As ‘likes’ disappear, Malaysia’s social media influencers could lose their shine

Instagram’s decision to hide the likes count would further thin the influence of these social media icons that bank on it to demand for higher fees


LOCAL social media influencers could be losing their shine and the hiding of the “likes” count by Instagram would further dent what was once a lucrative industry for many of these cyber celebrities.

A recent study already showed local influencers are not less influential compared to their counterparts in Indonesia and Thailand.

A study by influencer marketing and management platform InfluencerDB revealed that the engagement between Malaysian influencers and their audience had witnessed a steep decline, largely due to fake accounts or inactive Instagram users.

Instagram’s decision to hide the likes count would further thin the influence of these social media icons that bank on “likes” to demand for higher fees.

Instagram has shielded the likes count, claiming the move would remove social pressure on users. The account holder can still see the number of likes for each post, but not his or her followers.

Social media presence can be a lucrative business. A recent report suggested that football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo can charge up to £784,000 (RM4 million) for every Instagram post.

Local influencers have also charged in the thousands of ringgit for each post, turning social media platforms into a money minting machine.

Influencer marketing agency StarNgage chief community officer Terrence Ngu said Instagram’s move to hide likes will favour micro-influencers verses mega influencers in the long-term.

“It marks the beginning of Influencer 3.0. Gone is the time where influencers and brands were chasing after likes or shares. The next stage of social media marketing will be more into driving real impacts which are awareness, reach and purchases,” Ngu told The Malaysian Reserve.

Ngu said Instagram’s shift would force influencers to focus on creating good content that extends beyond likes and trigger responses such as purchases.

“Be it a mega influencer or a nano-influencer, it’s about what will tick with their audience. Without the likes indicator, everyone will be on the same level,” he said.

He believes Instagram is seeking to be an enabler for e-commerce marketing or social commerce.

“This change would allow Instagram to gather data on buying behaviour, apart from the social engagement.

“Personally, I will classify this as a beginning of a new chapter, whereby Influencer 1.0 is about the follower count, 2.0 is about the relationship and engagement rate, while 3.0 is about the impact,” he said.

But digital strategist Elaine Chiou does not believe that the changes implemented by Instagram would spell the end to influencer marketing.

“The correct way of seeing it is that it (influencer marketing) becomes more optimised and democratised. It will weed out the popular influencers where their content becomes lazy and too exploitative of their audience,” she said.

She said hiding posts’ likes works to the advantage of the majority of influencers and not just the select few.

In an interview on CBS News, Instagram chief Adam Mosseri said Instagram should not be a competition and the target of hiding likes is to reduce social comparison and its associated negative impacts.

Instagram has started hiding likes in a test group in a few countries, but not Malaysia.

She added that the move is a path to returning to the roots of social media and the use of the Internet: Democratising information and fair chances for people to gain influence.

“However, as we know it, the higher a post engagement is, the higher the chance the chance of the content being served to other people.

“So, to go back to the integrity of giving people the chance for exposure, hiding posts’ likes works to the advantage of the majority of influencers and not just the select popular ones,” she explained.

With regard to marketing strategy, Chiou said there has been an uptake and it is seen as a vital component in a promotion campaign in various industries such as consumer electronics, fast-moving consumer goods and childcare products.

“There has been an uptake of social media integration into marketing campaigns in the last few years.

“When reviewing marketing plans, main stakeholders see this as a vital component to communicate new product launches or promo messages,” she said.

She added that many campaigns this year hope to drive up more engagement from the public to influence the algorithm and increase chances of the campaign going viral.

“A lot of traditional media do not have the ability to have this sort of potential reach. With influencer marketing and social media, there is a higher probability of going viral against traditional media,” she said.

Explaining what decides the key success of influencer marketing, Chiou said it boils down to the balance of three criteria: Authenticity, free entertainment and information, and relevant content.

“Of all the advertising platforms available in the market, this platform is one of the only ones that is able to create a pull and push rather than the traditional push advertising.

“That is why currently, it is one of the most influential and vital components in marketing,” she said.