In July 2019, Instagram announced it would be trialling hiding Likes. The Likes would still be visible to the author, but hidden from their audience.
It appears that Facebook may now follow suit, conducting the same trial in Australia. Twitter and Youtube have also both previously stated that they have considered a move to remove popularity metrics.
Opinions are divided on why social platforms are looking at making these moves. The social platforms say it is due to mental health concerns for their users. But cynics believe it may be more down to these platforms wanting to nudge brands towards paid advertising.
Whatever the reason, there is little doubt that this move will have a significant impact on a digital world that has seen the rise of influencer marketing, built on Likes.
Impact on influencers
As expected, the potential decision to remove Likes from social platforms, particularly Instagram, has left many influencers feeling concerned about their position in the industry.
Brands who work with influencers often rely upon this metric to select the talent they want to work with and evaluate the success of campaigns with influencers.
Influencers who have been affected by the Instagram trial are already seeing an impact on their accounts. A recent research study of Canadian influencers by #paid, found that more than half of influencers involved in the trial have seen the number of Likes drop on their posts.
This drop creates a catch-22 for influencers. The Like feature is linked to how Instagram’s algorithm prioritises what is seen on feeds. The fewer Likes a post receives, the less the author’s posts are seen. Therefore the fewer likes their other posts receive, the smaller their account growth. And if influencers’ posts aren’t receiving engagement, and their followers aren’t growing, then brands won’t be looking to work with them.
Impact on Instagram
However, although most of us probably see influencers and Instagram as going hand in hand, this is not necessarily the case.
Several years ago the social platform Vine was all the rage. Vine users existed with millions of followers. Yet, when Twitter announced it would be shutting down the app within a few months, the smart accounts took their content elsewhere and their audience followed. These same people are now sharing their videos on Instagram and being paid for their influence.
There is a chance that Instagram and Facebook are alienating their audience with the removal of vanity metrics. Influencers may move to new platforms, taking their followers with them.
However, with 1billion monthly active users and 500million daily active users, the collapse of Instagram is unlikely.
So where does this leave us?
Influencers existed before any social media. An influencer is simply someone who is well-connected and can have an impact on an audience. These people will thrive no matter what the medium or platform they are speaking through.
Instagram and vanity metrics spawned the rise of fake influencers: people whose accounts accumulate thousands of Likes and followers, but who actually have very little influence at all.
A recent study by Landmark showed that more than 50% of ‘influencers’ are engaged in some sort of fakery and it’s a major issue that is predicted to cost marketers $1.5billion next year.
The removal of Likes on Instagram could end up being the best thing to happen to the influencer marketing industry. Likes are just a surface-level metric, whereas looking at how many click-throughs an influencer receives on a post, shows much more about the relationship they have with their audience.
Removing Likes will separate influencers who have ‘trigger-happy’ followers, from those who have followers who trust them and whose decisions are influenced by them.
As Sideqik CEO Jeremy Haile said, the most important part of working with influencers is seeing who can actually build relationships with their audiences, and who can get fans to click on ad campaigns and purchase products that influencers put their backing behind.
The true age of influencing
Instagram might experience an initial knock-back from influencers who are not happy with the removal of Likes, but it’s extremely unlikely it will drastically impact the established social media giant.
We think, should Instagram go ahead with removing Likes across the whole platform, it will ween out the floods of ‘influencers’ who lack influence.
There are tons of accounts on Instagram that share picture-perfect posts and rake in the Likes, but lack a true connection with their audience and fail to convert those Likes into sales for the brands that pay them.
Removing the vanity metric, may put true influencers back in the spotlight.