January 22, 2020 | Blog

The Case Of The Disappearing Instagram Likes: How To Handle The App’s Potential Update

 “Likes are leaving Instagram.” These four little words have rattled, thrilled, confused, and enraged the photo-sharing app’s 1 billion active users—and the decision isn’t even official yet. 

Instagram Likes

#ICYMI 

In case you’ve been living under a rock (or focusing your time on other platforms. . .*cough* Quora *cough*), Instagram has been testing a new feature worldwide: removing the likes count on all posts and hiding that data from all users besides the original poster. 

It’s been the talk of the social media town, with influencers, brands, and hobbyists alike weighing in on whether it’s a good thing, a bad thing, or just another ploy for Instagram’s powers at be to cash in. Speaking of, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri claims the change is intended to take pressure off of content creators in the hopes of bolstering creativity—and self-esteem.

Adam Mosseri Tweet

Travel and lifestyle influencer Christina Galbato (@christinagalbato) is on Mosseri’s side. She’s joined other creators in the app’s efforts, telling CNN Business that a visible likes count “shifts the focus away from providing value and cultivating community to constantly comparing yourself to other creators.”

Of course, Instagram’s move is not without its detractors, and a few high-profile ones at that. Rapper Cardi B (@iamcardib) took to IGTV to voice her concerns, predicting that likes removal won’t get to the root of the problem it was created to solve. Her stance: hiding likes won’t change the amount of rude and hateful comments that appear on the app’s most popular accounts.

 

We can see where both parties are coming from. But only time—and an official greenlight—will tell how exactly the Instagram community will respond to disappearing likes counts. At this point, we can’t say definitively whether or not the change will ultimately be positive or negative. However, that’s not a question we’re really interested in asking in the first place.

Instead, likes removal is an opportunity for brands, marketers, and influencers to ask a much more important question: did likes ever really matter anyway? 

In the spirit of our discussion about vanity metrics vs. truly meaningful KPIs, let’s move away from the pros and cons of likes removal—and towards four Instagram marketing strategies more deserving of your attention.

Optimize Your Content For Saves

Instagram saves had a laugh at all the kerfuffle about hidden likes. It’s been a hidden performance metric on the app for years, a number that has only ever existed for the eyes of the original poster. Maybe that’s why, unlike the likes, saves have been so frequently ignored.

Instagram - saved post example

Now, it’s time for this metric to shine. Instagram saves serve two major purposes:

Saves show you what your audience truly values.

Liking or dropping a comment on a post is flattering. But a save is an even bigger compliment to your content; it demonstrates that your post is so good that the user wants to return to it later. Ranking your posts by number of saves can help you analyze the content that your followers literally want to keep tabs on and give them more of what they want in the future.

It’s likely that saves are prioritized by Instagram’s ranking algorithm.

Multiple sources report that, while likes can be beneficial, saves can give posts a much-needed push towards increased visibility and help the algorithm determine which posts are truly valuable to users. Based on the word on the social media marketing streets, it appears that Instagram uses saves as a mark of good content, and rewards that content accordingly. 

But enough of the “why”—let’s move on to the “how” of creating save-optimized content. The process is similar to writing quality web content and should start with a focus on user intent. Before posting, ask yourself:

  • What value is your content providing? 
  • Will your target audience find it informative, interesting, or influential? 
  • Does it have re-read or rewatch value?

To drive your post saves, take cues from your longer form content. Experiment with placing key information in the post images and in the post caption. Find other popular accounts in your space for inspiration, like Career Contessa (@careercontessa). The career gurus behind this women-in-business themed account are experts at injecting saveable advice into images on their feed.

Career Contessa post content

Make Your Audience Part of Your Content  

People like to be heard. Thanks to apps like Instagram, we feel we can be—even by famous figures and large corporations we wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise. Social media audiences like to feel included and recognized… and you don’t have to be Jennifer Aniston (@jenniferaniston) or Coca-Cola (@cocacola) to make people feel good about being noticed.

Invite your target audience into your content strategy and show them some love by:

Engaging with users in your comments

Thank them for their compliments, answer their questions, and don’t let their messages go unnoticed. Your active dialogue with your fans will stand out to prospective followers, especially if likes disappear permanently.

Instagram - engage with comments

Posing questions to your audience in your captions

Re-route your content back to your followers and put the onus on them. If there’s anything we can say for sure about the internet, it’s that people love to share their opinions. Asking for it outright can only help you.

Instagram - pose questions in captions

Adding poll stickers to your stories

Don’t let Instagram’s interactive story features go to waste. Bonus: like saves, you can use the poll results to inform your content strategy moving forward!

Instagram - add polling to stories

Reshare your tagged content

Let your audience members feel seen. Share the material they’ve tagged you in to let them know you appreciate their support. This will also be an impetus for other fans to tag you in posts for their chance to be featured. When resharing to your feed, remember to request permission from the original poster—you’ll avoid any legal shenanigans and they will appreciate that you asked first.

Instagram - reshare your tagged content

Grow Your Grid Consciously 

Your Instagram profile should really be treated like a landing page: a place where users can immediately get the gist of your brand by scanning your profile. And just like a landing page, users can bounce if they don’t see the point of your content. 

On your Instagram profile, your purpose as a brand needs to be immediately understandable and immediately engaging, or you run the risk of repelling potential followers. It’s a big responsibility; one that shouldn’t fall solely to your bio. 

Rather, your image grid should be used as an extension of your bio—not just a pretty collection of randomly selected, aesthetically appealing photos.

Instagram - grid view

As you curate images to use on Instagram, pay close attention to how they’ll be assembled on your profile. Whatever you’re bringing to the table as a brand, make sure it’s highlighted sufficiently in your grid. If what you’re bringing to the table is a tangible product, that product should always be featured at the top of your grid. If what you have to sell is more abstract, make sure that, no matter where someone is on your grid, it’s an accurate reflection of your brand and upholds your brand image and personality.  

Even though the focus shouldn’t only be on aesthetic. . .it goes without saying that it’s extremely important on a visual platform like Instagram. Do a test run of your posts on a platform like Buffer to see what they’ll look like published on your profile. After all, when a user lands on your profile, your thoughtfully curated grid—NOT your likes count—is what they’ll always see first.

The fragrance brand Phlur (@phlur) accomplishes this to a T. Even Instagram users unfamiliar with their products can tell that they’re in the business of eco-friendly, clean, cruelty-free scents. Beauty shots of their fragrances are featured at least once in every trio of posts on their grid, balanced with colorful lifestyle photography. Without having to scroll too far, you immediately see what their product is, what it looks like, and how it aligns with their aesthetic as a brand.

Phlur - Instagram profile

Analyze Your Follower Growth 

There’s nothing—including likes-counts—that says you’re doing something right like a follower count that rises over time. Your following tracks your performance not over one post, but over your entire history on the platform. Noting which posts triggered fluctuations in followers, positive or otherwise, speaks volumes louder about your content than likes ever could.

Another great thing about this metric: it doesn’t matter if you’re National Geographic (@natgeo) at 126M followers or barely over the 10k gate behind which Instagram holds the almighty power of the swipe-up link. Follower growth is a relative statistic, the analysis of which can yield personalized, actionable insights.

Instagram - audience insights

When you’re testing out our other content strategies, don’t let your follower count fall to the wayside. Pay attention to that number and how it changes over time. Align your follower growth metrics with your content calendar and see what matches up. Even if you’re not starting out from 10k, 5k, or even 1k followers, growth is growth; just bide your time and aim for the little wins.

What’s Not To Like

It’s easy to look at likes and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. It’s also easy to look at a lack of likes and wonder what about your content went wrong. But with likes removal on the table, it won’t be easy to even look at likes anymore. We hope that these strategies inspire brands and creators to explore these other tools at their disposal—even if Instagram decides that like counts are here to stay.

For any help you might need navigating a like-free Instagram, there’s us. Our social media marketing team will help you own your Instagram presence, like-less or not.

Megan O'Keefe

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