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On Tuesday, Twitter was abuzz about Instagram. A fresh update had finally hidden like counts on Instagram grid posts, a possibility the platform has been testing for years. Was it doomsday for influencers? Great news for baseline mental health worldwide?
Neither. It was an accidental rollout that Instagram quickly walked back. It got us wondering, though — what would a like-free Instagram mean for advertisers? To find out, we asked Dan Ben-Nun, a digital marketing expert who manages tens of millions of dollars in Instagram ad spend.
Instagram likes, today
As Instagram is now, do you think of likes as a KPI for paid ads?
I’m definitely never optimizing my paid Instagram campaigns for likes. I’m optimizing for conversions. Likes are secondary, but as an ad gets more likes and comments and overall engagement, it does tend to improve performance. It’s social proof. It makes users more willing to engage with the ad; they see it as something that has been approved by other people.
Why do you think Instagram is exploring hiding like counts?
Instagram’s CEO says it’s about “depressurizing the app,” and there might be truth to that, but I doubt that’s the entire story. Right now, Instagram is a channel where many people artificially inflate their metrics by purchasing fake likes. To counter this, Instagram’s algorithm has already been relying less on likes and more on saves and comments. The black market likes just degrade the quality of Instagram, and I think they’re trying to clamp down on that.
What would a like-rapture mean for marketing?
If Instagram hid like counts, how would that change the advertiser experience?
Brands that get a lot of likes on their ads might see a negative impact, but I think the positive impact would be that nobody would be able to judge ads by the engagement. It would even the playing field; we wouldn’t be able to judge the value of a post the way we currently do. That could have a positive impact for people and brands that have less of a following.
Would the end of likes shift the balance of power between ads in stories and in-feed?
Right now, story ads are much more effective than in-feed ads, month on month, in terms of generating clicks and views. The Instagram feed, in my opinion, is getting a little bit tired and outdated. Story ads don’t have likes associated with them — you can only view it or reply to it — and I think getting rid of likes would made story ads and in-feed ads more similar to each other.
If it were up to you whether Instagram got rid of like counts or not, what would you do?
I’d hide them. If I were head of Instagram, I would crack down very severely on spam practices — any account with more than 50% fake followers, I would block. I think hiding likes would help with that. I think it would benefit the legitimate advertisers on the platform, the legitimate influencers on the platform, everybody who's doing an actual good job by providing real value to people.
This conversation has been condensed and edited.