Editor’s Note: Christina Galbato is an influencer, creative entrepreneur and online educator, teaching social media influencers how to grow engaged audiences, create purpose-driven content and grow profitable online businesses. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.
I’ve worked as a social media influencer for four years and have experienced the many positive aspects of this industry. I’ve seen the way a body positive influencers’ motivational words encourage young, insecure girls to feel beautiful in their own skin. My travels inspired an American woman to take her first solo trip to the Middle East, which turned out to be a profound transformative experience. But I’ve also seen the more negative aspects, such as the emotional stress that comes from creating content with the exclusive goal of getting as many people as possible to double-tap, or like, our photos.
As trivial as it may sound, it’s a goal that seeps into every aspect of our job. As we take photos and decide which to post, we always ask the question, “Will this perform well?”
And if it doesn’t, we take it personally. Influencers often have an emotional tie to the images they create, so when that ideal number isn’t hit, we interpret the lower like count to mean that our content isn’t up to par.
So when Instagram announced that it is beginning to test removing likes from the platform worldwide, my immediate reaction was a positive one. To me, the benefits far outweigh any negatives.
Instagram’s announcement has divided the social media influencer community, however. Likes have long been a measure of success and are used as a guide for creatives to see what’s working and what’s not.
Similar to the experience of the average Instagram user, viewing likes creates an incredible point of comparison among influencers. It shifts the focus away from providing value and cultivating community to constantly comparing yourself to other creators.
The removal of likes puts the onus on influencers to focus more on the quality of images and their ability to start a conversation with the people who follow them rather than create content solely for the purpose of generating likes. It is a shift in a positive direction and an answer to the call for social platforms to take responsibility for the impact their apps have on users’ mental health.
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I am a 26-year-old woman that has felt the impact of how fewer likes can hurt motivation and, sometimes, self-esteem. I struggle to grapple with what it must be like to be a teenager now dealing with bullying at school because their numbers aren’t quite as high as a classmate’s, without having the proper neurological development to know that likes do not equal worth in any way.
If Instagram does away with likes altogether, the way brands will partner with influencers will also likely change. After all, when considering an influencer for a campaign, the number of likes is one of the first things brands look at, along with the content, quality of comments and follower number. For as long as users can remember, likes have been a hugely important metric for basic engagement levels.
I do not envision the number of brand collaborations to lessen in any way. But it will likely change how collaborations are carried out.
The influencer marketing industry is still fairly new and most brands make quick judgments using only the ratio of number of followers to number of likes, without looking at much else. For example, the majority of Fortune 500 companies I’ve partnered with did not ask for back-end analytics (reach, impressions, saves, etc). These companies made a decision to work with me based on the number of followers and likes they could see publicly.
If like counts are no longer visible, brands should approach influencers with a pitch to work together and ask for screenshots (or screen recording videos) of their impressions, saves and shares before moving forward with rate negotiations and contracts.
This change will force brands to get smarter.
The number of likes received doesn’t necessarily reflect the true quality of a post or an influencers’ relationship with their audience. For example, though an influencer with over one million followers may generate tens of thousands of likes, the comments they receive may be generic and the relationship they have with their audience may not be strong. When it comes to promoting a brand on their page, they may not be able to influence their audience to purchase a promoted product as well as a micro-influencer with a truly engaged audience.
Brands will now need to take a deeper dive into a creator’s content and into the quality of the conversations they are having with their audience. This is the true test of an influencer’s impact and ultimately, of the return on investment a brand can expect.
Instagram’s test to explore removing likes reflect a larger cultural call for connection, community and authenticity online. I believe it would be a welcome change that all users could appreciate.