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  • Will Rix

Creativity on Instagram | No Likes, More Love

What if Instagram took away likes?

“Heads up!”

The first two fabled words from Adam Mosseri’s tweet that triggered shockwaves through the digital advertising space last week. Facebook’s Head of Instagram then followed up with something even more alarming:

“We've been testing making likes private on Instagram in a number of countries this year. We're expanding those tests to include a small portion of people in the U.S. next week. Looking forward to the feedback!”

Panic? Understandably.

Why? Considering just under 80% of US marketers (emarketer) find Instagram posts to be the most effective form of influencer marketing - for perspective, only 23% of US marketers feel the same way about Facebook posts - it comes as no surprise that the potential dismissal of the most basic measurement of content performance has raised questions over how this will impact the industry.

Especially within the mainstream media, journalists are ready to merge Instagram removing likes with the downfall of influencers as if they are contingent on each other. This is a one-dimensional view of the industry - centred around ‘likes’ being the sole currency of the influencer space.

All that Glitters is not Gold

‘Likes’ have, for a long time, been branded as a superficial metric for displaying advertising performance. For brands who are still new to this space, falling into the trap of allowing a creative strategy to be replaced with setting and chasing engagement rate targets, is a common mistake. It negates creativity whilst playing into the hands of fake followers and superficial content creation.

Looking forward, how should marketers and Creators react and benefit from a potential shift away from vanity metrics to finding deeper value amongst influencers?

Whether a campaign is product-based or building brand awareness, the focus will evolve to adding niche creativity and stimulating authentic dialogue for brands. For instance, our collaboration with Burt’s Bees was entirely driven by promoting their message of sustainability. Or our collaboration with Net-A-Porter, which centred around endorsing five artists and their unique skill set, showcased the brand’s willingness to invest in the independent creative community.

@missholldollworking alongside the dramatic power of nature for Burt's Bees and@cecilia_carlstedtgiving her audience an insight into her creative process, with Net-A-Porter

Creative Work Stands Alone

And what do the creators think? Studio reached out to Whalar creator Ollie Burton (@byollieb). After several years in the highly creative area of Instagram, both as an independent creator and collaborator, Ollie is perfectly positioned to offer an experienced opinion on how this update could affect his career and colleagues.

“For creatives, I think no matter what, there will always be a demand for their services if a brand takes a liking to what they can produce. Using the influencer community to produce and license those will still be more cost-efficient than on-boarding big content producing agencies, even if this means metrics take a back seat. It will revert more towards the way television advertisements are run in the sense of target market demographic + viewer count, still with the power-house of engagement in the form of ‘comments’.

From a mental health perspective, this can only be a good thing, constantly comparing ourselves is a killer of creativity and this will help creators publish creative pieces more frequently. Creators will be able to experiment with their work and, as a result, put out better content. If some brands are adamant they need ‘likes’ to measure success then the likes of Tik Tok are waiting. Building on that, if creators are following where attention is, going and diversifying their online portfolios to include platforms like Tik Tok & LinkedIn they will ensure their businesses progression moving forwards and be less concerned about any platforms big updates. Attention will always be the currency arbitrage no matter what (in the words of Gary Vee).”

@byollieb illustrating the diversity of his creative talent - including collaborations with Vitabiotics and Brewdog.

As Ollie discusses, a move away from ritualistic content creation will help shake up an increasingly saturated space. Influencers offer brands a chance to reimagine their identity - this is most powerful when creators are able to approach a brief fearlessly, rather than being limited to chasing down likes. Whether an influencer averages 1,000 or 10,000 likes, their value is not attached to either, rather on the quality of creative work they can offer.

Another creator we spoke with is recent Trends 2020 Star Marques Emmanuel (@ma.rques). Marques echoes how letting go of your fear of judgement is positive for creative risk, alongside concerns over how it could affect the wider industry.

“I think from a young growing creative standpoint - I believe removing likes can only do two things, enable creatives alike to post whatever they desire without being judged by how many likes their posts get, which in return will enable creatives to produce more daring work. On the other hand, it will drive upcoming creatives away from the platform entirely, to use another platform to showcase their work or promote their business.

“I think only time will tell and Instagram may get more negative backlash than they anticipated, because removing likes is like taking away an influencers currency.”

Marques style has gained a cult following in the UK.

Different Metrics: Data and Creativity

As official partners to Instagram, Whalar has access to the Graph API, granting us real-time metrics that offer our clients instant and relevant performance metrics that aren’t available from the feed. If the move by Instagram takes place, it will funnel creative work into the tech platforms that can support sophisticated campaigns and offer legitimate matchmaking.

For the user experience, as @byollieb suggests, it will alleviate our need to constantly compare our figures with our peers. Refocusing on creativity and instant sharing. In some ways bringing the key aspects of Stories, the fastest growing section of Facebook, into the main feed. As Mosseri puts it, the trial’s aim is to “Depressurise Instagram for young people ... posting a bit more and liking a bit less.” From a wider marketing perspective, Whalar CMO Mike Hondorp was approached by Campaign for this view:

“The announcement that Instagram is testing removing likes (hearts) in the U.S. comes as no surprise, since they've been testing this in other markets now for a while. While this will certainly have implications for the Instagram user experience, regarding the creator and influencer ecosystem, we believe the removal of likes may lead to a rise in both creativity and authenticity on the platform.

“Without an obvious engagement metric for "success," we may find creators taking more risks personally and creatively, which is an exciting notion to consider. From an industry perspective, this will expedite the necessary focus on better and more robust measurement in the influencer space. A move away from vanity metrics towards true business objectives is positive, and frankly validating, for our industry, and we're excited to continue to prove the efficacy of influencer marketing going forward.”

What Can We Expect Next

Speaking on a recent panel for Wired, Mosseri said how we wanted to ‘take the temperature’ of the crowd regarding the update. This is true of the wider digital space, in that it remains a trial and Instagram are thirsty for feedback before they shift a core principle for their 1 billion active monthly users (Sproutsocial).

Reach, comments, impressions, saves - live data from the graph API - are useful instant tracking indicators for brands. However, as the focus on likes decreases, the shift to how influencers can impact a brand in the long term will become more apparent as an indicator of success. Whilst the creators with influence who prove their value in the wider marketing ecosystem, bring unexpected creative value, and influence consumer habits, will flourish.

Successful influencers are a brand, and the worst thing a brand become just another face in the crowd. Chasing down likes, or following what is already popular, is a sure way to avoid standing out. Marketers who work with Creators use Instagram can view this as a potential renaissance of influencer marketing. Disruption is born from complacency and this is an opportunity for an entire rethink how we could be using a space that democratised creativity on a global scale.

Creativity is always the answer to generating impactful advertising. With regards to how can support our influencers to take those risks, there is a quote legendary Creative Director Dave Trott that will withstand the test of time, medium, technology, and (most importantly) platform updates.

“Creativity may well be the last legal unfair competitive advantage we have over the competition.''

No likes, more risk, more fun.

Banner content from @anniset + @drcuerda.

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