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Tips for creating engaging Instagram content as Instagram moves to remove likes

January 24, 2020

It’s almost certainly happening: Instagram is removing likes. Cue the high-pitched screams of influencers everywhere, for whom likes, largely, are currency. 

We’ve talked about what the pros and cons of such a move would look like. Pros: more substantive metrics and reporting for brands, less comparison for users. Cons: the absence of an obvious metric (though we’d argue that likes aren’t indicative of influencer efficacy, given the number of bots and fake accounts that can drive up an influencer’s number of likes).  

But beyond the pros and cons, how can brands create eye-catching, sales-driving content in this new, like-free era? 

Spoiler alert: it’s largely the same way smart social media marketers have been optimizing content for years now. 

  • Up your hashtag game. Visible likes may be going away, but hashtags aren’t. Make sure you’re employing hashtags that are relevant to your brand and are commonly searched by users. (We like Hashtagify.) It isn’t entirely clear whether or how Insta will alter its algorithms in tandem with the removal of likes, but hashtags will still drive discovery, so it’s important to use relevant hashtags. After identifying potential hashtags, it's crucial to scope them out in the platform to make sure each hashtag is on-brand and not completely saturated with content. #Brunch seems like an obvious choice when tagging a restaurant client's brunch items, but there are over 25 million images filed under the hashtag. This means that unless your post has some serious star power (AKA 100+ likes an hour) it will be tough to break through with that tag. Look instead for hashtags with less than 100k posts logged under them; that less-used tag will help to create more opportunity to have your content discovered and engaged with. Additionally, diving into the analytics of hashtags success on social media support platforms like Sprout Social and Later, or in the Instagram data, can be insightful as well.
  • Build community. Without visible likes, users may be driven to leave comments on brand photos instead. Just like in real life, asking questions of your audience is a good way to encourage feedback and comments from your audience. Giveaways are another great tactic for encouraging comments. Additionally, brands should engage with their community more frequently. Share user-generated content. Comment and like content from on-brand accounts like other businesses and your target audience. And don't be afraid to get a little vulnerable and transparent. The average length of a caption has doubled since 2016, which leaves a lot more room for storytelling.
  • Engage holistically with analytics. Take into account reach and impressions as KPIs for your goals in addition to engagement metrics; all of these will be important in proving ROI to clients. Additionally, reach and impressions can be strong indicators for highly engaging content given the state of the algorithm. Increasing reach on content can allow for more engagement and follower growth.
  • Increase focus on Instagram Stories. These days, many users primarily check Stories, where the number of views is invisible to them. Creating content for that space, and measuring the number of swipes, purchases, and times sent between users will help brand managers optimize content and will eliminate the conversation about likes entirely. 

Our last hot tip isn’t about content creation, but is just as crucial for marketers to drill into their brands if they haven’t already: It’s time to get serious about measurement. Let’s be clear: number of likes is largely a vanity metric. It’s time to develop sophisticated social media goals and work toward them. Less savvy brands look to the number of likes on a post to gauge its success, but now, marketers should instead take measure of how many likers and followers are taking another action, like clicking through to the website or purchasing the pictured product via Instagram. 

Ultimately, though, our conclusion is this: the removal of likes isn’t going to matter that much for brands. This policy change doesn’t affect the smart brand managers, who have been using a more savvy measurement system for years.