Instagram's Like Removal Calls For Influencer Marketing Renaissance

After removing likes for certain users in markets across the globe, Instagram launched this test for select profiles in the United States this month. As opposed to a public like-count, users will only have visibility into whether ‘others,’ ‘thousands of others,’ or ‘millions of others’ have liked in-feed Instagram content. With the hopes of improving mental health of users, CEO Adam Mosseri noted this change is not yet final, but will become a worldwide test soon. Influencers argue this change will impact their ability to work with brands and decrease overall engagement. However, non-public Instagram Story view counts do not support this claim. Regardless of whether the like removal rolls out permanently, brands need to be prepared and take this opportunity to evolve and enhance their influencer efforts. Here are five things brands should be doing to maximize their influencer marketing campaigns:

Mandate Branded Content Tool Adoption

Although influencers can still caption #ad above the fold for in-feed Instagram posts and comply with FTC stipulations without leveraging the Branded Content Tool, brands are foregoing added value paid promotion and in-platform reporting that the tool enables. With the removal of public likes, brands using impressions and engagement as success metrics without the tool will rely solely on data the influencer pushes back to them. We do not recommend working with influencers unless they use the Branded Content Tool because unverifiable screen shots of performance are no longer viable reporting solutions.

Look Beyond Engagement

Facebook conversion tracking rolled out in 2015, sparking a social tracking renaissance and proving there is no correlation between likes and brand lift, nor between likes and conversions. Yet, according to Influencer Marketing Hub, 90% of marketers use engagement as their main influencer KPI. Although influencer attribution is not as advanced as other channels (arguably where paid social was five years ago), platforms are finally starting to provide business-driving solutions. Instagram’s new organic Checkout feature, which allows brands and select influencers to drive in-app purchases of tagged products, pushes for stronger measurement within the space. The removal of likes echoes this narrative and is expected to grow the mere 29% of marketers who currently use tangible tracking capabilities (swipe-up links, custom Bitlys, affiliate codes, individual landing page and pixel tracking, etc.).

Authenticate Influencers Through Technology Partners

As search, social, and all performance channels have proven, as each space evolves, technology partners may be needed to best launch, optimize, and analyze campaign performance. Within the influencer space, technology partners are even more vital. Influencer marketing is rarely discussed without fraud and brand safety being a conversation focal point. With the removal of likes and engagement numbers, brands should not fall back on follower count when selecting influencers. Vetting only authenticated influencers or mandating prospective influencers authenticate ensures sophisticated vetting, selection, and activation and accurate performance reporting through advanced measurement solutions. ‘Authenticating’ is when an influencer opts into a third-party that is part of Instagram’s API partnership program, allowing access to all profile and reporting analytics.

Maintain Evergreen Influencer Presence/Relationships

One-off campaigns are the norm when brands activate within the influencer space. However, as the space matures and costs increase in the ways outlined above, an evergreen influencer presence will ultimately help decrease overhead costs, while building an authentic relationship with selected influencers and their followers that drive conversions. Frequency and brand love are needed for any brand to drive sales. Even though influencers have built-in loyalty with their audience by nature, a one-time activation with a brand will not be as effective as a longer-term partnership with top-performing influencers.

Integrate With All Channels

Influencer campaigns should never be planned in a silo. If brands only include organic posts in a contract, they are missing out on ways the influencer campaign could be scaled across channels at little to no added cost. Prior to any activation, brands must set parameters of what they need from the influencer. This should include whitelisting approval, asset ownership, extended advertising rights beyond campaign duration, and non-compete clauses. These are a few of many opportunities that are often overlooked. With the above in place, influencer likeness and content can be scaled across paid social, search, e-mail, PR, and traditional media, increasing overall campaign frequency and return.

Although the removal of likes has already created a stir among influencers and brands, this test will push for greater influencer marketing accountability and likely spark even greater changes to the space. Brands must recognize and adapt to these changes to prime themselves for success as influencer marketing becomes a more prominent.