The Instagram platform is a mobile-first app, and more than 60% of its users access the platform daily. With a shoppable functionality built seamlessly into the feed, it can be an invaluable advertising platform for brands to reach desired audiences. Instagram is also successful because of the power of influencers and their reliance on the platform to engage with their loyal followers, including partner advertising brands.

Therefore, the news that Instagram is trialing the removal of “likes” — its current currency — has caused a lot of discussion in the industry.

Brands and influencers may need to rethink their Instagram strategy if "likes" are permanently removed from the platform.
Brands and influencers may need to rethink their Instagram strategy if "likes" are permanently removed from the platform.

There are many reasons behind the move. Many people say “likes” provide a false validation and “chasing likes” is a contributing factor to poor mental health. For brands, “likes” have provided a metric to determine how scalable influencer are to partner with, or how much an audience engages with their brand messaging.

Despite the wide application of them, there are also a huge number of fraudulent “likes,” and users can easily access fake or turbo “likes” for small fees. This can particularly be an issue in the micro-influencer (under 10,000 followers) sphere. By testing the removal of “likes,” Instagram is removing this validation from both users and brands.

The potential move, however controversial, does provide an opportunity for brands and users alike.

Influencers will be forced to produce high-quality content with less reliance on the number of “likes” for validation. This will require a more subjective judgement on the authenticity of their work. Brands will need to focus on new and arguably more meaningful metrics to measure the success of their advertising campaigns, whether with influencers or pure platform buys.

This is a positive outcome, where advertisers will focus on true success factors: What percentage of the audience did they reach, and did the audience watch the full video, gain awareness, or shifted perception as a result of the campaign? It also puts some pressure on Instagram to provide more meaningful metrics and verification for brands when assessing the advertising platform, because, after all, what does a “like” really even mean?