Marketers and agencies should 'like' Instagram's plans to publicly hide metrics

Whatever the motivations are for Facebook to hide 'likes' on Instagram posts, marketers and agencies should welcome any moves that push the industry away from vanity metrics.

PRWeek UK news editor Arvind Hickman says hiding 'likes' can be a good thing
PRWeek UK news editor Arvind Hickman says hiding 'likes' can be a good thing

Instagram says its trial to hide ‘likes’ on posts is being driven by mental health concerns. Research shows that the ability to ‘like’ posts is addictive – described by Splendid Communications’ Alex Clough as similar to being hooked on drugs.

Cynics and some ‘influencers’ argue that Instagram’s decision probably has more to do with the social media network nudging brands towards paid advertising.

Agency 'thrives' after ditching social media and influencers to focus on traditional PR

Frankly – whatever the reason – marketers and agencies should embrace any changes that move the industry away from vanity metrics and encourage brands to work harder and smarter for influencer success.

Edelman’s head of influencer Philip Trippenbach says there has been a client backlash against influencer marketing after negative publicity in recent times, including the Fyre Festival fallout and several online stars (such as Logan Paul and PewDiePie) posting controversial content, while other senior marketers like Keith Weed have previously expressed concerns.

Brand safety and social benefits concerns aside, the measurement of influencer campaigns has often relied upon vanity metrics such as ‘followers’ and ‘likes’ to select talent and then evaluate their success. 

I recall one example when a well-known toothpaste brand hosted a dinner for influencers at a fancy restaurant in Sydney. The activity, which cost thousands of dollars, yielded awkward Instagram photos of toothpaste tubes shoved next to dishes of fancy food. It was deemed a success on the back of the combined follower numbers of the influencers in attendance and the number of likes the posts received. 

Not once was the success of the campaign framed in terms of toothpaste sales, how such stunts shift share of market or other more meaningful indicators. 

I don’t think anyone who ‘liked’ an image of mint-flavoured tooth cleaner shoved next to posh asparagus and lamb thought: "I’m definitely jumping onto the Macleans bandwagon now". 

Unfortunately, this is one of several ropey examples I’ve been exposed to in my time covering influencer marketing, and it needs to stop for the category to mature and be taken seriously.

Marketers don’t ‘like’ Insta-fraud

The other more pernicious problem with vanity metrics is that they are incredibly easy to fake. Type ‘buy likes’ into Google and you are hit with literally dozens of snake oil sales people promising you that you can buy likes for as little 6 cents per 100.

There are also ‘pods’ – closed websites where influencers can like each others’ posts to artificially drive reach and perceived credibility.

A whole cottage industry has sprouted to help ‘influencers’ lie about the engagement they receive on posts in order to win more work. A recent study shows that more than 50 per cent of ‘influencers’ are engaged in some sort of fakery and it’s a major issue that is predicted to cost marketers $1.5 billion next year.

Although it is difficult to accurately predict the full extent of fakery – it’s clearly a problem and anything that helps weed out the bad apples should be applauded.

Savvy marketers and their agency advisers already realise vanity metrics have limited value. This move by Instagram – if it is rolled out permanently – should hopefully deter some of the narcissism and curation of Insta-perfect lives that place increasing pressure on people, and can lead to cyberbullying, the constant comparing of lives with others, and other forms of social anxiety.

For this industry, it should be seen as an opportunity for PR and comms agencies to guide clients suited to Instagram marketing towards more meaningful evaluation and influencer marketing success.

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