Small Business Tips

What business owners can learn from Instagram’s decision to remove “Likes”

Instagram influencer photo grip

Hands up if you can’t help but click any and every article that starts with “Influencer has a meltdown because…” I’m right there with you. Their account gets suspended and they absolutely lose control in a very public setting. I think “get a real job” and then move on to the next bit of click bait.

In the wake of Instagram’s decision to trial removing the “like” counter on posts, there seemed to be a spike in this kind of article. Influencers everywhere were calling foul. After all, their entire business model was built on the accumulation of likes.

While an influencer marketing campaign would be measured in more than just the number of likes on a post, likes are often how influencers prove they have an engaged following. Without these precious like counters, influencers will have a hard time connecting with potential advertising partners.

One influencer lashed out at the negative comments she received. She pointed out that her Instagram account was her main source of income and she had spent a lot of time building an engaged following. It’s her full-time job.

And this really got me thinking.

Whenever a business owner approaches me and says “I have Facebook, do I really need a website?” or “We use Twitter, do we really need to be starting a mailing list?” I nearly always give them the same piece of advice.

Never build your business on a platform you don’t control.

Just a few years ago, companies could rely on Facebook for organic reach. Provided you had good engagement, you could grow your following without spending a single penny on advertising. And then the Facebook algorithm changed and suppressed posts from companies and pages.

The same can be said of Instagram’s decision to remove the like counter. Influencers will now have to find a different way to prove their worth to advertising partners. For those people who have spent years and years cultivating an engaged following, they will now have a decision to make. Continue posting and hoping that their follower count and comment count is enough to convince brands to work with them, or move to another platform.

Why you should never build a business on a platform you don’t control

When you don’t control the platform, the rug could be pulled out from beneath you at any time. Social media platforms aren’t concerned with how other people use their platform to make money. All they care about is how they can make money. If removing likes makes people feel good about Instagram they are more likely to use the platform. And that means more eyeballs for advertising.

What should you do instead?

Always diversify your offering. If you have a popular blog that performs well in search and makes money on display advertising, start a podcast. If you have a popular Facebook page, build your mailing list. If you’re crushing it on Twitter, make sure everyone is also aware of your website.

When building a business, you should never rely on one source of traffic and leads. Google could change the rules, slap a penalty on your website and banish you to the bottom of search in a heartbeat. If you’ve always relied on organic traffic, you’re going to struggle to keep in touch with your audience. This is why I think writing a business plan, no matter what business you are starting, can help you to take a step back and see the bigger picture.

I always advise my clients to focus on building an engaged mailing list. It doesn’t matter if you only have 100 active subscribers. If those people open, read, click and then take action on everything you send, this is far more valuable than a 10,000 strong mailing list with a 4% open rate and a 0.15% click through rate.

How can Instagram influencers bounce back?

My advice would be to diversify your offering and establish a brand, not just a single profile. Start a blog, start a podcast, start a YouTube channel. Anything that shifts the focus and allows you to take an integrated approach to your brand marketing.

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