"I see only positives here" | APAC CEO Matt Sutton on Instagram's ‘No Likes’ Trial

Matt Sutton on Facebook's move to remove likes as a measure on content and the potential impact that could have on the influencer ecosystem.

Even my mum asks me after I've posted a photo of us together online, "how many likes has it got"?  Likes have become the currency of the social media age and amongst other things show the innate need we humans have to be validated, to be loved … and show others how loved we are.  Deep down somewhere much more pure inside we know it means nothing and there are a gazillion other much more genuine ways to see and "feel" affection but when a lowest common denominator is on the table do not under-estimate our ability to run right for it.

To get a sense of what I'm talking about, understand that the most liked post on Instagram ever is a picture of an egg. Followed by Kylie Jenner. Insert your own joke here (but leave my mum out of it).

Clearly then, likes are not a good reference point for the quality of content.

I always say we get the brands we deserve. And brands, of course, are just like people.  Their desire to be loved, to measure that love and show off to the world just how loved they are is just as unquenchable; and can be equally misguided. As a veteran of 15 years in digital marketing who has lived through the rise of search, the fleeting age of ad-networks, the dawn of social and now, the creative disruption, it often feels to me that likes are to social content what the click-through-rate was to banners – a measurable statistic that misses the point and destroys the medium.

In case you missed it, the annual F8 developer conference was where Facebook announced it was running tests on removing the like count from posts on Instagram.  Influencer marketing on Instagram alone is estimated to be a USD 2b industry already and doubling year on year and with much of that predicated on driving engagement on content for brands it's small wonder this has led some in the marketing industry to ask the question; what is the impact of this going to be?  

First up, a couple of clarifications.  It's important to note this is currently only a test in one market (Canada) and Facebook is constantly trialling and testing changes to its products in these kinds of highly appropriate test markets so this may not yet become a fully-fledged feature change.  Secondly, all indications are that the test involves removing the public recording of likes on a post, not removing the ability of the content creator themselves (and as such a brand working with that creator) to see how many likes that post has got.

Instagram themselves described it as change aimed at making the user experience "less pressurised".  

So in year when the whole planet has been going through an existential crisis about the nature of social platforms and how they mirror a society increasingly obsessed with instant gratification and validation, this should be seen alongside a host of other changes Facebook are looking at to bring the focus back to "the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get".

Looking forward I see nothing but positives here.  For starters, the platform must be successful in its core utility of connecting people as a force for good in order to maintain its relevance in society and overall user affection so it's great to see them on the front foot.  Removing just one point of comparison for reach, status or popularity for those users who use such comparisons as a stick to beat themselves with has to be a step in the right direction.  A healthy, functioning platform is a pre-requisite for it being a healthy place to tell a brand story.  And secondly, brands have a chance to 'take the hint' and focus on the real impact of the content they share on achieving their marketing and business goals.  The metrics behind the metric, if you will.

In a world of omnichannel marketing, every piece of content needs to fit seamlessly into the whole brand story and narrative and be serving its purpose on an integrated marketing funnel.  Brands can and should be measuring the success of the influencer led activation using the same or equivalent metrics as all the components that are combining to drive that part of the funnel.  If you're a brand using influencers to engage consumers who are in the consideration mindset – how are you reaching them?  How many people have you engaged with and what has been the level of response and shift in mindset?  Further up the funnel, what emotions were you looking to evoke and how successful have you been in making people "feel" that way?   How has that affected how consumers feel about your brand and of course, their intention to purchase?

Technology is the great enabler of our times and it can liberate the creative voice in an infinitely more powerful way than simply chasing likes.  Authentic, inspiring content properly curated and harnessed in tandem can transform how consumers feel about a brand and drive sales.  We need both creators and brands to look beyond the like; and we need to be focused on how consumers really feel.  It will be worth it, I promise.

Matt Sutton is CEO of APAC and based out of our Singapore office. For anymore information regarding Whalar's latest venture, please contact us at asia@whalar.com

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