this does make us all a little less envious and narcissistic, the real question on most marketers lips is surely ‘Where does this leave us?’ The use of this social media behemoth is now common practice for brands, either directly through paid and organic activity on their own feeds or through influencer collaboration. Likes are a metric that is highly valued by companies (as anyone who works at an agency with external clients will tell you) and now they may be gone.
According to a recent article tackling the potential change from a marketing angle rather than a personal one, “marketing experts say the changes could also further incentivize brands to put paid media support behind their influencer posts, and also to focus on Instagram Stories, the video and photo posts that are only live on Instagram temporarily.” It also implied that, without likes to bolster posts, making sure quality is high will become a priority.
The concern seems to be mainly focussed on influencer marketing rather than brands posting their own content, as likes are often what a brand is paying for in an influencer relationship. “Marketers will still be able to look at an influencer’s follower count, but that metric doesn’t mean much in the way of showing how ‘engaged’ a user’s audience is.”
The change may also do something to combat fraudulent likes, Instagram’s booming side business that sees fake accounts as well as bots used to ramp up those numbers. In America, $66 can buy you 20,000 likes, although there are a few reasons why this is a bad idea, including getting your account shut down. However, removing this form of engagement from the equation could mean more genuine engagement in the form of comments and influencers pivoting more to video in an attempt to mimic the success achieved on YouTube.
The YouTube comparison is an interesting one as the video platform tends to spawn personalities with more staying power and monetary gain than Instagram. This is often due to the community that the former provides and may be what the latter will have to do if likes are expunged. Brands will need new ways to be shown that their investment is worth it and may become more selective about who they partner with, while agencies will have to prove that their brand awareness campaigns are effective without the easy win of likes.
At the present, this is all just speculation. No definitive results have been gleaned from the recent experiment, so all we can do is wait for the Instagram gods to make their decision. However, if the upshot is a move towards quality content and genuine engagement, it could be an exciting time for those willing to make the effort. The one thing we can say for sure? The chronological timeline is gone and we all need to get over it.
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