Big Instagram Changes Ahead for Indian Marketers and Users?

Big Instagram Changes Ahead for Indian Marketers and Users?

Wesley Mathew
13 September 2019

Times are changing for Instagram users, both corporate and private, in India. A likely brand name change, the possible full-scale removal of ‘likes’ from the platform and its implication for brands that use influencer marketing. Plus startling revelations around the huge number of fake followers in India, mean that marketers who have made Instagram a platform of choice, for connecting with their audiences, are having to ask themselves some tough questions.

Removing ‘like’ counts

The current testing of removing ‘like’ counts from posts may have the most far-reaching consequences. Although, it’s only happening in selected markets at present – Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Ireland, Italy and Japan – Instagram hasn’t ruled out taking it into other countries too. 

Speaking to exchange4media, the Indian-based marketing and media industry site, an Instagram spokesperson said the aim was to help users feel comfortable expressing themselves through their content, rather than concerning themselves with how many likes they get. “We chose these markets to get a better sense of how the experience resonates with Instagram’s global community. We don’t have any specific timing to share right now about other countries,” the spokesperson said.

However, the ‘like’ button is a reflection of a brand influencer’s popularity and the removal of the button could change the dynamics of the influencer market.

Scherezade Shroff Talwar, Mumbai-based celebrity video blogger and former model – who has 208 000 followers – doesn’t believe the impact will be significant. “A lot of people still don’t know that a lot of influencers are being paid for partnerships. As far as brands go, ultimately they do want to advertise on the platform. I don’t think it will make a difference. The focus will shift to actual engagement. Brands will definitely focus their campaigns on influencers that are a better fit,” she says.

Santoshi Shetty, a fashion and lifestyle blogger with 633 000 Instagram followers, notes: “While on one hand, the reach of any blogger, influencer or brand gets dictated by the number of likes and the stats are usually calculated that way, on the other hand, it will clear up head space. Therefore, I feel people will stop obsessing over the number of likes. The digital marketing space will become cleaner and there will be more quality over quantity. More substance over frivolity.”

The marketing take on removing like counts

And how do marketers feel? Aakriti Sinha, National Head for Social Media at digital marketing agency Isobar, India, says: “We are in the business of engagement and numbers, and I really hope that this remains at the testing phase only. The numbers really never took the focus away from the content, but yes, it did always maintain a constant pressure on influencers particularly. It did lead them to consistently create content in various formats (sometimes overdose) to stay relevant, affecting the quality of documented content in the process.” 

She continues: “I do hope that this rings in that alarm for all the brands and influencers who were creating sub-standard content to maintain their performance in terms of numbers only. This should bring back the focus on creating rich and relevant content.”

Akshay Popawala, Director of Digital Communication/Strategy at Mumbai-based agency Togglehead, notes: “While the content will still be rooted from mass appeal, the spotlight will then be on campaigns that drive actual results of awareness, sales or click-throughs. Should the test become permanent, the process of influencer marketing will become more transparent and informed.”

The ‘bought’ follower problem

But even if hiding ‘likes’ on Instagram fails to become a significant problem for Indian marketers, what of the other elephant in the room – the report released in July showing that Indian content-creators and influencers have the third-highest number of bought followers in the world?

A global study by Swedish e-commerce start-up, A Good Company, and data analytics firm HypeAuditor, analysed Instagram accounts in 82 countries and found that the 3 regions with the most fake followers are the US (49-million), Brazil (27-million) and India (16-million). 

In a statement released to PRWeek, the international public relations industry publication, Anders Ankarlid, CEO of A Good Company, said: “Companies are pouring money into influencer marketing, thinking that they are connecting with real people and not Russian bots. In reality, they are pouring money down the drain and giving away free products to someone who acquired a mass following overnight.” 

In an article analysing the study, the India Times website highlights its own concerns: “In India, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between personal opinions and paid posts because of lack of user awareness. The data of the reports shows how easy it is for ‘influencers’ to fool not only their followers, but also marketing firms looking for influencers to promote their brands.”

Why do influencers on Instagram go to the trouble of buying fake followers?

The answer is simple: because the potential profits are huge. 

Take the example of Priyanka Chopra Jonas, the Indian actress, singer, film producer and winner of the Miss World 2000 pageant. While nobody is suggesting her followers are fake, the huge following that she commands on Instagram (43,7-million at latest count) means that she’s paid US$271 000 for a single influencer post. Virat Kohli, the Indian cricket captain (39-million followers), charges US$196 000 per post.

This puts them at 19th and 23rd respectively on the Instagram Rich List 2019 compiled by Hopper, the UK-based Instagram planner and scheduling tool. But that’s small potatoes compared to what media personality Kylie Jenner earns. Her 143-million followers help put her at number one on the Rich List 2019, as she charges a whopping US$1,266-million per post! At number two is Ariana Grande, the Grammy Award-winning US recording artist. Although she has more followers than Jenner (162-million vs 143-million), she ‘only’ charges US$996 000 per post!

The ‘from Facebook’ shift

Lastly, and perhaps irrelevant to most users but interesting to marketers, is the seemingly imminent re-branding of Instagram to ‘Instagram from Facebook’. Similarly, its sister app, also part of the wider Facebook stable, is to be renamed ‘WhatsApp from Facebook’. 

This is a change from the past strategy of allowing each app to be seen to operate largely independently. Putting distance between the brands also helps to quarantine them from the damage caused by Facebook’s ongoing privacy scandals. Facebook spokesperson Bertie Thomson has confirmed the rebranding strategy, saying: “We want to be clearer about the products and services that are part of Facebook.”  

So, what can we take away from this?

Irrespective of all of the above changes and revelations, it seems that Instagram will continue to be a key marketing channel, both in India and elsewhere. According to Social Media Today, the June 2019 international study entitled State of Instagram Marketing 2019 indicates that almost 72% of respondents believe it’s ‘very likely’ that Instagram will become a key marketing channel for them in future.

This would be reflective of both the rising usage stats and coming platform additions (like Shopping Tags and on-platform shopping), which will provide a whole range of new opportunities for marketers.

“Clearly, businesses are paying attention to the trends and are keen to get involved – and with so many planning to use Instagram more in future, you can bet that competition for attention on the platform is also going to increase. If you’ve not established your Instagram presence, it may be the time to get started, as it only looks set to become more significant,” says Social Media Today.