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Instagram ‘likes’ ban: what’s happening and how will it affect social media marketing?

By Bethan Rees specialises in digital marketing and social media at UK based agency Front Door Communications. She currently cultivates Instagram campaigns for businesses across a range of industries including finance, technology, construction and sport.

Bethan Rees
Bethan Rees

If you’re based in the UK, you might be one of a handful of people that are noticing their Instagram ‘likes’ are no longer visible. Why is this happening and what does it mean for marketing a business?

In an effort to tackle growing concerns surrounding social media use and its impact on mental health, particularly in young users, Instagram is trialing an alternate version of the platform that hides the number of likes each post receives.

The ability to ‘like’ a post will still be available, and users (for the time being) will be able to see privately how many likes they are bringing in, but this won’t be shared with followers.

The trial is being rolled out across a number of countries, including the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Brazil.

The goal, according to Instagram[i], is to remove pressure for social media users and encourage us to use the platform more for sharing the things we love and enjoy as opposed to competing for likes and using our channels as a measure of success.

It’s undoubtedly a positive effort from Instagram and a great step towards looking after our mental health, but what will it mean for businesses – and particularly for influencers who rely on metrics for work?

Well, it might not be the apocalypse we all fear. So many brands look to the number of ‘likes’ they receive to measure the success of their efforts on social media, but when we drill down what likes really mean – it’s one of the least meaningful metrics we have available to us.

Although we might absentmindedly throw a ‘like’ away when scrolling through our Instagram feeds, it’s not very often that this resonates with us past that 2 second window. Compare that with the alternatives:

URL clicks – social media users who have seen what content your business has to offer and have made the conscious decision to leave the platform just to find out more.

Bookmarks – those who have not just seen your posts but have saved them to go back and revisit whenever needed.

Reach – the number of people who might not already follow you but that have made aware of your brand via sharing, hashtags and engagement.

Each of these metrics carry their own individual and significant value, and will still be available for the foreseeable future.

Of course, there are those that take the more cynical view that Facebook, which in recent years has acquired Instagram, is using the removal of likes to drive ad spend. Some critics of the move have suggested that by removing ‘likes’, Instagram is gradually taking the limelight away from influencers and encouraging businesses to spend their ad budget on paid advertising as opposed to with popular accounts.

However on the flip side, many have suggested that although Instagram represents a large slice of the influencer pie, it’s only the start of what is becoming a global movement in ‘human influence’. That this won’t be a road-block but more a shift towards what influencing will look like in the future, no matter the platform or industry.

In other words, influencing will become what it was always meant to be – great content from people who are passionate about a topic and engaging when they talk about it. We’ll step away from vanity metrics such as ‘likes’, which can so often be bought or manipulated, to valuing conversation and real engagement.

And for those businesses that are concerned about their own native posts, we will need more than ever to take on a strong ethos of quality over quantity.

So in the financial services world, what does this mean for businesses looking to drive engagement? How can it work for your brand?

Take the time to find out what’s really going to drive engagement with your audience; start with the basics – who are you trying to reach? What do you want to achieve with your posts? What does your ideal audience want to see from you?

Although we so often rely on ‘likes’ to tell us what works and what doesn’t, we’re now faced with the perfect opportunity to go back to the drawing board and really get to know our customers. Ask for feedback, carry out polls, run reward-based surveys and anything else that will help you really dig deep into what your audience wants.

There are some fantastic tools for drilling down the type of content you should be posting to really get the best from your audience – one firm favourite is BuzzSumo. The platform allows you to input any particular topic that you’d like to cover, for example digital banking, and will let you know everything from which platforms perform best for that topic to which hashtags will get you the best reach.

Alternatively, AnswerthePublic.com can be helpful when looking for new content and campaign ideas. It’s a free tool that lets you input any area of interest and comes back with a host of relevant questions that the public have been asking Google and Bing around that subject. This can be very handy when it comes to simplifying the world of finance for consumers.

One company using Instagram well is banking app Monzo, which regularly uses the stories feature to ask questions of its following – including the parts of banking they don’t quite understand, and where the difficulties in finance lie for the every day consumer. Monzo then runs a subsequent social media campaign breaking down that information in a fun, engaging way to help provide useful content.

Whatever the reason behind its rollout, it certainly looks as though we’ll be seeing some significant changes in the way we use our Instagram accounts in the coming months. Whether you’re using Instagram or any other platform to speak to the public, our biggest piece of advice is to prioritise content that is useful, engaging and interesting – and you really can’t go wrong.