11/8/19 Update: Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri announced that the social media platform will now test removing like counts for U.S. users.
9/2/19 Update: Facebook also recently announced that they may remove like counts on the social platform.
At the F8 developer conference on April 30, 2019, Instagram made the surprise announcement that they would begin experimenting with publicly hiding counts of Instagram likes for video and photo posts. Third parties would still be able to see who liked a post, and theoretically could manually add up the totals themselves, but Instagram would no longer provide their information automatically to anyone other than the account owner.
For now, the testing will be limited to some users in Canada, but if Instagram thought this experiment was important enough to include in the F8 keynote address, there are likely eventual plans to make Private Like Counts the permanent and global status quo.
To get a clearer picture of what to expect in a world without public Instagram likes, we picked the brain of our Chief Product Officer at ListenFirst, Jon Farb.
What did you make of the news this week that Instagram is testing Private Like Counts?
Jon Farb: I think it’s interesting and I understand why Instagram is doing it from a platform health standpoint. It’s great because so many people get caught up in only posting to get the highest number of Instagram likes, and I think that causes a lot of stress and adds emotional baggage. People get weighed down by worrying their posts won’t be very well received and that line of thinking actually prevents a lot of content from being posted.
By removing the risk that the community will perceive a post as unpopular because it has a low like count, people will be inspired to share content more often and post content they authentically care about.
From a business standpoint, I don’t think it’s a terrible thing either. Yes, competitive analysis becomes more challenging, but in a way, it’s forcing migration to a path where every other channel of media already is. For example, if someone posts a billboard you don’t know how many eyeballs have seen it or how many people mentally liked that billboard or didn’t. Or even in the digital world, with ads and most organic content; that information is 100% trackable, but it’s not like there are engagement metrics publicly being shared about it.
So, in a way it’s not a new problem, and how we’re combating that at ListenFirst is we have a very good benchmark framework so that even if the metrics are not public where you can see one brand’s post got a million likes and another brand’s post got two million likes, it doesn’t matter. Because ListenFirst has a great relationship with all of our customers, all the client data that comes in is aggregated, anonymized and contextualized to provide benchmarks.
For that client with the post receiving a million likes we can evaluate performance relative to different types of content or the industry as a whole; and we have the ability to say that post performed 30% higher than the average post for the type of content, or for a specific season, or for a type of event. That depth of insights is going to be more valuable than ever for our clients.
Q: Twitter mentioned it might also experiment with publicly removing Like and Follower Counts; how do you think that would impact Twitter and how would that be different than Instagram?
Jon Farb: It’s a similar situation where people might not Tweet today because it’s embarrassing to only get ten retweets vs. person B getting a thousand retweets. So, I think we might actually get better content on Twitter, and more genuine sentiment as opposed to someone just trying to make a bold statement because they know it’s going to be viral. That’s not a bad thing.
Additionally, with the tools we have in our platform, specifically around content benchmarking, marketers who use ListenFirst won’t lose the context, and won’t lose the ability to see their share of voice vs. others in their competitor set.
Q: How will it work with finding the right influencers for brands to target?
Jon Farb: The changes might make it a little more challenging to find the right influencer strictly based on engagement numbers. However, if you think about how media companies sell to advertisers, they basically make a pitch for the numbers they reach, the type of the audience they hit, and why channeling the message through them is valuable. I’m not saying every influencer will be able to do this, but influencers will have to learn to sell themselves on more than public stats.
There are a lot of influencers out there that have may have hacked growth numbers, which means they don’t have the most authentic traffic, yet probably pull in a lot of deals just based on vanity metrics rather than a more in depth buy/sell conversation. This will push brands to dive deeper into the audience breakdown for influencers.
Q: What does the changes with Instagram and the potential changes for Twitter mean for ListenFirst?
Jon Farb: It validates the approach we’ve always taken at ListenFirst with getting context around content, and not just relying on a couple of key public metrics to make that happen. The public metrics were always an input but they weren’t the only input. By using our benchmarking functionality and other types of competitive intelligence tools we’ve developed over the years to contextualize the impact of their marketing, brands working with us will still see that differentiation regardless of any social media metric suddenly not being publicly available.