For the past few months, Instagram has been testing a new app design that removes total Like and view counts from posts in its News Feed and on profile pages.

Although Instagram's parent company Facebook hasn't yet revealed any details about the experiment's results, the test has expanded to seven countries and reps recently confirmed that they're weighing change that would remove Like, view, and reaction counts on Facebook's platform as well.

Throughout the experiment, Instagram has been replacing total Like and view counts with a list of two to three handles of people who liked the post. Users are still able to privately see the total number of Likes and view counts on their own posts, but they can't see the Likes and views on others' posts.

Both Facebook and Instagram say that the goal of this change would be to make users feel less insecure about their own content or profile. The social companies have suggested that this removal could prevent users from comparing their posts to others or deleting posts that get fewer reactions.

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At Facebook's annual F8 summit, Instagram Head Adam Mosseri explained, "We want people to worry a little bit less about how many Likes they’re getting on Instagram and spend a bit more time connecting with the people that they care about.”

While Facebook and Instagram haven't said they plan to hide Page Likes or follower counts on all profiles, the current experiment comes one year after Instagram tested a profile design that de-emphasized follower counts on profile pages. Instead of having these totals appear in large, bold font alongside a user's profile photo, Instagram made them smaller and moved them under profile bios.

While various app design changes might make the platform feel less competitive to users, when it comes to the current hidden-Like experiment, many influencers and marketers might be wondering how it could affect their pages and strategies.

When I asked HubSpot Senior Content Strategist Amanda Zantal-Wiener what she thought about this change, she explained that "influencers might have to rethink their strategies and pitches because a lot of what they sell is based on engagement like Likes."

For the past few years, influencers have been paid to create engaging sponsored content that endorses or discusses brands. As marketers have sought out or vetted these influencers, they've often started this process by judging the amount of engagement on an influencer's social profiles. If influencers aren't getting Likes, reactions, or other visual signs of engagement, a marketer might think that they are less engaging or not worth the cost of sponsoring.

According to Business Insider, influencers in Canada (one of the countries where the new Instagram platform is being tested) say they are already seeing engagement on their profiles di from this change. Some of these influencers are also saying that less Likes has them feeling less motivated when making content.

Canadian Influencer Kate Weiland told the publication, "Likes are a motivation factor. Now there's no audience applause at the end of a performance. It's kind of like crickets in the background."

Business Insider's coverage came after a survey of Canadian influencers found that half of the study's participants said they were beginning to see fewer Likes and comments on their posts since Instagram's Canadian app began testing the new hidden-Like design. Roughly half of the Canadian influencers surveyed also reported a stagnating growth of their total follower count since the design change.

If this hidden-Like design test were to come to fruition, marketers and social content creators alike might wonder how this will change the game of influencer marketing. While influencers might need to come up with other ways to seem influential that don't rely on visible engagement, marketers might need to pivot how they will continue to vet influencers without seeing visible signs of social media engagement.

Here are two strategies that could change if Facebook and Instagram move forward with hiding reaction counts globally. For each, we'll give tips on how brands can continue to navigate in a Like-free space.

Strategies That Could Change With Hidden Like Counts

1. Vetting Influencers and Sponsored Content Opportunities

When marketers research or receive sponsored content-related pitches from prospective influencers or other brands, they want to know that this person or company will be worth co-marketing with. To determine this, they look for noticeable signs that the influencer or company is popular, trusted, and engaging on social media. This means marketers might investigate visible engagements on influencer or business social profiles, such as Likes, reactions, or views. Marketers might also request various engagement metrics from an entity they're interested in working with.

If an influencer or brand gets a lot of Likes, reactions, or video views on their posts, this shows that they're engaging a large group of people. Seeing consistently low counts might make marketers think that posts aren't engaging.

Without seeing these metrics upfront, a marketer will need to rely on comments, shares, and other metrics given to them by the influencer or company to determine if followers are actually engaging with their content.

Furthermore, if hiding Likes affects the engagements on posts -- like it has in Canada, an influencer or brand might need to re-focus their strategy so it improves upon other key success metrics a marketer might want to see.

Solution: Look for Meaningful Social Content.

As a marketer vetting smaller brands or influencers to work with on social campaigns, you might regularly look at Likes, reactions, views, and follows. Without these counts, it might be difficult to tell how engaging your prospective influencer or content partner is. Additionally, if this does cause influencers and brands to lose overall engagement, they might not be able to offer solid metrics that show they're continuously growing or improving on engagement metrics.

But, if you're worried about how ambiguous influencer marketing could get with hidden reactions, don't panic. According to Carolyn Kim, who manages partnerships and influencer marketing campaigns at HubSpot, this change might actually be helpful because it will force you to look at the meaningfulness of an influencer's content, rather than just engagement counts.

"Two things matter when measuring a person's power to influence, inform, and lead an audience. The first thing you'll want to measure is the quality of their posts, ideas, and storytelling. The second is how well these stories or ideas encourage or create conversations," she explains. "Removing the general Like count, while highlighting the content that's engaging your personal social circle, could be pivotal in guiding people towards more meaningful conversations."

Even if Like and reaction counts are hidden, you should try to work with influencers and brands that create meaningful posts that are both valuable to audiences and have other solid visible engagement metrics, like shares and comments. For example, a good influencer might have a long comment thread on a Facebook Live Q&A where viewers discuss the ideas they've shared on the stream

An influencer that can successfully create this type of content on either Facebook or Instagram could create content for your brand that will engage your audiences and potentially gain you more followers.

More Tips for Researching Influencers and Other Brands

On top of vetting Facebook or Instagram, you'll also have to do a little bit of extra digging and communicate more heavily with brands and influencers to determine if either person or company is worth considering for a campaign. Here are a few alternative ways to see how engaging they are on Facebook or Instagram:

  • Look at post comments: Are people engaging in discussion, tagging their friends, or asking the brand or influencer questions? Or, are their posts gaining radio silence from their audience? If the first case is true, they might be great at engaging discussions about topics related to your own company.
  • Note their Page Likes follow counts: This will give you an idea of how big the influencer or brand's audience is.
  • Examine content quality: Does their content look crisp and clean? And do they discuss topics in a way that provides value to readers or viewers? If so, they might create this same level of content for your brand's campaign.
  • Check out other social channels: You should also check out brand or influencer profiles on other social networks that will give more post-related metrics, like Youtube, Twitter, LinkedIn, or TikTok. If their posts are highly engaging, or they have a high follower count, throughout different social platforms, they might be a good influencer to partner to work with.
  • Research past clients: Have they launched social media campaigns with other brands in your industry? Or have you heard that the influencer or brand has a track record for solid ROI? If so, this is a major reason why you might want to work with this person or company.

2. Competitive Analysis and Co-Branding

Hidden Likes, views, or reactions might not impact the social media strategy of brands because -- unlike an influencer -- a company's monetary success doesn't always depend on how engaging social posts are. A customer will not go through a brand's posts and make a purchasing decision based on the total number of Likes or reactions. They will buy a product if the content itself engages and persuades them to make a purchase.

In fact, hidden reaction counts might help brands. If a post is receives a lot of reactions or results in high traffic, a brand will still be able to monitor and report those metrics. But, if a post flops engagement-wise, audiences might never know because reactions and views are hidden.

Two things that might change for some companies are how they analyze competitors on social media and how they pitch themselves for co-branded campaigns.

When it comes to looking at your competition's social performance, hidden reactions and views might have you feeling unsure about how well your posts are doing compared to other brands. For example, if you're a business magazine's marketer, you might want to look at the posts of similar magazines to see what topics engaged users and which received radio silence.

In the realm of co-branding, brands who want to co-market with companies like yours might look at your business's posts to see if they received reactions or views -- similarly to how brands might vet influencers. If your posts have solid visible engagement metrics, this could signify that your company is highly engaging and worth partnering with. But, low reactions or views might make prospective sponsors or partners worry that the company's content is falling flat.

If you're part of a small company that wants to team up with a bigger brand for a co-marketed social media campaign, you'll have to sell your brand in ways that don't rely on reaction counts.

Tips for Competitive Analysis on Facebook or Instagram:

Even if you lose reactions and views, you can still look at a brand's profile to learn about their follower count and overall content strategy. If they're doing certain types of content -- like tutorials or expert interviews -- a lot, this could be because they're gaining good metrics from this strategy. Similarly, if any of their posts are getting high shares or positive comments, you can also infer that this content intrigued or engaged users.

For Facebook page users, you can also see how similar pages are doing compared to yours. To do this, navigate to the Insights tab. Then, on the Overview page, scroll down to Pages to Watch. From there, you can add pages that you'd like to monitor, such as competitors.

Pages to Watch on Facebook Insights for business pages

Tips for Marketers Interested in Co-Branding

Like influencers, focus on creating content that's valuable to your audience, generates comments, and gets shared. This will make your content look more engaging to bigger brands that vet how interesting you are on social media.

On Facebook, you can also ask audiences to Like you in your content or ask happy customers to review you on your company page. This way, co-marketing prospects will see high customer ratings and Page Like counts. Because reviews contain testimonies from actual humans, you can also gain trust from audiences and prospective customers at the same time.

If you're worried about how you'll vet potential marketing partners or influencers, keep reading.

Why You Should Focus on Content More Than Reactions

As social media platforms continue to shift towards human connection, rather than highlighting brands, one thing will remain key to any social strategy: Posting engaging content.

Content that is high-quality and encourages discussion will be most interesting to audiences in your industry. Not to mention, posts that fascinate people and achieve high engagement will be moved up algorithmically on many social media platform feeds.

When it comes to posts, influencers and brands alike should focus on creating value for their audiences. This is content that will both achieve great metrics and be remembered.

If all this talk about influencer marketing or co-marketing has you interested in starting a social or digital marketing campaign, check out these guides on influencer marketing, co-branding, and sponsored content.

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Originally published Oct 29, 2019 7:00:00 AM, updated November 12 2019

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Social Media Engagement