Instagram engagement goes from “how many” to “who” and “how”

Girl holding coffee browses Instagram on an iPhone

Instagram engagement goes from “how many” to “who” and “how”

This week in Canada, Instagram made a change that wasn’t the highest on users’ priority list (cough chronological order cough) but could still have a grand impact on how ‘gramers curate and businesses collaborate.

Example of a no-like-count post.

In a less dramatic move than originally rumored and reported, the platform has removed the like count on posts but not the like list. Still shared publicly is who liked it, which remains clickable, making the full list of “liking” users available.

For many agencies and businesses, however, the use of Instagram is a numbers game where numbers truly count and therefore comes with the reactionary thought, “who wants to manually count likes, especially those in the hundreds?” This is where the importance of comments and communication truly comes into play on both ends.

“I see this new feature as an opportunity for the Influencer Marketing space to correct itself,” says Branding & Buzzing Partner Marian Staresinic. “In other words, now we can fairly ask for insights before we hire. Brands will need to understand that this is a positive move now that their content output does not need to focus on likes but rather the content itself.”

“I know one of the goals of the test is to encourage users to focus more on engaging, meaningful content, but I’m not sure if that change will happen right away,” added Account Director Aimee Cook. “I think people will continue to post the same kind of content because after all, we are creatures of habit. Until a new trend/style of content emerges, people will stick to what they know.”

At the time of writing, not all staff personal accounts at Branding & Buzzing have been hit with the major update, nor has the update been seen on the desktop version of Instagram in-office.

“I just found it interesting they’d even keep the list of liking users public, not make them a view-only for the person posting,” noted one staff member, “I’m also curious if likes still push your content higher in viewing order if they’re not technically counted for you but still tracked in the backend. Changing that too would make like pods obsolete and another push in the right direction when it comes to a focus on organic engagement. No more nonfluencers going into group chats and getting WhatsAppers and Telegramers to all like their post at once.”

Our Marian polled some of our local influencers and here’s what they thought of the big change:

“I don’t feel affected or upset by this change. For me, it’s not about the likes, it’s about engagement! I feel the connection that you make with your followers is what builds trust. Authenticity and follower relationships, it’s what sells. With likes, they aren’t really the true picture as they could be bots or like-for-like.” – Irene Matys

“I look at it this way. All influencers will be in the same boat. Friends won’t be “liking” something because they see their friends “liking” it. If someone likes it, they will show it. Either way, they will see it so the brand still wins. I just want engagement to stay up – commenting is more important than a heart and engaging my followers is up to me! Brands should look at this as well.” – The Lemon Apron

“It’s good for personal accounts but for business, it’s harder because clients might not see what they want to see.” – Angie Campenelli

“I do understand that some people actually do stress over “likes” but removing them does nothing to quell the emotions that come from a poorly performing post. The creator still sees how the content is performing on the back-end. I would hope that creators who stress over likes are doing so because they want to produce strong work that connects with their audience. It would be troubling if people are feeling embarrassed about followers seeing underperforming posts. As I try to wrap my head around it all, it has become more and more apparent that there are more “social” implications than an actual impact on the business side of things.” – Ryan Hinkson, Eat Famous

“I honestly don’t think this will stop people from buying likes or inflating engagement – brands are STILL going to want to know your reach, but now they’ll have to request it up front from you instead. It’s just creating an extra step in the onboarding process. But for a blogger to think that now brands will only start to care about content quality is totally idealistic – the requirement for reach and engagement isn’t going away just because it’s not public. If a brand is investing marketing dollars into a blogger, they want to know that their content is being seen and resonating with the audience.” – Lauren, This Renegade Love

“I hope this test proves to be fruitful because I think hiding likes will actually be beneficial for creators and brands moving forward. The clout of any creator and the work they publish shouldn’t be dependent on the number of likes or comments they receive. Yes, there’s merit behind the level of engagement a post gets from the public, but partnerships should also be based on the work itself. Hiding likes from plain sight might force brands and businesses to evaluate posts on the basis of its quality, and encourage them to work with creators with the vision and skillset they’re looking for.” – Brigitte Truong

“I think it’s fine, to be honest. As long as the followers stay up and I can see my like count, I don’t care if others don’t. I think some people might be buying fake accounts to increase their numbers but that being said, their engagement and insights will remain low and I think brands are aware and smarter than that.” – Chef Romain Avril