You’ll recall that for a few hours one day in early March, Instagram accidentally hid like counts for a very large number of users. Representatives from the company were quick to note that this was indeed a mistake, and a small test group had accidentally been made much larger. Public like counts were quickly restored, and we all went about our business. But since our business here at Likeable happens to include Instagram, we couldn’t stop thinking about what might happen if and when like and view counts get phased out more permanently, as the platform continues to hint they will.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Back when this test was first being introduced in the U.S., Instagram made it clear that users and brands will still be able to see the amount of engagement their content gets, but the metrics will not be publicly displayed in the feed. This deprioritization of public engagement metrics (or, “demetrification”) was initially billed as a step toward creating a healthier environment for users, especially younger ones, who can sometimes feel immense pressure to see their content “perform.” The idea is to decouple the value of a piece of content from the number of likes it has, but the downstream effects could have major implications for the way users currently engage with content on the platform.
1. Overall engagement may drop. Visible engagement on its own has been steadily losing appeal as a key success metric since 2014, so this change would only hasten that decline. The real question becomes: What types of engagement will the algorithm use to grade content and choose what to show in users’ feeds and Explore tabs? Will users be less likely to like a piece of content if it does not already have high engagement numbers?
2. Invisible engagements will become more valuable. Spending time with a piece of content is still engaging with it whether a user “likes” it or not. So, look for ways to maximize things like dwell time and views/view rate on your content, as well as high value engagements like comments. Video, carousels, and long captions are all tactics that can increase the amount of time a user spends with a post. Spurring conversation in the comment section via post copy CTAs and strong community management can keep users coming back for more.
3. Influencer vetting could be more difficult. When this test first rolled out to the U.S. in 2019, Instagram creators and influencers said they’d been seeing dwindling engagement. They claimed that this shift made it more difficult for potential partners to discern influencers with bought followings from real ones, and weaken their ability to evaluate audience interest in their content. Influencers will likely need to go further to prove to potential partners that they have loyal, engaged followings that are truly interested in them and their content.
4. Campaigns optimized for engagement may cost more to run. If overall engagement drops as users feel less inclined to like posts, your cost per engagement (CPE) could start to climb. You should also be asking whether you still need to run campaigns for engagement in this new environment. If engagement numbers will continue to be a KPI for your brand, we recommend reevaluating this focus. Ask why:
- If it is cosmetic—for users to see that your content regularly receives high engagement numbers; OR, this number is important to internal stakeholders—running campaigns for engagement is likely no longer a sound strategy.
- If your brand has seen success with fan growth from engagement campaigns, or if you have specific creative ideas that rely on driving comments/conversation, continue to use engagement campaigns—but closely monitor results against your benchmarks and take note of any shifts.
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