When Instagram first announced its plan to hide likes, it caused some panic throughout the social media world. While the removal of this feature has not fully gone into effect across the U.S., it left brands wondering what this shift would mean for their social media programs and how they are measured.
Before diving into how this decision impacts your Instagram marketing strategy, let’s examine what hiding likes actually means. According to Instagram reps, you’ll no longer see likes or views on your feed or on other Instagram profiles, but you’ll still be able to access your own account’s metrics and engagement.
The larger goal Instagram has in mind is ending the user obsession over the number of likes and views a post receives on the platform. The CEO of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, described the decision as less about incentivizing specific behavior and more about “creating a less pressurized environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves.” This reasoning makes sense: A large number of likes can mean more people engaging with an already successful post. That post and the account then get pushed further up in feeds, which can minimize the visibility of other (possibly higher-quality) content.
So how should you plan to shift your Instagram marketing strategy in response?
Devalue “likes” as a metric
The proliferation of click farm services selling likes and followers to artificially inflate accounts have caused these metrics to lose their authenticity. With likes no longer representing a true measurement of how many users engage with content, digital marketers are increasingly viewing them as a “vanity metric.” Unfortunately, hiding likes won’t entirely eliminate the practice of buying Instagram clout. Click farms have now gone even further, selling shares and comments as well.
In response, brands should strive to become less reliant on these quantitative metrics as a signal of success. Instead, focus on measuring social activities based on what’s making a legitimate impact.
Focus on more meaningful metrics
There are alternative metrics that can provide a more accurate view of your content’s performance and what matters most to your audience on Instagram.
Saves are the strongest indication of audience approval, since users are bookmarking your content to view again at a later time. The Instagram algorithm also prioritizes content with more saves. It positions these posts higher in feeds and gives them a better shot at making it onto the Explore page. In short, bookmarks should signal what content is your best.
A reported 500 million people engage with Instagram Stories daily. Because Stories are at the top of the screen, users on Instagram are likely to watch them before looking at their feeds. This feature is a huge asset, and brands are increasingly looking at its performance data.
Keep your eye on swipe-ups, sticker taps, and story completion rates as indicators of how your content is doing. While these metrics are private, influencers are being asked to share them with their partner brands more and more.
On your owned Instagram channel, consider sharing your in-feed posts via Stories to drive more views. If you have a verified account (at least 10,000 followers), you can use your Stories to link to your website or other URLs to drive traffic.
Take an in-depth look at the conversations happening in the comments sections of your own posts and those of your branded influencer content. Instead of reporting on a total comments metric, keep an eye out for positive sentiment, healthy debates, and honest feedback to guide your ongoing social strategy.
Alter Your Influencer Selection Process
Digital marketers have caught on to influencers inflating their follower count using click farms. But without this number to lean on, you’ll need to dig a little deeper to find the individuals who will make the best brand partners.
As discussed in our Influencer Strategy 101 blog post, INK recommends a “quality over quantity” model. Review an influencer’s content, previous partners, and engagement to get a better idea of how they align with your company’s values. This due diligence makes the removal of likes less of an issue because you have more substantial insight into the influencer.
You can also consider working with micro- or nano-influencers. Despite having a smaller reach compared to more prominent influencers, these individuals tend to be especially trusted as a source of information, and they have followers who are more positively and genuinely engaged.
Balance influencer and ad spend
Hiding Instagram likes could lead to an increase in ads on the platform. If digital marketers aren’t able to publicly view an influencer’s success metrics, they may forgo an influencer strategy all together and re-allocate those budgets to Instagram ads. While we’re fans of advertising on Instagram when it aligns with the goal of a campaign, there’s no need to move away from influencer programs completely. By implementing the “quality over quantity” strategy outlined above, both your ad and influencer strategies can coexist.
Embrace the Change
The reality is, the “race for likes” on social media has put unnecessary pressure on vulnerable and impressionable audiences. It’s impacting the mental health of many users, as they place personal value on the engagement their posts receive. For this reason alone, hiding likes is a smart move and could indicate a trend that spreads to additional social media platforms.
For digital marketers, this move presents more opportunities than challenges. As long as you continue to focus on high-quality content tailored to your audience, leverage the appropriate influencers, and measure your program with reliable metrics, Instagram can still be a successful channel within your larger social media strategy. We, like the rest of the industry, will be watching to see how and if the platform decides to continue implementing this new initiative.