Instagram recently started hiding likes in six countries (New Zealand, Brazil, Australia, Italy, Ireland, and Japan) in hopes of building stronger connections between users rather than centering on vanity metrics.

While this attempt toward creating meaningful content and improving users' mental health is a positive change in some aspects, it's left businesses, brands, and influencers all over the world scrambling to understand how this will help or hurt their marketing and sales efforts

As a co-founder of a content marketing company, Masthead Media, I'm personally invested in how this change will impact brands on Instagram--and want to help brands get ahead of the changes. Here's how I recommend adjusting your social strategy to become less reliant upon public-facing likes--and focus on giving IG (and, yes, your users!) what it wants.

1. Create quality content that engages users.

Feel like you've heard this one before? You'd be surprised at how many brands (and their social agencies) are still only thinking of their own marketing needs--and what they're trying to push--rather than their audiences' passion points.

If people can no longer see how many likes a photo generates, it will become even more essential to develop high-quality content that speaks to your followers' interests and makes them want to comment on your photos.

Comments are going to become the new likes.

So, you need to produce content that sparks conversations in your comment section. 

Make sure the content you're posting is relevant, interesting, intriguing, or educational for your followers--this is how you gain a loyal following who engage with and buy from your brand. 

2. Find new ways to measure success on Instagram.

Although Instagram users won't be able to see how many likes your photos get if this change goes into effect, you'll still have access to this information through tools like Insights or Ads Manager.

However, it's less likely people will like your photos at all if likes become hidden. For this reason, your business will need to analyze other types of data to determine how well your photos and videos are performing. 

You'll want to get clear on which content actually helps accomplish your business goals. Other metrics that could offer this insight are stories engagement, follower growth over time, and video and stories completion. 

3. Consider paying for targeted ads.

Photos are seen by fewer users if they don't receive a high number of likes. This fact might lead you to decide to run paid ads instead of hiring influencers if Instagram hides likes permanently. Paying for targeted ads ensures people see your pictures and videos. 

If likes are hidden, small businesses, in particular, will want to run targeted ads. It's always been a struggle for small businesses to stand out against big brands that drive sales through social proof.

In a world where likes are hidden, small businesses can target a specific audience with paid ads and get higher sales, engagement, and click-through rates. 

4. Spot fake influencers through comments.

Many companies look at an influencer's likes or followers before hiring them to market their products or services. 

If likes are hidden, brands will have to find other ways to separate influencers with fake or purchased followers from those who have an authentic audience. This will require businesses to focus more closely on the content influencers make--and more carefully read the conversations happening in the influencers' comments. 

Published on: Aug 26, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.