Anyone working in the marketing sphere knows how important social media is to a business’s brand. In fact, it’s now a necessity for businesses to invest in their social media presence. Whether through in-app ads or influencer marketing, social media campaigns are a must. Facebook-owned Instagram understands the value of their platform more than anyone, and they’re about to make a strategic business move to prove it. With the field testing already in full swing, Instagram is exploring the possibility of hiding likes from users. When this change goes into effect, users will no longer be able to see the number of likes for content posted by others. Although you won’t be able to see the likes on anyone else’s posts, you will still be able to see the likes on your own posts. So, now that the removal of Instagram likes is underway, how will this affect your business? Don’t panic – VitalStorm’s Social Media and Content Marketing pros are here with a comprehensive guide to help you weather the storm!

The Origin of the Like

Understanding the potential impact of this change starts with understanding how likes came about in the first place. First introduced by the video streaming platform Vimeo in 2005, likes didn’t hit the Facebook scene until 2009. What motivated Facebook to jump on the likes bandwagon? Convenience and efficiency. The Facebook team noticed that many posts were receiving repetitive comments, like “Congrats!” or “Awesome!” To the Facebook team, the integration of likes seemed to be the obvious solution. Initially, the adoption of likes did provide users with a more convenient tool to communicate. Another benefit to likes was the ability for users to see in real-time how their posts resonated with audiences. Just as the Facebook team had hoped, this new addition made their platform more user-friendly. However, likes were about to play a larger role in shaping our culture, society, and economy.

The Evolution of the Like

Although likes were adopted for convenience and efficiency, users quickly realized the power of the data these likes created. In fact, a 2015 study conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridge found that Facebook like data can be used to predict a user’s personality traits to an eerily accurate degree. With such unprecedented access to behaviors and personality traits of users, this data quickly became the hottest commodity around. In fact, it’s now common practice for most businesses to utilize this data to curate content and ads that are tailored to individual users in their targeted audiences. In the blink of an eye, likes shifted from a tool for user engagement to a source for user data.

The Catalyst for Instagram’s Decision to Hide Likes

In unpacking all the negative effects that likes have had on users, it makes perfect sense for Instagram to feel compelled to do something about it. That being said, there are plenty of financial benefits that they stand to gain from the removal of Instagram likes, and at the expense of influencers and businesses. But let’s start with the “general public” version of the truth.

The “Official” Reason:

When explaining why they are considering this change, Instagram claims it’s for the betterment of mental health. The hope is that the removal of Instagram likes will provide a less pressurized environment for users. But how will the removal of Instagram likes actually contribute to improvements in mental health? According to Instagram, it all boils down to our fear of missing out on cultural trends.

It’s no secret that we live in a likes culture, where influencers and marketers are constantly vying for our attention. Especially on Facebook-owned Instagram, the greatest attention is paid to the content with the most likes. As a result, the phenomenon of FOMO, or fear of missing out, has been born. Simply put, FOMO is a state of anxiety and depression that stems from the fear of missing out on trending content or products. This anxiety drives users to stay constantly connected to social media to avoid missing out on the conversation. Instagram claims that removing the power of likes will remove the the power of FOMO. Although this is a valid and noble endeavor, there are greater financial motivators at play.

The Likelier Reason:

For years, influencers have capitalized on our FOMO-ridden society, with companies paying them millions to promote their brand. In fact, influencer marketing has become the preferred method for running ads. Using original, trending content, the right influencer can have a vast reach across targeted audiences. With Instagram being the popular platform for influencer marketing, it’s no surprise that likes are their main performance metric. While influencer partnerships are great for most businesses, Instagram is not as thrilled about the meteoric rise of influencer marketing. Think about it; when companies pay large-scale influencers like Kylie Jenner millions of dollars per post, Instagram doesn’t see a penny of it.

Because these influencer-run campaigns are not in-app ads, Instagram has zero claim to any of the profits. Why doesn’t Instagram just ban influencers from using their platform for campaigns? Well, censorship at that level could become a slippery slope, and the optics would be damaging to Instagram. So, since Instagram can’t deny influencers access to their platform, they’re taking a stealthier approach. In order to redirect advertising revenue back towards their bottom line, Instagram is removing the main metric influencers rely on to measure campaign performance. As a result, advertisers will have 2 options. 1. Run a campaign through an influencer and risk overpaying them. 2. Go the safer, more logical route and run in-app ads with real metrics at their disposal. In one fell swoop, Instagram will destabilize the structure of influencer marketing, all under the guise of a concern for mental health.

Impact of this Change on Influencers and Businesses

Although the removal of Instagram likes will be felt by both influencers and businesses, the nature of these impacts will vary.

Impact on Influencers:

While influencer marketing isn’t going away anytime soon, this change will make it a significantly less viable option to advertisers. That being said, this power shift could help talented newcomers who do not have a huge following gain popularity. The visibility of Instagram content is largely determined by the number of likes per post. In the absence of likes, many influencers who have succeeded under this system will have to step up their content quality. A fear of many in this boat is that the main metric will now default from the number of likes per post to the number of followers. In essence, this change will destabilize influencers’ capacity to make a living on the platform. Without reliable metrics to ensure their investment is paying off, brands will gradually lose incentive to allocate money from their marketing budget to influencer marketing ads.

Impact on Brands and Marketers:

When seeking out influencers to promote their brand or product, advertisers and marketing agencies use likes to determine which influencers are popular and how likely a campaign will convert to sales. Without this metric, it will be much more difficult for brands and marketers to identify top influencers that align with their industry and audience. Ultimately, businesses will feel even more pressure to utilize Instagram’s in-app marketing features, rather than depending on influencers.

As a positive impact, this change could alleviate the fear of publishing ads that may not get a lot of engagement. If users cannot see how many likes a brand’s ad has, they have no way of knowing how successful or unsuccessful it is. As a result, this will encourage users to form their opinion based on the substance of the content, rather than the number of likes. With that in mind, another change to come from the removal of Instagram likes will be seen in content quality. Brands and marketers will have to focus much more on creating content that sparks real conversations. This will also mean that brands and businesses will have to work a little harder on fostering a community around their brand.

 How Can Brands, Influencers, and Businesses Adapt?

Since the removal of Instagram likes is probably just the start, it’s a good idea to prepare for the fallout. Luckily, for the many ways this change will impact your business, there are just as many steps you can take to adapt. Start with the following steps to ensure your brand successfully evolves:

1. Build a Different Ecosystem

For starters, you’ll need to focus more on building and fostering a community rather than a following. If you take a look at popular YouTube influencers, you’ll find that they are able to build a much loftier career and brand than many Instagram influencers. A big reason for this could be the more community-based ecosystem these YouTube influencers create. In order to build a community-based ecosystem, you’ll need to create conversation-worthy content. You’ll also need to establish deeper engagement with your fan-base. This means responding to comments and messages and showcasing the people and story behind your brand. With surface-level vanity metrics being a thing of the past, it’s time to do away with surface-level engagement, and that starts with your content.

2. Revamp Your Content

This brings us to step 2: Revamp your content. The best thing you can do for your brand is start transitioning more of your content towards video. Users are already starting to devote more of their time and attention to Stories, rather than static images. Furthermore, metrics have already proven that users are likelier to engage with video content than images and copy. While this will be a new challenge, look at it as a positive. Ultimately, the removal of Instagram likes should motivate brands, businesses, and influencers to produce higher quality content.

3. Focus on the Right Metrics

In following along with the domino effect this change will cause, we arrive at the metrics side of things. Now that likes will no longer be the main tool to control visibility and popularity of posts, the metrics used to measure the impact of content will have to shift. This will likely involve focusing more on engagement, time spent on the platform, views, shares, and other metrics as KPI’s. With more focus on creating a community instead of a following, the measure of a healthy network must go deeper than likes, emojis, and thumbs-up.

4. Let the Metrics Inform the Content

The best way to weather the storm: stay one step ahead with your content strategy. Once you know which metrics to focus on, you should use these metrics to inform your strategy for creating content. If you know you will be looking for more meaningful engagement, design your content around that goal. For instance, if you know that Stories and videos see more traffic and tend to spark better engagement, try to post more video content. Furthermore, if you will be focusing more on the amount of time users spend on the platform, videos will yield better results than a static image. Always think ahead towards the metrics, and your content will stay in line with your goals.

Weather the Storm Under Our Umbrella

Considering the ever-changing landscape of social media marketing, it pays to stay ahead of the curve. By working with VitalStorm, you will have a team of dedicated experts to help your company adapt to change while maintaining a unique brand voice. With the expertise of our Social Media and Content Marketing team, your company will stand out across all social channels.

If you’re ready to learn more about what VitalStorm can do for your business, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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