In November, Facebook announced that they are testing the removal of public-facing Instagram likes in the United States by rolling out the change to a select number of users. The purpose of this test is to improve the mental health of users by removing what many deem a vanity metric – likes – that can breed comparison and anxiety for Instagram users. As the test rolls out, users still can see the number of likes they receive on each of their personal posts, but that number will not be visible to others.
There are no specific plans to implement this test at scale, but we will keep a close eye on how it develops. The test will not directly impact brand posts now, but we can make assumptions on how it will affect influencer marketing. We hope this move ultimately will spur authenticity among influencers and creators and give them the freedom to produce more impactful creative rather than focusing on creative that drives likes. We believe this change is not a bad one, but rather an opportunity for brands to reset on metrics that matter to the bottom line, such as brand and sales lift data.
As the test rolls out, brands should begin thinking about creating a shift in their reporting and influencer measurement when calculating value. We expect this change to increase emphasis on attention-based metrics, such as time spent.
Instagram has taken a leadership position on well-being and health for its users, even to the detriment of the business. Instagram is focusing on a three-pronged approach to well-being: identifying and addressing problems such as hate speech, finding positions where it can lead the fight against bullying, and ultimately rethinking the fundamentals of how the platform works (as with hiding likes). The platform began testing the removal of likes in April this year in Canada – then expanded it to Ireland, Italy, Japan, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand in July.
Today, likes are a key metric that brands look at to determine whether an influencer’s presence on Instagram will provide a measurable return and impact brand awareness. Initial learnings from this test in other countries have proved that when likes counts are hidden, an overall decrease in likes occurs on the back end. If this test becomes permanent, brands and influencers will be forced to expand or look at different measures of impact beyond engagement. The proposed update could be reconsidered if it is found to be too harmful for Instagram influencers, who are an integral part of the platform’s business ecosystem.
We think that instead of being fearful of this change, brands should embrace it to get to more meaningful bottom-line metrics such as brand and sales lift data. Future reporting will focus on attention metrics to show how people engaged with content and for how long. Likes don’t equal loyalty or sales – so looking at attention metrics such as video view rate, time spent, shares, click-through rate, etc. will prove more valuable over time. Also, we are hopeful that this move ultimately will spur authenticity among influencers and creators and give them the freedom to produce more impactful creative rather than focusing on creative that drives vanity metrics such as likes.