Vanity metrics are the red herring of social media. Mainly referring to the number of followers on an account or the number of Likes that a post receives, vanity metrics look great on paper, but are often viewed as elementary data meant to cater to the ego.

That’s why, when news broke that Instagram is testing hiding Like counts on photos and view counts on videos from public view (users will still be able to see their own Likes and view counts), the overall sentiment for this move was surprisingly favorable. And that’s been true for both the public and for marketers.

Some are praising the positive impact this move could have on mental health, reducing the envy and anxiety that users have been proven to experience as a result of extensive social media use.

Others appreciate the possibility that hiding Likes could alleviate the competition and one-upsmanship between creators. That’s not to say that competition or rivalry are necessarily bad things, but it shouldn’t have to get to the level of egg vs. Kylie Jenner.

For brands, however, hiding Likes doesn’t come without its faults. There are, in actuality, a few downsides. Could this first step to ending social vanity metrics be a blessing or a curse for brands?

Blessings

Diminishing the popularity contest and leveling the field

Removing the ability to view the Like counts of others could lead to an end to the popularity contest between brands that have carefully curated aesthetics, and those that may not have the resources to create similarly polished content.

This significantly evens the social playing field for brands seeking to reach and authentically engage the connected consumer, from growing startups (Paladin, Pivot Bio, Yellowbrick Data) to long-established organizations (Amazon, Sony, Johnson & Johnson).

Creating a kinder, more authentic digital world

The effects of social media on mental health have been studied and documented so extensively by now, that they’re incontrovertible. People who spend lots of time on social media experience lower self-esteem, anxiety, envy, and FOMO (fear of missing out).

There are also physical safety concerns, as people will put themselves in danger just to get that perfect photo or video shot.  

Amidst growing concerns about these problems, social platforms are seriously considering ways to reduce user pressure to pursue content for the main purpose of upping this engagement metric.

So Instagram’s move to hide Likes could feasibly move us toward a kinder, gentler digital world.

In this new environment, brands have the opportunity to innovate new, more authentic ways for building relationships with customers and clients. Maybe that will mean an evolution to your current social strategy (incorporating AMAs, producing podcasts or live streaming) or even taking a few interactions offline (mailing a handwritten card or creating physical gathering events, like the Chase BizMobile).

Whatever your approach, take the time to really get to know your audience. And always stay true and consistent with your values, because connected consumers are hyper-aware of hypocrisy and are calling brands out on it-;not just on social media, but using their wallets.

Bringing true authenticity to light

Brands understand how critical Likes are to Instagram success, since the more you get, the better your visibility.

In an effort to compete with the most popular names on the platform and be a signal amongst all the noise, those who may lack the time and knowledge to build their presence may very well be tempted to purchase likes.

But, although the appearance of more engagement may attract real users to interact with you, brands that utilize click farms for Likes risk both their account-;they could be shadowbanned, outright banned, or even IP banned, in more serious cases-;and reputation, as they’re certain to lose the trust of existing and potential consumers and clients if they’re found out.

If the future of Instagram is one where Likes have no worth, then the true integrity, authenticity, and social responsibility of brands will become much more apparent to vigilant connected consumers who want them to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

Curses

Messing with “herd mentality” could negatively impact engagement

P.T. Barnum once famously said, “Nothing draws a crowd quite like a crowd.”

To put a spin on this for the social media age, nothing draws engagement like engagement. This herd mentality is what makes people more likely to Like posts that already have a high number of Likes.

That begs the question: If connected consumers can’t see the popularity of a brand’s post, will they still be inclined to engage with them?

Not having publicly visible metrics may be a turn-off to decision-makers

Marketers may be hard-pressed trying to convince their company’s decision-makers to continue investing time and money into a social platform with no publicly visible metrics.  

They may opt for less-nuanced networks, where ROI can be clearly determined through hard data. Marketers that want to prove Instagram as a viable business resource, in a possible future where visible engagement may become nonexistent, will need to clearly connect the value of brand building to ROI.

Changing the landscape of influencer marketing, for both influencers and brands

Likes serve as a major factor for influencers proving their social value to brands. So it’s  understandable why some are concerned about how hiding Likes will impact their businesses. Could this make it more difficult for influencers to collaborate with companies for sponsored content?

Fortunately, Instagram is aware of and has acknowledged the impact that hiding Likes will have on influencers.  According to a statement, the company is “thinking through ways for them [influencers] to communicate value to their brand partners.”

On the other side of the spectrum, brands that look at content engagement before tapping an influencer to represent them now have to dig a little deeper to determine which ones truly fit their needs and offer authentic value.

This possible new world of social media without publicly viewable Likes may well signal the eventual end of vanity metrics in the future. After all, Instagram isn’t the only platform on this path -- Twitter’s twttr prototype is following a similar route.

Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, it’s important to remember that social media provides an excellent platform for brands to showcase their values and voice and reach their audience. But, in order to convert followers into new business and fans into loyal brand ambassadors, companies will have to innovate new ways to authentically connect with them.

Published on: Jun 13, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.