Influencer Marketing Without the Likes?

Nate Harris
May 10, 2019

UPDATE November 8, 2019: Instagram has announced that it will expand its global tests which remove likes from the app to the United States.

This latest roll-out confirms many marketers' prediction that the test will only continue to grow in scale.

Based on our research, CreatorIQ can confirm the following:

  1. Post data for Business and Creator accounts are still available when using a platform officially integrated with Instagram (like CreatorIQ)
  2. Personal accounts remain unsupported by Facebook's Graph APIs. Influencer marketers should encourage their talent to use Creator or Business accounts when vetting them for campaign inclusion
  3. Account authentication -- which grants 1st-party performance data for any linked social account -- is an increasingly important step in the creator onboarding workflow. Instagram's Insights API still fully supports this kind of data ingestion

As new details are brought to light, CreatorIQ will continue to keep clients updated. Our customer success and product teams are working around the clock to ensure the best service to clients amid Facebook and Instagram's ever-changing creator ecosystem.

Previous Updates

UPDATE July 18, 2019: Instagram has expanded its likes removal test from just Canada to Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Italy, Japan and Brazil. According to Mia Garlick, Facebook Australia and New Zealand’s Director of Policy:

We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love.

-via the BBC

It remains unconfirmed whether Instagram will still surface like totals in creators' Instagram Insights (or in the Insights API). It also seems that social giant has not given creators in the test countries their choice in toggling public like counts on or off.

Authenticating creators remains a critical step toward successfully measuring influencer marketing campaigns. While the space adapts to new changes, brands and agencies should continue to build out on-boarding programs that work in authentication seamlessly. Authentication lets marketers access 1st-party engagement metrics and other important data like real demographics and ephemeral content performance (like Instagram Stories).

It is also important to spot an overarching trend in our space. Between:

A few things are clear:

  • The walls between paid and organic social branded content continue to collapse. Marketers should be thinking about how they weave paid amplification and cross-channel measurement naturally into their influencer marketing workflows
  • Likes and comment totals of the future will simply be indicators of ROI success (and not success themselves)
  • Marketers should look to "lower in the funnel" metrics when gauging a campaign's success

For CreatorIQ Clients: Creator Promote and other exciting product advancements for measuring direct response influencer marketing will mean you can remain ahead of the curve.

Instagram's F8 Test

At F8 2019, Adam Mosseri – Head of Instagram – confirmed that the platform was piloting a Canadian test that removes like totals from the Instagram feed.

Lots of exciting @instagram news today, launching donation stickers and shopping from creators, testing private like counts, a new camera design and a variety of ways to fight online bullying. Much more to come!

— Adam Mosseri (@mosseri) April 30, 2019

Touted as a study on the potentially adverse effects of the gamification of social media, this change is part of a string of UI changes by Facebook Inc., including the minimization of follower counts on Instagram and the prioritization of like-minded groups in the Newsfeed.

If this test proves fruitful and Facebook decides to roll it out globally, it could mean big changes for the influencer marketing industry.

What We Know

So far, there have not been any public announcements from Instagram on the upcoming availability of data as part of these changes. While metrics could disappear from the Instagram app interface, it remains unclear if they would also be removed from Instagram's various APIs.

Social media marketers are also unsure whether the visibility of likes is a setting that creators themselves would be able to toggle, or whether the change would roll out platform-wide.

CreatorIQ’s presumption is that, much like other 1st party metrics, if a creator chooses to authenticate their business or creator account with a platform that has access to the Instagram Insights API, performance metrics for posts would still be available to marketers and creators alike.

This would mirror the behavior of Instagram Stories, true post reach, and audience data – but nothing is confirmed.

Other Platforms

On May 22, 2019, YouTube also announced that they would be rounding audience numbers down to the nearest zeroed integer. For example, a creator 555k subscribers would show as 550k; 1,633,000 would show as 1.6m.

Currently, public sub counts are abbreviated in most but not all places across YouTube. In August, we’ll make this more consistent by always showing abbreviated sub counts publicly.

Creators: You’ll still see your full sub count in Studio!

Learn more →

— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) May 21, 2019

This YouTube change will affect platforms like Social Blade (and CreatorIQ!) which track and model historical follower data over time.

CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey has also gone on record talking about the idea and potential impact of removing public metrics. During TED 2019 in Vancouver, Canada, he said that were he to start Twitter over again, he’d do so without the emphasis on followers or likes.

“If I had to start the service again, I would not emphasize the ‘follower’ count as much. I would not emphasize the ‘like’ count as much.”

Influencer Marketing Impact

Press tied to the Canadian pilot has been positive. Public sentiment seems to be that “vanity metrics” are just that – a vain scoreboard for social media popularity.

At F8, Mosseri stated that tests of this kind are to establish a “less pressurized environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves.”

Removing some of the pressure of popularity without losing the dopamine. Excellent.

— Tiffany Wardle (@typegirl) April 18, 2019

Ultimately, CreatorIQ believes that the removal of public-facing metrics could also have a positive impact on the viability of influencer marketing!

Unlike most digital marketing channels, influencer marketing needs a degree of authenticity to be effective. It cannot be fully programmatic. When branded content feels forced or contrived, it fails.

The deprecation of performance metrics in the social timeline would mean that marketers and creators alike would need to focus more on the qualitative impact of their efforts, and less on arbitrary engagements.

It would also aid greatly in squashing the fraudulent following and purchased engagement problems that plague influencer marketing. Who would buy likes if the totals don’t show?

If interaction data is eventually removed through the social APIs, influencer marketers will have to rely on other methods to measure the efficacy of campaigns – things like sales lift, conversion volumes, or real transactions.

Social interactions, which have traditionally been signposts for metrics tied to real business impact, would be challenging to replace in influencer marketing workflows -- but the positive impact would be far-reaching.

Alexa Tonner

Co-Founder at Collectively

Our most sophisticated clients are already thinking beyond the more "traditional" influencer marketing metrics - evaluating conversation sentiment and substance, Stories interactions, and conversions. Making "vanity" metrics private will only accelerate this shift toward more meaningful analysis.

Our Recommendation

If metrics such as likes, comment counts, or views disappear from the UI but remain available via the API, then working with an influencer marketing platform like CreatorIQ to measure performance will become even more integral for marketers at companies of all sizes.

If interactions become an authentication-only kind of data, then a smooth onboarding platform like Creator Connect becomes paramount for teams.

CreatorIQ recommends you don’t rebuild your processes on a test alone. There have been occasions when Instagram and Facebook run pilots but ultimately do not roll them out globally.

In the meantime, work to develop your internal attribution programs. Set up conversions on your properties that are higher in the funnel than just the target action, and used tagged links and shortlinks to map your campaigns back to your conversion data.

Lastly, think about how you will communicate with your network of creators if likes or follower counts go away:

  • How will you evaluate performance?
  • How will you set campaign requirements and prices?
  • What will you use to trigger payouts?
  • How will you measure creative tests?
  • How will the change affect vetting new creators?

You may find the prospect of fewer metrics serves as a forcing function for best practices.

CreatorIQ will keep clients updated around the deprecation of metrics across all social platforms and how our cloud will support any upcoming changes.