Life Without Likes? The Future of Beauty Influencers on Instagram

Scrolling through Instagram, it’s not unusual to glance at the number of ‘likes’ on a post before looking at the post itself. We’re social creatures, and we rely on social proof for all kinds of things in life. Social media makes this really easy for us by telling us how many people think something is good before we even have to think about making a judgement call ourselves.

For beauty influencers and beauty brands, Instagram likes make it a very simple platform to negotiate. More likes = more likes; so more likes = more success.

In May 2019 Instagram rolled out an experiment. It hid all ‘likes’ on posts in Canada. And then it rolled this experiment out further — hiding likes in Japan, Brazil, Italy, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia.

The platform’s reasons for this test appear to be a response to growing unease about the relationship between social media and mental health. A number of studies have revealed unhealthy obsessive experiences related to social media likes. One report by the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health found that likes on Instagram, in particular, were connected to anxiety, depression and loneliness among young people. In a tweet, Instagram said it wants followers to “focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get.”

In the countries where this experiment has been rolled out so far, a user can still ‘like’ other users’ posts — but only the poster can see how many likes a post has. The same goes for the number of views per video; only the user who posted the video can see how many people have viewed it.

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What Does This Mean For Beauty Influencers?

Likes are important to beauty influencers and brands. Instagram likes add up to free social proof and free marketing — a post about a product with thousands of likes instantly tells other users that the product is worth buying. Without likes, social media marketing experts suggest that brands may be pushed to spend less on influencer posts, and more on sponsored ads through Instagram Business tools.

As it stands, brands and marketing agencies use likes, along with followers, comments, and hashtags, to determine which influencers are popular and how likely they are to convert sales. Taking likes out of that list of measurable metrics makes it more difficult for brands and marketers to identify top influencers.

For influencers, this change destabilizes their ability to make a living on the platform. It will decrease brand motivation to commit marketing budget to influencers, and will likely push influencers to other platforms, such as TikTok.

Head to Instagram and search the hashtag #instagramlikes right now and you’ll find over 100,000 posts discussing the trial. Some of those posts are curious — considering questions such as how will this change Instagram culture? and will this be good for mental health on social media?. Other posts, however, highlight the imminent threat to influencer culture; it’s evident that those who make money through influencer marketing are concerned that their livelihood is at risk.

A Strategic Move For Instagram Business?

The public message is that removing likes is primarily to support a positive user experience on Instagram. But Australian marketing experts at Mumbrella note that at the moment, only 2 million of the 25 million business profiles on Instagram currently use paid advertisements on a monthly basis.

Since Facebook acquired Instagram, there’s been a clear push to increase transactional features on the platform and boost advertising revenue. Removing likes puts pressure on businesses to engage with Instagram’s in-app marketing features, rather than relying on influencers — which is beneficial to Instagram’s umbrella company, as influencer marketing doesn’t generate direct revenue for anyone other than the influencers themselves.

As well as the reduced efficacy of influencer marketing, this move also takes away the fear that businesses on Instagram may have of publishing ads which then don’t get lots of engagement. If users can’t see likes, they can’t see that an ad isn’t being well received. So Instagram is using social proof backwards — taking it away to ensure that brands can’t be damaged by choosing to post sponsored ads.

In short, it could be that mental health is a convenient way to present the no likes trial to the public in a positive light. Whereas the reality is that the change is part of a strategy to redirect advertising revenue away from influencers and towards Facebook-owned Instagram.

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Goodness???? Eyes @alexandra_anele lips @rebellebeautyx #glamour #beauty #makeup

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Could Influencers Find A New Way Of Using Instagram?

All is not lost for influencers on Instagram just yet. While brands may put more of their money into paid ads rather than influencers in the short term, those ads won’t build consumer loyalty and spread a brand’s message in the way that influencers do. Because for all the flaws of influencer marketing, the key benefit is that influencers are humans; and people with personalities, beliefs, desires and relatable insecurities are far better at connecting with an audience than traditional ads.

It’s possible that influencers at the forefront of creativity in their fields will embrace the opportunities that crop up as a result of likes being taken away. They could change their focus from likes to comments — and more comments means even more engagement, connection, and loyalty. Influencers could work hard to generate more creative and engaging content to inspire followers to comment and share. And quality over quantity has the potential to generate solid conversions for beauty brands who are dedicated to connecting with their ideal audience.