Skip to content

Stop Wanting to Be Liked (Instagram May Do It For You Anyway)

“You like me, right now. You like me.”

With those words (frequently misquoted over the years), Sally Field heartfully showed her gratitude for public validation in her 1984 Oscar acceptance speech.

Her words came to mind as news circulated that Instagram is experimenting with removing public validation on photo or video posts. (Twitter also is exploring alternatives to a “like”-focused atmosphere.)

Teens and influencers are wringing their hands, wondering how they’ll show the world that their content (and, by extension, their person) is popular.

But what’s a content marketer to do?

Since you don’t have time to waste, use this news as an opportunity to get ready for potential changes. And, in turn, you’ll strengthen your overall social media program.

If @Instagram does away with public counts of 'likes', will your #socialmedia strategy still thrive? @AnnGynn Share on X

1. Don’t dismiss ‘likes’ entirely

While the public wouldn’t be able to see the number of views or “likes” a post receives, account holders – and Instagram – will know.

Use that data to evaluate how your posts compare to each other. Which posts resonate better for a quick action (i.e., “like”) from your audience? What are the common themes among the more popular posts? Is it the image’s subject matter? Is it the format (e.g., photo vs. video)? Or is it the text, the hashtags, etc.? What’s the mix of people – followers vs. nonfollowers of your account – who like the posts?

Use that knowledge as you create new content – or repost/repackage old content – to give your audience what it likes.

2. But stop using ‘likes’ as a key metric

While you should analyze “likes” to help you create more relevant content, don’t make them a key performance indicator.

Don’t make 'likes' a key performance indicator for your #socialmedia, says @AnnGynn. Share on X

“Likes” indicate popularity and may be helpful to reflect brand awareness, but they don’t do much more for your content marketing program.

Pick a metric that contributes more to achieving your content marketing goals:

  • Comments (evaluated qualitatively and quantitatively) to understand what content motivates your audience to talk.
  • Shares to indicate how well your audience trusts your content (if they didn’t believe it, they wouldn’t tell their followers about it).
  • Traffic to your website from your social activity (use custom URLs for tracking purposes and/or look at social traffic in your web analytics).

NOTE: Since Instagram only allows links in the profile, it’s difficult to make assumptions on how well any single post affects web traffic. However, if you use a third-party app like to attach URLs to images, understanding a post’s effect is easier.

3. Expect other social validation metrics to rise

As some people organically migrate to other methods to acknowledge your content, the number of comments and shares may rise, inflating those social media metrics. Don’t erroneously conclude that those new-era results mean your social content resonates better with your audience. Raise the bar now – set higher expectations (i.e., goals) for number of comments and shares.

4. Ask for a few seconds of your audience’s social time

As social media audiences learn that “likes” are no longer the be-all, end-all way to show a post’s popularity, some will show their “like” by commenting, reacting with an emoji, or sharing the content.

But many won’t naturally move to those steps. They may be inclined if you invite them to participate. Ask them to share their thoughts, preferences, etc., in the comments as Califia Farms did in the example shown below. You also could ask them to invite their networks to share their thoughts on the subject. And if your content doesn’t organically warrant a conversation, ask for their reaction (i.e., “like,” share, emoji).

By taking these proactive steps, your audience will have a new way to see the popularity of your content. And you’ll see who among your former “like only” group is willing to take an added step to interact with your brand and content.

5. Review your influencer marketing program

If you have a formal influencer marketing program, you likely have written expectations and guidelines. Now is the time to revisit those to make sure they still fit with the social media platform’s parameters.

For example, if your brand measures an Instagram influencer’s “likes” to evaluate his or her performance, how will you know how many “likes” they’re receiving? Update your written agreements to address how you’ll verify the number of “likes” if (or when) Instagram takes “like” counts away.

Update agreements with @Instagram influencers to identify how 'likes' will now be verified, says @AnnGynn. Share on X

6. Recognize you don’t control social media platforms

CMI founder Joe Pulizzi has preached this for years: If you’re building an audience on social media, you’re building it on rented land. Unlike owned media distribution channels (your email database and website, for example), you can’t control what gets seen when and by whom on social media.

If social media is still at the heart of your content marketing strategy, Instagram’s news should prompt you to make it an appendage. Move your email subscription or other owned media conversion strategy to the heart of your plan.

7. Seek other methods of public validation for your content

Public validation is a good thing for brands. If people know others trust your content and your brand, they’re more likely to consume your content, subscribe to it, and eventually buy your product or services.

Showing how many “likes “a post earns is one way. Add more ways in the mix so you’re prepared in case the like display goes away:

Stop relying on 'like' count to reflect public validation of your #content, says @AnnGynn. #socialmedia Share on X
  • Curate blog posts based on comments to social media posts (don’t forget to attribute properly by including a link to the person’s social handle).
  • Publish testimonials or customer-told experiences with your brand on your social media platforms.
  • Encourage more interaction on your blog in the comments section by asking readers for their thoughts, responding to their answers, and cultivating the conversation. On social, you can highlight excerpts from those blog conversations and encourage your social audience to read more about what people are saying or to join the talk themselves.

Experiment before committing

Don’t overhaul your social media program quickly based on new or expected parameters. Make incremental changes and prioritize what’s most important to your social media strategy. Then evaluate monthly what’s working well and what’s not and adjust accordingly.

Don’t hate yourself for missing the early-bird rates. Make plans before the end of May to be in Cleveland this September for Content Marketing World. Use code CMIBLOG100 to save $100. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute