Late last week, a TechCrunch story made the rounds on Twitter that Instagram was considering removing the likes count from organic feed posts. Jane Manchun Wong shared screen shots that indicated she was part of a test that was evaluating this concept.
Per the screen shot, Instagram said: “We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get.”
That sounds benevolent, and it aligns with all of the studies that suggest social media is stressing people out. But as is seemingly the case with everything else involving Facebook/Instagram changes, the ulterior motive probably boils down to one thing.
Consider this: The first thing any marketer looks at when evaluating an Instagram post, feed or influencer is engagement rate, a quick measurement of how many people, as a percentage of a feed’s overall following, like or comment on a post. If you can’t tell who’s got engagement and who doesn’t, it makes working with an influencer far less appealing.
It also becomes more likely that spends once earmarked for influencers will instead become direct ad buys with the platform itself. Measuring the true ROI of influencer marketing is hard enough. Removing critical data from the equation would only exacerbate this problem.
Estimates say the Instagram Influencer industry is already worth $2-5 billion annually, and will become a $10 billion industry by 2020. Facebook currently doesn’t see a dime of that market. But a major change to Instagram’s platform like this would quickly derail this growth and presumably start to redirect these spends to Zuckerberg’s coffers instead.
If like counts do go away, what becomes of Instagram Influencers? If they’re not already looking to conquer new territory, they should be. Short-from video sharing network TikTok is probably the most obvious landing spot, and Facebook recently launched Lasso, a TikTok competitor. Anyone who’s serious about being an influencer has a vested interest in skating to where the puck is going to be, and taking their followers with them.
The question is, will Instagram take this drastic step? I think they’ll keep it in their back pocket for a while. But it feels inevitable.