How Instagram’s “hidden likes” algorithm may impact influencer marketing in 2020

How Instagram’s “hidden likes” algorithm may impact influencer marketing in 2020


Instagram has announced to start hiding likes, and you might be affected already.

Mar 4 5 minute read
Why Instagram decided to start hiding likes

In 2019, Instagram announced that they would test hiding likes for a segment of their users. This is a pretty good PR move for the social platform at the centre of a hot discussion around social media’s impact on mental health. 

Instagram’s chief executive Mosseri stated: “We will make decisions that hurt the business if they help people’s well-being and health”. 

But Instagram’s decision may simply be a smart business move, executed under the guise of social responsibility.

Rather than causing users to ditch Instagram in their droves, hiding likes will likely lead to an increase in content being posted on the platform. Because there’s less risk of posting a photo that everyone can see has “failed”, users will probably up their posting frequency.

Another benefit for Instagram is that they get control of all the analytical data. 

What are the consequences for influencers?

Let’s take a look at the current influencer business model.

Broadly speaking, there are three tiers of influencers: nano-influencers with 1,000 - 10,000 followers, micro-influencers, with around 10,000 - 50,000 followers, then you’ve got your fully-fledged influencers, with 50,000+ followers. They all work in the same way, each getting paid by a brand to promote their product. The only difference is the amount they’re paid by the brands.

Brands want to work with influencers that have highly engaged audiences. And engagement statistics are what brands or influencer agencies will look at to see how successful a collaboration has been.

Sure, these engagement stats include likes and views, but most brands will want to see behind-the-scenes analytics data too. Engagement rates, watch times and click-through rates are examples of data that isn’t publically available. 

So from a practical side, it shouldn’t affect influencer’s abilities to demonstrate their value. Likes are simply vanity metrics.

How might this affect the algorithm?

At the moment, several different factors decide what content people are served when they open the app. The most important one is how interested it thinks you’ll be in the content, based on the type and frequency of interactions you’ve had with the poster, previous content from them and with similar content from others.

Although interactions include comments, direct messages, saves and story responses, likes are by far the most common type. 

But without the social proof of seeing that thousands of other people have liked a post, what’s the incentive to like a post? You can hardly jump on the bandwagon if the bandwagon is invisible.

So what may happen is that fewer people like the posts they see, so Instagram buries the posts in the feed instead of pushing them to the top, and influencers see their engagement rates plummet.

In fact, many influencers in the countries where hidden likes have been trialled have noted a drop in likes of between 3% and 15%.

Here are three possible options for the new algorithm:
Option A

IG keeps the algorithm the same, influencers engagement drops, influencers leave to find a different platform and IG becomes a place where content shared by friends and family thrive.

Impact on influencers:
Influencers will no longer be bringing in the big bucks on Instagram, which will force them to move to a different platform where they can generate huge reach and build up followers again.

Impact on brands:
Brands will no longer have an easy way to promote products. They can refocus on building their own following, or migrate with the influencers to a new platform.

Option B

IG updates the algorithm to put much more value on non-like interactions. 

Impact on influencers:
This option will see the biggest change to the types of content that we see on Instagram. With influencers forced to seek engagement that encourages comments, direct messages or other active engagements, creators have the opportunity to produce content that’s much more exciting.

Impact on brands:
Brands will likely have to work more closely with influencer marketing agencies who can come up with creative ideas for influencer collaborations. Deep dives into data will become more important than ever, as brands will need to see the ROI in other statistics like CTRs and conversions.

Option C

IG updates the algorithm, factoring in a drop in likes and giving hidden likes more weighting to compensate. 

Impact on influencers:
Influencers focus more on collecting comments as a vanity metric, but posting behaviour stays more or less the same.

Impact on brands:
Like Option B, data will become more important than ever, but the format of influencer marketing campaigns will continue in the same way.


Which is the most likely?

Option A is pretty unlikely. If Instagram is no longer the “go-to” platform for influencers, a competitor will spot a gap in the market for a new platform that caters to influencer’s needs, therefore causing more competition for Instagram. And as a brand that’s part of Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to take over the social space, that doesn’t make good business sense.

Option B & C are much more plausible, because both options keep users on the platform. Either way, creating high-value content is still going to be the most important factor, and innovative, interactive influencer marketing campaigns will take the lead over passive posting.

How do you think the algorithm will change?

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