In early 2019, it was discovered that Instagram had begun testing the removal of “Likes” on images posted to the platform. In response to this discovery, Instagram was quick to issue a statement explaining that this move was purely an internal prototype, not a public test and that it was simply exploring a variety of new ways to reduce the pressure the platform has been facing from the increasing popularity of influencer marketing. 

Instagram is a primary influencer marketing platform and as eliminating “Likes” at some point in the future is now a distinct possibility, a space has opened up in which some are discussing the scale and scope of the potential implications this move could have across the wider marketing landscape.

The most obvious question brands might pose is, ‘Does this influencer have sufficient social clout to make a significant contribution to a campaign?’ Without outward-facing metrics, answering questions of this type could become far more difficult and influencers might be forced to start relying heavily on other resources, such as influencer marketing agencies, to help them prove that their content is valuable and worth investing in.

The Value of Marketing Agencies

Influencer marketing agencies could leverage the loss of visible “Likes” to add both transparency and value to the industry, particularly as the results of campaigns are by no means easy to decipher. Until now, engagement has been a core metric but it is looking likely that brands will need to identify new and more innovative ways to accurately measure influencer success.

Additionally, agencies can add further value by storing historical influencer engagement data and building a large portfolio of influencers who consistently demonstrate an ability to create excellent, game-changing content.

Shifting the Focus Back to Content

An Instagram platform without “Likes” could be genuinely beneficial to the social media marketing industry as a whole because it would likely encourage influencers to focus on delivering stronger content.

If you take chasing “Likes” out of the equation entirely, quality becomes a primary focus. So, in addition to creating decent imagery, factors such as engagement quality will also become more important. If one influencer’s commenters are simply posting a few emoji’s but another influencer’s commenters are taking the time to truly engage with the content they are looking at, brands are more likely to secure a better return on investment (ROI) from pursuing this second opportunity. In turn, influencers might feel more encouraged to share more meaningful captions, which should drive audiences to read those captions more closely and respond with equally valuable and considered comments.

Influencers might also be encouraged to create rather more diverse content. So, instead of simply focusing on their main Instagram feed, they could choose to start utilising the power of video and the Stories functionality as well. Many influencers will naturally share the photos that they believe will attract the most likes and this process doesn’t necessarily always result in the most diverse or desirable selection of images. In fact, the current “Likes”-driven formula often leads to large quantities of highly repetitive content to which audiences are highly unlikely to consistently respond favourably over the long term.

The Importance of Influencer Marketing Tools

Influencer marketing has grown at an almost alarming rate, which has led many industry professionals to start thinking about the ways in which it could be possible to keep evolving in developing new ways to adapt to changing demands and priorities.

Agencies have been developing their own software that plugs directly into social channel APIs and allows for the reporting of analytics data even when it is not publicly available. Engagement insights are certainly still valuable, but for large-scale influencer campaigns, brands might feel more comfortable having access to more comprehensive data that only specially designed software analytics can provide.

In a post-“Likes” Instagram landscape, agencies lacking access to analytics data will need to secure a greater degree of transparency from the specific influencers with whom they choose to work. Additionally, influencers themselves will likely be forced to become more flexible with regard to who has access to their social accounts.

The Initial Response from Influencers

Influencers who are already focusing on publishing high-quality content that they are proud to share shouldn’t feel threatened or overly concerned with regard to any potential loss of visible “Likes”. At this point, anything that might help to transform Instagram into a channel that genuinely values content over numbers and creates a friendlier and more welcoming environment is likely to be embraced by both influencers and causal platform users alike.

While there may well be some bruised egos if this idea does come to fruition, many influencers are tired of chasing likes and simply want the opportunity to focus solely on creating excellent content and engaging closely with the community that they have created and nurtured over time. Empowering both individual influencers and marketing agencies might just be something the landscape needs against a backdrop of fast-paced growth and waning consumer confidence.