• The Swerve Team

Instagram removed like counts. Now what?

Person holding phone on Instagram app with influencer post
Looking for likes counts on Instagram? You'll see "and others" instead if you're in Canada.

At the beginning of May, Instagram stopped showing like counts in Canada, replaced instead with a simple “and others” where the number once was. For many, the change is a radical shift that’s meant to end unhealthy comparisons and possibly drive a different kind of content. For influencer marketers, however, the shift is largely playing catch up to existing practices, and laying the groundwork for future changes.

Instagram’s own rationale for the change will likely resonate with the average user. “By making the number of likes private, people will be able to focus more on the photos and videos posted,” an Instagram spokesperson said. “And that this will ultimately drive deeper, more meaningful engagement.”

“Meaningful engagement” for your average Instagram user, those with a couple of hundred followers of mostly friends and family, will ideally shift from competing and unhealthy consumption to connecting and simply enjoying. Previous feature changes, like the “You’re all caught up” line introduced last year, are all part of a trajectory towards a safer, better Instagram.

Removing likes is also part of another trajectory away from "vanity metrics," which is losing its appeal among the younger generation of users anyways. The platform’s gone-in-a-day Stories feature limit engagement already and young users are taking to posting multiple comments on posts instead of double-tapping for one like, when they head to the feed at all. Instagram is also competing with other platforms that do social differently. Gen Z, always more savvy about hiding themselves online while staying connected, are using sites like VSCO to share photos, which doesn’t even allow likes or comments.

Instagram influencers are in support

Back on the ‘Gram, influencers are almost universally happy with the change if you read the many, many articles written on the topic. Allana Davison (@allanaramaa, 240k followers) told Maclean’s that “from a mental health perspective, I think it’s great for the younger generation growing up on Instagram.”

Matt Benfield (@mr.benfield, 80.4k followers) sees the change as a chance for more business opportunities and sees it as a culling. “Brands would have to take a look at the actual content that creators… rather than just basing decisions on metrics,” he said in a recent interview. “This would hopefully decrease the amount of posts on the platform just vying for ‘likes.’”

But perhaps it was Jill Lansky (@theaugustdiaries, 109k followers) that cut to the real point about the change in metrics. “As long as you can see your analytics, I don’t see how [hiding ‘likes’] would affect business opportunities,” she said. “And I can’t see Instagram taking away analytics because so many people rely on it for business.”

Moving to metrics that matter

In truth, influencer marketers have long moved on from ‘likes’ as a meaningful metric. Sure, likes still matter but they're are part of a larger, more holistic approach to the data driving partnerships. Stats like story engagement, follower growth, video completion, valuable impressions and clickthrough rates are now default in the broader approach. Likes, after all, aren’t conversions, and can be easily faked along with follower counts.

If anything, hiding likes will place more importance on these other metrics more than do away with metrics-driven decisions entirely. And what is the most important, most streamlined metric? That will soon be influencer shoppable posts that let Instagram heavy hitters put a “Shop Now” button on select pics and videos. The idea is currently being tested by some Instagram superstars like Kim Kardashian West and Gigi Hadid. If the plan expands to other influencers, then marketers will have a more direct metric between post and sale.

If Instagram follows through on hiding likes and shoppable posts for influencers, then marketers will have access to more streamlined metrics. It will also mean that the content created will be beholden to more complicated engagement types, ones that drive conversation rather than elicit a brief tap on the screen.

While some influencers see this move as a chance to make money and, as Benfield mentioned, make brands consider content over metrics, the likely result is some metrics will become increasingly meaningless. Others, meanwhile, will only increase in importance and paint a better picture of a brand’s ROI.

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