In April, app researcher Jane Manchun Wong discovered Instagram was testing removing “Like” counts on posts. At the time, an Instagram spokesperson told TechCrunch it was not a public test, but an internal prototype and that the company was “exploring” new ways to reduce pressure on Instagram.
The possibility that Instagram – a primary platform for influencer marketing – may potentially eliminate “Likes” could impact the influencer community, causing brands to question whether or not an influencer has enough sway to contribute to the brand’s marketing efforts. Without an outward facing metric such as “Likes,” influencers would have to rely on other resources to prove their content is worthwhile – once such resource: influencer marketing agencies.
Good news for agencies
“I do see it as a good thing for influencer marketing agencies and platform providers,” said Leah Logan, VP of media product strategy and marketing for Collective Bias.
Logan’s influencer marketing agency works with a number of major brands, including Oreo, Chobani and Anne Klein. She believes Instagram removing “Likes” would open up opportunities for agencies like hers to add value and transparency in an industry where campaign results can be difficult to decipher.
Evan Asano, CEO of MediaKix, agrees with Logan that such a move will only increase the importance of influencer marketing agencies.
“Engagement on sponsored posts has been a super important metric, so brands will have to find new ways to measure success in working with influencers,” said Asano, “Agencies become more important because they may have historical data on influencer engagement and have a wide access to influencers who create great content.”
Putting a focus on the content
According to Logan, a world without Instagram “Likes” would not only be a boon for agencies, but a good move for the overall industry as it would push influencers to deliver stronger content.
“We could see more importance placed on content quality along with the quality of engagements – comments on Instagram, for example,” said Logan, “Are commenters simply leaving a quick emoji or are they truly engaging with the influencer or creator? Can we identify sentiment or indicators of purchase intent with the language used in comments?”
Like Logan, Asano believes removing Instagram “Likes” would result in improved influencer content. Without “Like” counts, influencers would be forced to create not only better content, but more diverse types of content such as videos and Stories.
“Lots of influencers post the photos they think will get the most likes which doesn’t always translate to the best or most diverse range of photos, and can lead to a lot of repetitive content,” said Evan, “Brands would be forced to look more at the quality of content.”
He also believes it would deliver stronger engagement between influencers and their followers. “It could cause more reading of captions and more thoughtful content and engagement around captions in addition to the photos.”
The need for influencer tools
Joe Gagliese, co-founder and managing partner of Viral Nation, doesn’t believe the move will make a difference beyond putting a heavier reliance on agencies with the correct tools to share insights with clients.
“Influencer marketing has been growing at a crazy rate for years now, and especially in 2019, so I believe that like any platform change, we will be able to develop ways to adapt and keep moving forward,” said Gagliese.
Gagliese’s agency, Viral Nation, developed its own software to plug into social channel APIs, making it possible for them to report analytics such as “Likes” even if they are not public.
“If a brand or agency is in need of this information to evaluate a fit, they can simply ask the influencer to provide engagement insights. This is manageable for small executions, but when it comes to scaling influencer marketing campaigns, there will definitely be a heavier reliance on agencies with software analytics,” said Gagliese.
Logan’s agency uses a proprietary platform called FitScore, an algorithmic tool that analyzes account verified content views in combination with other factors to evaluate and predict influencer performance.
“We expect to see brands and agencies relying on influencer partners to provide data that goes beyond the surface level information available to them: verified content views, audience demographics, post-level impressions, etc,” said Logan.
Should Instagram remove “Likes,” agencies without access to analytic tools that can measure influencer impact would need full transparency from the influencers they work with.
“Influencers will have to become more flexible with account access, something they have — sometimes reluctantly — been required to get very comfortable with in recent years,” said Logan.
Response from the influencer industry
Gagliese said his agency has had casual conversations with clients about the possibility of Instagram removing Likes, but there hasn’t been a reason to “warn” clients since there aren’t any definitive changes at the moment.
“From an ego perspective, the number of likes may impact the influencers themselves, but likes really shouldn’t determine that in my opinion,” said Gagliese, “Influencers should be confident of the content they are putting out and it shouldn’t be a competition for likes.”
Logan’s agency has not had any clients show concern. She says, from the conversations she has had with clients and industry executives, several people believe it would be a great move by Instagram, creating a friendlier environment that puts more focus on content over vanity numbers.
“We have seen a lot of support for this within out influencer community,” said Logan, “They feel that they’ve been ‘chasing Likes’ for so long, and just being able to focus on creating great content and engaging with their followers will be a welcomed change.”