It was way back in April 2019 that a design prototype leaked hinting that Instagram was preparing to remove the “like” count on user photos. In early November, the app began rolling out the new feature to some of its users. The head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, shared the news ahead of the change at a tech conference: “The idea is to try to ‘depressurize’ Instagram, make it less of a competition and give people more space to focus on connecting with people that they love, things that inspire them.”
News that a company like Instagram (owned by Facebook) was making a substantial change to its platform for the betterment of its users’ mental health was met — rightfully so — with skepticism. Reactions ranged from outrage to conspiracy theories to agreement. One particular subset of users was particularly incensed with the change: influencers.
An influencer, by definition, is an individual with the “power to affect purchase decisions of others because of his/her authority, knowledge, position or relationship with his/her audience.” That definition has become blurred by the growth in influencer marketing to include individuals with large social followings. Whether they carry any influence is somewhat secondary to the fact that they can get products in front of millions of faces. They’re being paid a lot for it, too. Forecasts show that brands are preparing to spend up to $15 billion in influencer marketing by 2022.
Instagram and the Elusive Revenue Stream
Instagram has been careful about interrupting the core feed in search of monetization. As a free platform, the app has struggled to find ways to monetize without jeopardizing the endless scroll of “authenticity” that users enjoy so much. If one thing remains constant, it’s that Instagram should not go down Facebook’s pay-to-play path.
The app has toyed with an uncrackable algorithm, ads and sponsored posts, attempts to replace Snapchat and YouTube with Stories and IGTV (successful and not so successful, respectively), and in-app shopping as a way to monetize the platform.
But the Wild West of influencer marketing and blurred lines between celebrity and “individual with lots of followers” have made it difficult for Instagram to profit off of its most successful creators.
Removing like counts should help return the focus to creating good content across the app’s various features. Those who create good content will ultimately be rewarded with real, organic engagement.
Maybe she’s born with it; maybe it’s lots of bots.
The other big problem that this move can address is Instagram’s centuries-long war with bots — or spam. While this change won’t hide follower counts, removing the like metric will force influencers to prove their worth with actual engagement.
There are sites and apps that will sell you followers and likes in mass quantities. Some of the accounts may be real, but a majority of them are fake, meant to help inflate a user’s perceived influence and engagement within Instagram. What those purchased accounts are incapable of doing is leaving comments. This is where Instagram is hedging its bets.
By taking away some of the vanity, they’ll make some of these negative practices obsolete. Buying followers and likes to momentarily boost your profile or engagement will be seen for what it is — phony.
Why it matters to us
As marketers, we are tasked with showing worth to our clients. Influencer marketing has taken off in recent years — for better or worse. In its current state, it can be difficult to ascertain the value that an “influencer” can actually bring to a campaign.
Do you partner with the person who garners 100k likes on every post but has little connection to your brand for the sake of awareness? Or the person with an average of 500 likes per post who falls directly in your target demographic because the engagement will be more valuable?
This change will help users focus on actual engagement. Creators who can engage their audience in conversation, elicit responses to questions, and recommend products, brands and services that actually suit their users’ lifestyles will show their ability to influence without vanity statistics like “likes.”