A World Without ‘Likes’: What will this mean for the industry?

September 27, 2019

The Facebook like button was born a little over a decade ago in February of 2009. Since its inception, the like button has become deeply ingrained in the way individuals engage with others on all social media platforms, with the “double-tap” on Instagram seemingly becoming like second-nature to users.

The feature has helped propel today’s influencers, who can achieve thousands of likes on their content, and various degrees of “insta-fame” – in the modern world of influence, that’s the weight that a like count can hold.

However, the like count has not been all positive, with many studies linking mental health and self-esteem issues to the pressure of achieving high like counts. Former VP of User Growth at Facebook, Chamath Palihapitiya, said in a speech to Stanford students, “I feel tremendous guilt. The short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.” Here, he refers to how individuals have become addicted to the high that a like can bring.

With all the newfound data on mental health, a response from Facebook and Instagram was forthcoming. The companies have both been testing the removal of the public like feature in several countries for the past few months, but have left the like count visible privately to the poster.

While the positive mental health effects for social media users are clear, the potential impacts of the change on brands, influencers and marketing partners, like agencies and content creators, is less obvious. Here, we dive into the various challenges and opportunities in a world with no likes.

More Immersive Consumer Experiences

“Great influencers are redefining what ‘good’ means, and what storytelling is.”

At Advertising Week NYC, Kay Hsu, Global Director of Instagram Creative Shop, talked about what it means to be an influencer today, and how the notion of influence itself has changed drastically over the last several years. With the removal of the vanity like metric, brands, agencies and influencers alike will be encouraged to think more creatively about how to authentically generate and sustain both brand and community loyalty. One way this will be done is through comments. While comments are already a signal of brand engagement, they will now be much more of a central focus on posts as people scroll through their feeds. Great content succeeds when it’s able to create a dialogue, and inspire deeper forms of interaction. This more active form of engagement will help to foster greater brand loyalty and continue to power community on the platforms.

Influencers will be required to take more risks with their storytelling and content approach, particularly in how they might launch products, and authentically represent their lifestyles cohesively with a brand. It could also lead influencers and brands to consider entirely new forms of partnership beyond just the social sphere – like utilizing physical retail spaces to engage customers, or creating other similar more immersive experiences. 

More Shifts to Stories

Stories are a second area where marketers have been able to more effectively engage and captivate their audiences. The 2019 State of Marketing Survey Report details that 77% of digital marketers indicate that they plan to use Instagram Stories in the future, signaling the growth in popularity of Stories and their integral part in social strategy. They allow for more creative risk-taking and timely content, as they last just 24-hours and can take users behind the scenes of events, product launches and causes the brand cares about. Marketers should strive for Stories that are authentic to the brand and make optimal use of features like polls, and the “ask a question” sticker to communicate directly with their audiences.

During Facebook’s first quarter earnings call, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, shared this statement on their backing of Stories growth:

“Stories are an increasingly important growth opportunity. We are helping advertisers keep up with the shift in how people are sharing – just as we did with mobile. We’re proud to announce that we now have 3 million advertisers using Stories Ads to reach customers across Instagram, Facebook, and Messenger.”

With continual updates and pushes from Facebook and Instagram to use Stories, such as ads for the Stories feature in Facebook feeds, and placement of Stories at the top, marketers who adapt a clear Stories strategy will be in a good place to harness all the tools they need to reach their audiences.

Other elements that can be utilized are Instagram TV (IGTV) and Facebook Watch, both considered to be emerging platforms for long-form video content. In the Q1 2019 earnings call, Mark Zuckerberg detailed the reason why they developed the two platforms, “people wanted to watch a lot of video but we saw that passive consumption of video was displacing social interactions and News Feed.” These newer channels give marketers another touchpoint to interact with their audience and illustrate their unique content to continue to drive brand loyalty.

Measurement and KPIs

The removal of the like feature will be a challenge in that brands will be forced to think bigger than vanity and quantitative metrics, and go after the heavier weighted KPIs that are really impacting the brand. While we as an agency have operated with this line of thinking for several years already, the change will provide increased clarity on what creative is working, without the distraction of a like count. Marketers should lean into KPIs like the number of swipe-ups and the average percentage of Stories consumed to measure effectiveness.

For agencies and brands, the process to select influencers will differ, as the number of likes on posts is widely used to analyze an influencer’s value today. There should be a focus on quality over quantity, with the elimination of likes giving more credibility to true influencers. Those who bought their likes and follows will be much clearer to marketers, paving the path for more meaningful partnerships with quality influencers. In this new environment, an engaged following that comments on posts and reacts to stories will be the KPIs to watch.

Looking to the future

While the new environment will require change in strategy for brands, agencies and influencers, it’s difficult to say what the exact impact will be to the platform, and the social ecosystem as a whole. It is our hope that the loss of likes will facilitate more creative and engaging environments, conducive for marketers to form closer and more loyal communities. Those who do not adapt to the new features Facebook and Instagram are rolling out run the risk of being left behind, and missing vital touchpoints to connect with their consumer. Brands and agencies that are quick to take advantage of the new environment will find it will be beneficial for their relationships with clients.

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