Instagram experiments with hiding likes. So what does this mean for brands and influencers?

News broke recently that Instagram is testing the idea of removing like counts and video views from feeds and profiles in Canada. During this test, only the person who posted the content will have access to view the total number of likes or views the post receives.

Instagram describes the change as a way for users to focus on what is being shared rather than how many likes a post gets. It’s also described as creating a “less pressurized environment.”

While largely considered to be simply “vanity metrics,” likes and views are an important piece of Instagram profiles for both everyday users and brands. It’s comical to some, but many users have become obsessed over how many likes their photos get. There’s even world records for the most liked Image on Instagram.

And while casual users of the platform who share family or vacation photos don’t put as much importance on the performance of their posts, for some it could change how they make a living.

Influencers specifically have relied on this public information to not only build their credibility but also to validate their business. After all, they’ve made their career out of posting content and receiving engagement from it.

So, what does this potential change mean for influencers and the brand’s that utilize them?

They’re going to have to get more strategic.

Influencer campaigns for brands today are often measured for success by the amount of engagement the posts produce, as this is an indicator that the content connected well with the influencer’s audience. A large piece of measuring this engagement is how many likes and comments a post received. (Note: if you’re not familiar with the platform, posts typically get quite a bit more likes than actual comments.)

If the number of likes a post receives becomes private, brands will have to be more demanding of the information influencer partners share with them. Influencer contracts will need to be re-worked to outline specific back-end analytic information that brands must receive from influencers, including the likes and views, but also to dig deeper into the analytics of their pages, including their Instagram profile and their actual blog as applicable.

In addition, brands will need to become more savvy and specific about what they need from influencer partners. Clear call-to-action’s will be key to tracking the real “influence” posts are having. Similarly, access to back end tools to measure just how much traffic brands are getting, and converting, will be crucial.

A solid influencer strategy should already include many of these pieces, but without the vanity numbers to most simply justify the spend, things get tricky.

The vetting process for identifying the right influencer partners will also need to be adjusted and will become inevitably more lengthy. At the most basic level, brands and social media professionals still rely on these metrics to gauge consumer interest in not only products, but in influencers themselves.

This will cause a shift for influencers to have to include substantially more information within their media kits. This could present a roadblock as there’s no real way to publicly validate that the numbers they’re reporting are accurate.

It’s also important to address the changes this could bring to Instagram’s algorithm. For context, in 2016 Instagram shifted from a chronological feed to one that is curated by performance metrics. Since that change, likes have played an important role in having a post appear in the feed of followers. Essentially, if no one is liking your posts, they’re not going to be shown to very many people.

It’s common for many Instagram users to feel that if something has a lot of likes it must be good, so they jump on and like it as well. Also vice versa, if something doesn’t have very many likes then users don’t want to like the post because others haven’t. Without this context publicly available for posts, it will be interesting to see if the behavior of users is consistent with the past.

Adding another layer of interest, it appears the platform plans to keep follower counts public on user profiles. While the number of followers is a metric loosely considered when selecting influencer partners, it’s important to keep in mind that a focus on engagement should trump selection based off sheer follower numbers, especially in light of issues that have come up with “buying followers,” a practice that, unfortunately, many influencers once used to inflate their numbers but is now being punished.

So, what does all of this mean for brands and influencers?

Now is a good time to re-evaluate your brand’s approach to Instagram and how you’re utilizing influencers.

It’s also important to remember that this is just a test. However, as Facebook and Instagram reminded us in March when both platforms were in a blackout, you can’t get too comfortable and rely on any one social media channel. Things are always changing and if you don’t continue to update your approach, you’ll quickly be left behind.