What Instagram’s Move to Hide “Likes” Means for Advertisers
Almost ten years ago, Instagram co-founder, Kevin Systrom, posted the first image to his now-famous app, enabling people to share—and like—images from their phones. Since then, we’ve experienced a decade that’s changed the way we measure and perceive the quality of content online, with one metric at the center: the like. This spring, Instagram began to test hiding likes in a handful of countries. For people using the app in those places, the number of likes and views on a post are hidden from the public but can be seen from one’s account. In September, Facebook followed suit and announced a test to hide like counts as well. Now, Instagram is making the move in the US, removing the number of likes visible on posts for some users.
While the metric will still technically be accessible to users, with likes, perception is everything. By hiding them, their power (though superficial) has changed. In a like-less social media landscape, here are three ways you need to shift your focus:
Avoid Vanity Metrics
The like is a vanity metric. When a person or a brand receives a lot of likes on a post, it looks good and it feels good; however, the insights aren’t necessarily actionable. As recently as 2014, an article shared that 89% of marketers measure the effectiveness of social media campaigns based on likes while only 24% look at sales conversion. That’s entirely backward—the focus should be on numbers that reflect active consumer interest and engagement, not a jerk reaction to tap a screen.
And yet, even knowing this, likes are hard to ignore. Today, the idea that a like is a vanity metric is commonly held, but when a perfect storm causes likes on a post to skyrocket, it continues to capture attention. Case in point? Earlier this year, an egg broke the Internet.
At the end of the day, no matter how exciting it is to see a post trending, likes won’t reveal anything strategic or uncover any learnings that inform future go-to-market plans. With likes hidden, you’ll avoid the distraction of numbers that are unlikely to have a huge impact on your business.
Invest In Attention Metrics
Rid of the distraction of likes, you’ll have the opportunity to reconsider social KPIs. Whatever way you look at it, this will raise the bar, forcing you to look at other metrics as an indication of performance. You’ll have to reposition your strategy to drive consumer action that’s more meaningful than a double-tap.
In contrast to vanity metrics, attention metrics measure thoughtful consumer engagement and tell a bigger story about consumer behavior. With likes off the table, you must decide on the more meaningful action—clicks, views, sales—and work toward that goal in every aspect of asset creation, from the first messaging conversations to the final edit. Ultimately, refocusing campaigns on attention metrics will lead to the accumulation of performance data that’s of greater use down the line.
Bring Focus Inward
Rife with comparison, Instagram is famously tough on mental health—a recent survey found that it’s the most damaging social platform to the wellbeing of young people. The company has been vocal in that its removal of likes is to lessen users’ anxiety. Head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, discussed the issue on a recent episode of NPR’s All Things Considered. He shared that “the idea with making like counts private is to try and depressurize the experience a bit. It can sometimes feel like a popularity contest, which is why…I’m bullish on it.”
The issue of mental health is an important one. From an advertising perspective, lessening the “popularity contest” on Instagram presents an opportunity to shift focus from the competition, and to recenter energy on solidifying your strategy and voice.
With likes publicly available, it’s easy to be distracted not only by vanity metrics but also those of your competitors. When you can easily track engagement on the posts of competing brands, it’s easy to question—like young people do—how you feel about how your brand looks, and how you express your thoughts and ideas. With like counts hidden, you’ll have the opportunity to recenter and pay attention to what matters most: staying true to your brand message, identity, and goals.
Change is good, and Instagram’s removal of likes will push you to think more strategically about the content you post—causing attention to shift from vanity to attention metrics, and off of the competition and onto the strength and consistency of your brand. By hiding likes, Instagram hides its scoreboard. Now, instead of watching points, you have to focus on the game and the quality and creativity of campaigns at play.