What Instagram’s ‘Likes Ban’ Means for Social Media Influencers

Instagram users in Australia will see their likes and their likes only. Photo: Getty

Instagram’s test of hiding “likes” on posts just expanded to more markets around the globe. For influencers, or individuals who work with brands to promote services or products on social media, this will likely mean a continued shift away from “vanity metrics” — such as likes or follower counts — and toward actual sales.

Facebook-owned Instagram said in April it would be kicking off the test as a way of creating “a less pressurized environment” on the app. Users who are part of the test are able to look at who liked their own post, but not a count of how many likes someone else’s post received, a way of making Instagram feel less “like a competition,” the company’s head of Instagram Adam Mosseri said at the time.

A more “healthy” environment could indeed be a result of a change like this. But 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.

The potential change could also mean that influencer content will need to become higher quality, since users won’t be able to lean on the amount of likes their posts are receiving when a brand considers working with them. Marketers will still be able to look at an influencer’s follower account, but that metric doesn’t mean much in the way of showing how “engaged” a user’s audience is.

Influencer marketing agency Obviously conducted a survey of Canadian influencers after the Instagram “like” test started rolling out in Canada. Of the just over 100 influencers that answered, 62% said they were spending the same amount of time on content, and cited the test as a positive vote for high-quality content.

Leaning less on likes

Ryan Detert, CEO of influencer marketing company Influential, said the change may have the effect of drying up the economy for fraudulent likes on Instagram since they’d no longer be as valuable when it comes to showing engagement. But Detert said for his company’s clientele, engagement is already less of a priority. Influential has worked with major brands including Pepsi and McDonald’s.

“In the last year and a half, it’s been an education process,” he said. ”[Clients] have almost completely abandoned the idea of engagement rates being the most important piece … it’s become a nice-to-have.”

Detert said campaigns his company has been doing with clients are more focused on measuring the actual online or in-store sales driven by influencer posts. Tools can help brands determine whether clicking from an Instagram post converts to an actual online sale, or whether a consumer actually goes to buy that product at CVS or Duane Reade. He said the company is doing a lot with “paid media,” marketing industry speak for any post where a brand pays to amplify a post to a wider audience and gives them more targeting and measurement abilities.

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SOURCE: CNBC, by Megan Graham