Instagram is mulling a future without 'likes'.
Last week, the Facebook-owned platform announced that it is testing hiding 'likes' in several markets. A user would still see how many of their own posts received 'likes', but this number would no longer be visible to anyone else on the platform.
Instagram is doing this because it wants to "remove the pressure" for how many 'likes' a post will receive.
The decision comes ahead of the UK government’s online harms legislation, which could lead to the creation of a social media regulator that would enforce a statutory "duty of care" on platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
For teenagers, who have grown up in an environment where popularity online has become as important as popularity offline, social media addiction can have disastrous consequences.
But if Instagram were to get rid of 'likes', what effect would this have on the nascent influencer economy?
"Not a lot" seems to be the answer from industry experts Campaign spoke to.
Brands are increasingly spending more with social media "personalities" and need to have ways of measuring their return on investment. But according to Amy Luca, chief executive of TheAmplify, the You & Mr Jones influencer agency, 'likes' are part of a range of non-specific measurements that are not indicative of success in influencer campaigns.
"It’s almost impossible to truly tell if the ‘like’ is for the influencer or the brand," Luca said. "They’ve also been a contributor to a false economy for some influencer agencies to demonstrate value when, in fact, that value is questionable.
"On top of that, ‘likes’ have been a huge source of fraud and fake engagement in the industry, because they are easily accomplished with bots and can be readily purchased to boost engagement."
In the words of Instagram, the change is intended to get "your followers to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many 'likes' you get".
Luca thinks brands should rethink their influencer partnership and compensation models, meaning looking at different metrics that more accurately drive the business.
Better metrics could be: purchase intent; brand awareness; and brand affinity. These indicators would mean influencer marketing can be properly compared with other marketing channels, Luca explained.
However, these more sophisticated measures would need a sophisticated automation service – possibly artificial intelligence – in order to be accurately measured.
Adam Williams, chief executive of influencer marketing agency Takumi, agreed that meaningful measurement of influencer campaigns would not be affected, while also encouraging creators to be more creative instead of fishing for 'likes'.
What happens currently, according to a digital agency boss whose client is a well-known whisky brand, is that marketers will flood their social media posts with, for exampe, images of a whisky bottle. Despite these images being bland, they have proven to be successful at generating 'likes'.
"Responsible advertisers should already be employing strategies that focus attention away from vanity metrics such as ‘likes’ and instead towards measuring ROI through relevancy of audience and more meaningful engagement such as click-throughs," Williams added.
Therefore, by getting rid of so-called "vanity metrics", the influencer economy should actually become more legitimate.
However, according to VaynerMedia’s head of strategy DuBose Cole, the right engagement metrics depend on the business objective.
"If the goal is to drive awareness, then reach and views might be important," Cole said. "If the goal is to drive a direct response, such as website visit, then clicks and conversion via the Facebook Pixel may be the best KPIs to measure.
"From an organic perspective, we suspect comments will increase across the board as Instagram creators and brands continue to find ways to drive reach via the feed."