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What's in a 'like'? Industry responds to Instagram's removal of 'likes' test

Following Instagram rolling out a test that removes 'like' counts on posts, we go to the industry leaders to get their thoughts on the move from the perspective of users, influencers and advertisers.

New Zealand Instagram users will have noticed a change to their newsfeed this week as the social media platform tests the removal of ‘likes’ from their content.

The test was initially run with Canada-based users in May and it's now been joined by New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Italy and Japan.

When the test began here last week, Instagram said the removal of 'like' counts was for users’ own good as it wants the focus to be on content, not the number of ‘likes’ received from others.

"We want Instagram to be a place where people feel comfortable expressing themselves," Facebook's Australia and New Zealand director of policy Mia Garlick said.

"We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many 'likes' a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love."

But not all users are solely focused on posting the things they love. Instagram has contributed to the rise of influencers who have built a business around engaging with followers. So should they, and the brands using them, be worried about the 'like' count being removed?

Not to worry says Instagram, as a spokesperson told The Sun that brands and businesses can still see how many views and 'likes' they get.

“For businesses and creators on Instagram, this test will not affect measurement tools 'like' Insights or Ads Manager.”

With the test having been live in Canada’s market since May, influencer marketing agency Obviously conducted a survey of influencers to get thoughts on the change. According to CNBC, of the over 100 influencers that answered, 62 percent were spending the same amount of time on content and cited the test as a positive vote for high-quality content.

The article also points out the change may have the effect of drying up the economy of fraudulent 'likes' “since they’d no longer be as viable when it comes to showing engagement”.

But how valid is a 'like' to a brand?

When we asked Mosh director Julian Thompson in the latest issue of NZ Marketingmagazine (the 2019 Media Issue) about how the removal of ‘like’ counts impact on influencer marketing, he said marketers should already be looking deeper than just ‘likes’.

He said if anything, removing ‘likes’ will force marketers to do better due diligence before engaging an influencer.

“To evaluate the value of a potential influencer, first look at who is engaging with the influencer, and try to establish if these people are the right audience 
for your brand. If an influencer is ‘influencing’ the wrong people, it doesn’t matter how many of them there are, or how often they’re double-tapping.

"If you start with small influencer collaborations and measure actual result such as your own follower growth, leads, 
or sales using tracking URLs, then high-level metrics such as ‘likes’ don’t really matter. Once you’ve got evidence that the partnership is delivering value you can easily scale it up. If it isn’t, you can move on without having invested much.

"If anything, removing ‘likes’ is a good thing. Marketers will need to consider a variety of metrics when engaging an influencer, as well as trying out a variety of methods to see what works. It’s up to the influencer to present their case, and for the marketer to test out their street cred!”

Since the test’s rollout last week, we’ve reached out to more industry leaders for their thoughts on it.

Like Thompson, Sling & Stone’s head of social and content, Callan Green, says removing the visibility of 'likes' puts a stronger emphasis on campaigns that drive results like a sales lift, an increase in brand awareness or more click-throughs.

“This is what we need to be tracking and how we should be designing our content and influencer strategies."

And opening the conversation to include influencers, brands and users in general, Green says the pressure to achieve vanity metrics has been a long-standing pain point on the platform, restricting creativity and limiting what we share.

She says the shift to remove ‘like’ counts gives us back control by letting us determine what we want to share based on strategy, not 'likes'.

“Although only a small step, it's encouraging to see Instagram making a change aimed at decreasing anxiety and pressure on social media. The more we evolve these platforms, the longer they will be around to help us tell our stories.”

VMLY&R’s head of social strategy Bhavika Rambhai also talks about the pressure and anxiety that users may feel in relation to how their content performs on the platform and says it’s reduced when the public-facing 'like' count is hidden.

She believed brands will also have this freedom, however, brands and influencers alike will need to ensure their content resonates with their audience to remain relevant and engaging, and maintain a loyal following.

“If this test is rolled out to all users, influencers using the platform will, of course, be impacted. They’ll need to focus on ways, other than 'likes', to demonstrate to their community that their content is worthy of the user’s time and presence in a newsfeed. Things such as the quality of the content they’re sharing, along with the captions used will become increasingly important in helping influencers forge connections with their audience, and also in demonstrating the influencer’s skills to brands looking to collaborate with them.”

Summing up the thoughts about Instagram’s influencers is Zavy CEO David Bowes who when asked about the move says businesses can still measure their 'likes' through measurement tools despite individuals not having that ability.

“Measuring engagements driven by activity remains key for businesses and Instagram ‘likes’ are a component of this. This is because of the strong relationship between the depth of engagements and sales growth. 

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