Likes are Disappearing but Influencer Marketing Won’t

Likes are vanishing soon, even though influencers drive economics.

This past May, Instagram began testing the removal of likes in several countries. Once the feature is fully implemented in the U.S., the likes will be accessible only to the original poster. And, Facebook has confirmed they will also follow the trend as soon as next summer, and will begin testing hidden likes in the near future.

Adam Mosseri, the Head of Instagram, tweeted that “our hope is to better understand how this idea changes how people feel about using our platform, particularly young people.” The company sites a concern for users’ self-esteem, mental health issues, and bullying problems which stem from quantifying and comparing pictures people post of themselves and their lives.

While this change might yield a positive effect on the mental health of Instagram users, it will also will impact influencers and influencer marketing – how brands, agencies and influencers work together and earn income.

As marketers, Instagram and Facebook communities still matter for connecting with your business and brand fans, prospects and customers!

However if you’re interested in reaching specific influencers and paying them to promote your business, then that will evolve over time. We’re all watching this carefully at Instagram, which draws roughly two thirds of all U.S. paid influencers.

Here’s what we already know.

Influencers become known and attract brand sponsors based primarily on their followers and likes.

Today, Instagram influencers are discovered after they actively publish images and short-form videos, build a following over time, and some piece of content they’ve created goes viral and is widely circulated on their platform.

Eventually, once they are deemed popular – based on their number of followers, their view counts, and the LIKES their content gets – influencers can be compensated by brands who want to work with them in exchange for promotion.

This engagement-driven system has led to a generation of both high-earning influencer marketers, as well as a bustling community of micro-influencers who can do well with specific segments or specialized audiences.

However, a core pillar of this system will soon change, when Facebook and Instagram officially remove one of their key metrics that users and brands/businesses pay attention to: likes.

All of a sudden, external agencies or brands trying to identify influencers on these platforms lose direct access to a key metric for measuring the creator’s audience’s engagement levels and approval of content. Will Facebook and Instagram try to fill this gap?

The evolution of influencer marketing.

Groups and Blogs: Online influencers have been around for some time, starting in the nascent days of blogging and even earlier days of community destinations or group chats! Freely accessed channels often needed some way to support themselves, with sponsors or advertisers. Meanwhile forward-thinking brands reached out to individual bloggers with free product or financial support, all before the predominance of Google ads.

YouTube: Influencer marketing took hold with the growth of Google’s YouTube, the ubiquitous platform which first openly rewarded video contributors with large followings based on traffic.

Today they offer special programs for very active vloggers and filmmakers – including sharing part of the ad revenues made from their videos and sending top creators coveted “Play Button” awards made of precious materials and gems – effectively paying popular creators for their videos.

There are still independent opportunities for influencers on YouTube to make their own advertising deals on top of this, making money from promotions, product placements, or product review videos. However, the glory days of micro-influencers easily earning a living from this channel have faded.

Vine: In 2013, Vine swept the nation with millions streaming its popular seven-second videos, leading to its own explosion of platform-specific influencers who mastered the art of communicating (and sharing products) within the confines of a fraction of a minute.

Though Instagram was released earlier, the Vine platform first solidified the image of self-made influencers: typically younger contributors who could become very popular and make a significant income from lifestyle and sketch content which could be unpolished, raw, and sometimes just goofy.

While business brands pursued top Viners, and paid them substantial ad campaign feeds, the social channel wasn’t directly supportive and the app faded in popularity and was closed by parent Twitter.

Amateurs Welcomed: Over time, we have seen the barriers for entry lowered. While less than ten years ago it was hard to imagine a brand paying pennies (much less hundreds of thousands of dollars) to any amateur to post home videos on their behalf, the rise of video-game streamers, lifestyle vloggers, and those kids posting visual gobbledygook on TikTok have lowered the bar for anyone with a camera phone, internet connection, and a creative streak to make it big.

If there’s one thing influencers on all these platforms have in common, it’s that the platforms they use made basic parameters, like followers, views, and likes, visible and easily accessible.

How Facebook is different.

From the beginning, Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram, have kept their platform metrics hidden. They only show followers and likes, and make other basic parameters (such as views or clicks) only accessible via complex reports or through third-party tools using their (tightly controlled) API.

When Facebook replaced their namesake platform’s likes with a set of six “reactions,” the response was mainly positive, even though from a marketer’s perspective, reactions like “Wow” and “Haha” are harder to interpret and glean useful insights from.

Now with Likes getting hidden, Facebook and Instagram effectively seal off their only visible measure of engagement.

What’s the Instagram fallout?

We see the current influencer marketing system losing its strength. If you want to identify and partner with a relevant and effective influencer, you have to either trust the word of said influencer regarding how much engagement their content actually has, or you have to somehow get that information from Facebook Inc.

When likes vanish, there’s no method to get this popularity insights directly from the Facebook/Instagram platform.

It isn’t hard to imagine that some advertiser-centric and profit-driven company would offer a response – albeit a pay-to-play one – to finally sink their claws into a portion of the billions of the influencer marketing dollars they have watched change hands on their platform over the years with no way to get at it.

Would you really be surprised that caring for users’ mental health is applauded only on the surface, yet established to make a money from everyone that has found fame on their platform, for the privilege of using it?

Influencers might have to shift tactics to save money.

Today, there are quite a few known influencers out there, each with their own strengths and target segments. But, as some of these influencers drop off the radar or become too expensive for anyone but the wealthiest businesses, the ecosystem’s stability is dependent on an influx of rising stars to fill out the ranks.

We face these question of how these stars can rise, if Facebook Inc. has just taken steps to make their discovery and ascent much tougher.

  • What happens to up-and-coming influencers who can’t easily leverage their posts’ likes?
  • How do they prove their potential and credibility when the measures of their achievements are hidden?
  • How likely is it that people will become less motivated to try and become influencers, with the lack of instant gratification that comes with high like counts, and the new hoops they likely will have to jump through before making returns on the materials they create?
  • And, what happens to brands that can’t afford the top creators, or want to uncover new talent, or only need a micro-influencer with success in a narrow space?

Is Influencer marketing moving forwards or backwards?

Influencers will always be there, talking and sharing online; though the organic mechanism for rising popularity will be hamstrung by the removal of likes.

Good business move or not? It’s possible that Facebook and Instagram could be doing themselves a favor, acting as intermediary between brands and influencers is another way to grow ecosystem revenues.

It’s hard to predict the future, but at what point does micro-influencer marketing simply devolve into targets based on their interests, or dare we say…another advertising or social media channel?

by Amanda Worrall, Nov-28-19