The Question You Should Be Asking Yourself
It’s only a matter of time before Facebook/Instagram pulls the rug from under our Doc Martens. We know Instagram have tested eliminating the display of Likes from the audience (but not the user) but do not know their plans for a pandemic rollout of the experiment.
We can expect a couple of things to happen: 1) they will stop displaying Likes worldwide; and, 2) we will not get a heads up. There are compelling reasons and empirical evidence to back up these claims. First, they’ve made major policy changes in the past, unannounced. Next, there’s mounting public and government pressure for Facebook to mend its ways. And last, influencer marketing is in direct conflict with their business model. So the question you should ask yourself is not so much “if it will happen,” but rather, “what are we going to do about it when it happens?”
A History of Bold, Anti-Competitive Moves
Facebook has a history of brash moves. Startups reliant on Facebook’s API in 2016 for their super cool new app woke up a slew of broken endpoints – automated connections to user and friend information on Facebook – which would never be fixed. The same issue happened with companies using Instagram’s API in 2018. Essentially, if you don’t own Facebook, relying on them for your business model is like buying week-old raspberries from the store. Speaking of raspberries, the entirety of the US government is giving Facebook fresh raspberries on a regular basis.
It’s Easy to Hate a Winner
Whether it’s a football team, a massive tech company like Google, or a ubiquitous media company like Facebook, it’s easy to hate the team on top. And Facebook’s chief Face, Mark Zuckerberg, made the haters job even easier. In October 2019, the Zuck fumbled through answers asked by congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, displaying remarkable cognitive dissonance regarding which kinds of misleading political ads would be acceptable.
There’s also a rapidly growing awareness about technology’s “race to the bottom of the brain stem”, as Tristan Harris writes. The benefits of social media are by now well known. But the shockingly cold shower of an ad-based culture are just now bluing the skin of global societies. Because of solid research, we can count on future scrutiny to come backed with substantial data persuasive to anyone who’s angrily shared a Facebook post with a like-minded friend.
Of course the timing of this scrutiny is driven in large part by the upcoming US elections, which apparently remain riddled with Russian proxy accounts fomenting anger and spreading misinformation.
Then Twitter goes and drops the mic on October 30, 2019, banning all political advertising. Although Twitter’s value is a fraction of Facebook’s, they did poke the bear. How will Facebook react? The answer, as with so many questions about future motive, lies under the topsheet of their business model.
Follow the…You Know What to Do
Facebook’s business model actually has a few strata that are not necessarily apparent. The most simple answer is “ad revenue”. The more mysterious layers deal with exactly how you are targeted for particular ads. A lot of the quantitative “properties of you” are selectable by advertisers: your age, location, and interests. What is nearly 100% opaque is Facebook’s algorithm for who is shown which posts and ads.
Regardless of transparency, Facebook makes its money from brands and agencies creating ads. Advertisers see ROI on conversions but only billboard ROI from those ads without a link to visit a product page. Because these ROI match those of influencers, In the eyes of Facebook’s CFO, influencers take a portion of their addressable market, which is currently anywhere from 5-15% of a brand’s digital ad spend. CFOs are known for providing hard data to executives and Boards of Directors, who then drive strategy. And influencers have worked their way up from amusingly nipping at their heels to chomping hunks of flesh from their butts.
So back to the question you should be asking: “what can you do to keep your influencer business going?”
The Bear’s Breath Will Be Dank
When Instagram removes the Likes count, the doppler effect will be more intense for some segments within the Influencer Marketing world. The category which will take the brunt of the bear’s breath is “Programmatic”. These influencer solutions look a lot like buying a social ad – very scalable for the provider but the brand’s control over the content is minimal. If their pricing model depends on Likes engagement, as some do, they will have to depend on influencer self-reporting through their platform. The temptation to game this solution are obvious: these are nano or micro-influencers earning as low as $5 on a post.
For the old school influencer marketing providers, this will also mean relying on influencer self-reporting. But the level of professionalism is miles above the nano influencer so it’s less of a concern than an added step in this wonderfully human, but non-scalable process.
Is it time to look at options to Instagram? We all remember a time before Instagram, when market spend on influencer marketing totaled a few hundred million dollars. But transitioning off Instagram won’t mean the market will fall from its current $5 billion (or so) to $500 million. Influencer marketing is now a fast moving stream, deftly dodging rocks and dams to continue its course toward relevancy when budgets are set.
Instagram: Your Parents’ Social Platform
Other platforms are absolutely itching to be picked: YouTube Stories has tons of potential and, like the millennial wearing a hoodie at an upscale SOHO bar, under served.
Instagram Stories, even with their 24 hour life, are wonderfully engaging for brand sponsored posts. At Mattr, we’ve led campaigns with 100% Instagram Stories and saw engagement and conversion rates significantly higher than in-feed posts. YouTube Stories are unknown, at this point, but we’re testing now. Stay tuned!
Even more ambitious social platforms are promising–TikTok, for example. As millennials are elbowed aside by Gen Z, Instagram will become your parents’ social platform, an honorific currently held by Facebook (your grandparents’ social platform). Regardless, influencers have always found a way to get paid for spreading the word.
Everything Has a Shelf Life
Facebook has the wherewithal, history, and solid financial reasons to take away Likes. They will because they will eventually cave to their Board and governmental and/or public pressure. But regardless, Instagram’s shelf life is finite and may be no longer than your milk’s; so make your plans for a replacement today.