Instagram Is Hiding Likes. Here's What It Means for Brands and Influencers.

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The world of social media is in for a major shakeup as Instagram will start testing out hiding “likes” for some users in the U.S. This decision, following a number of recent tests in countries such as Canada and Japan, is meant to make Instagram posts less of a competition for likes and more about quality connections, particularly for young people, as Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri explained at the WIRED25 conference.

In addition to hopefully making social media a mentally healthier place for young people, making likes only visible to the poster and not the public could have a significant impact on brand and influencer marketing. While the long-term effects remain to be seen, it seems likely that less visibility of likes will lead to a more level playing field, where quality content rises to the top rather than the content with the highest quantity of likes.

Moving on from vanity metrics

While likes may have been a viable way to gauge social media engagement in the past, this measure has increasingly become a vanity metric that does not really indicate whether someone has influence.

For one, likes can be gamed to make posts seem more popular than they really are, such as with the rise of bots automatically liking certain posts, as well as reciprocal liking from pods or tags such as "like for likes." Plus, plenty of people may double-tap to like while mindlessly scrolling through posts, which doesn’t mean that the posts are making much of an impact or that the person or brand sharing the post has influence.

Real influence means getting someone to act beyond likes, whether that’s swiping a credit card, signing up for an event or doing whatever else you’re looking to accomplish. By hiding likes, there will likely be less emphasis on this measure and more emphasis on getting results.

Creating better content

In many cases, brands hire influencers as a band-aid to cover up their own ineffectiveness on social media. Yet, because it’s been difficult to judge influence based on vanity metrics, many companies have tried influencer marketing, spent significant money to do so, and have been disappointed with the results.

Going forward, with a decreased emphasis on the number of likes a post gets, brands will likely be drawn to influencers and brand ambassadors that can help them create better content, which they can leverage on their own channels and which increases brand awareness and marketing effectiveness. Moreover, some brands may have been embarrassed in the past to share content that got a limited number of likes, but now they may feel freer to share content that inspires conversation or leads to more purchases, even if it’s aimed at a narrower audience.

Capturing millions of users’ attention may not be possible, but even getting a few dozen people to start genuinely engaging with your brand could be the catalyst you need to gain real traction on and off social media. Getting there means becoming a better creator and storyteller and learning to recognize who you can partner with to advance your brand’s content, rather than falling for the trap of hiring an influencer who gets a lot of likes or has a lot of followers but doesn’t actually move the needle for your brand.

These shifts will take time, as Instagram is only rolling this change out on a limited basis, but if the network sees it as a success, you could see other social media platforms adopt similar features. As a result, social media may be able to get back to being more social rather than a popularity contest, which can be a win for brands, genuine influencers, and users who want social media to be a positive force. 

Watch more videos from Carlos Gil on his YouTube channel hereFollow Carlos Gil on Instagram @CarlosGil83.

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