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(CNN) - With more than 23,000 followers on Instagram, Sam McAllister may not have an audience as large as influential people like Kim Kardashian or Lele Pons. But one of McAllister's main selling points has been its "like" number.
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It's not uncommon for an Instagram post by McAllister, a 23-year-old photographer, to accumulate more than 1,000 likes. An impressive photo taken from the top of a canal in Venice, Italy, received almost 6,000 likes. Another shot of the Eiffel Tower exceeded 4,000. With that level of commitment, he managed to build additional work, working on paid campaigns for companies such as the Aer Lingus airline and an energy drink manufacturer.
But now, he distrusts that brands can stop giving him opportunities. In recent months, Instagram has been trying to hide "likes" in several countries, including Ireland, where McAllister lives, as well as in Australia and New Zealand.
"The fact that my publications have so many 'likes' has been worth it," he told CNN Business McAllister, whose daily job is to work in the payment startup Stripe. "My main concern at the moment is that the number of followers that a user has by default becomes the main metric."
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Instagram has framed the measure as an attempt to "reduce pressure" on the platform. The thought: not getting enough "likes" can negatively affect the self-esteem of some users. But with this single adjustment, Instagram could shake some influential social media like McAllister who have worked to build a business on the platform, forcing them to adapt and make changes in their strategy.
"We understand that the amount of 'likes' is an important metric for many creators, and although this test is in exploratory stages, we are thinking of ways for creators to communicate value to their partners," a Facebook spokesman, owners of Instagram, he told CNN Business.
Within this still incipient industry, influencers and marketing specialists are now openly debating how damaging the impact of this change could be. Some, such as Kamiu Lee, executive president of the Activate influence marketing platform, expect it to initially create "confusion," but she predicts that the industry will "solve it" in the long term. Others, including Felicity Palmateer, a professional surfer from Australia with 184,000 followers on Instagram, said hiding the “likes” could make it much harder for aspiring influencers to enter the industry.
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"It stinks for people who have 'engagement' [high], but not so many followers," he said. "I would be angry."
How the Instagram influencer industry works today
In just under a decade since the launch of Instagram, a growing number of celebrities, fitness gurus, fashion bloggers, interior designers, authors and more have turned to the social network focused on photography to create followers and a new source from income. Once established on Instagram, many influential people branch out with brand content, product lines, podcasts, books and even their own online courses on how to be successful in social networks.
At the heart of this industry there is a simple premise: people can turn their popularity into profits. Sometimes many gains. According to one report, the highest paid influencers, such as Kylie Jenner, can earn more than $ 1 million per Instagram post.
Brands are often associated with social media stars in sponsored Instagram posts to reach that person's unique audience. When brands consider associating with an influencer, they take into account factors such as likes, comments, followers and the type of content they publish.
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Before working with an influencer, brands will generally request screenshots of the influencer's Instagram back-end analyzes, which offer more detailed information, such as age ranges and gender breakdown of their followers, in which countries Find your audience and how many accounts reached a certain publication.
Lee's firm calculates the commitment by adding “likes” and comments divided by followers. If the "likes" disappear, then their value will "devalue," said Lee. Hiding "likes" could create "short-term inefficiencies in the way some of these agreements are made," he said.
Not all influencers are worried. As Roz Purcell, an influential Irishman with almost 300,000 followers on Instagram, said: "We're all going to have to evolve."
Life after "I like it"
As with so many changes in the technology industry, the Instagram movement could have wide and unknown consequences. That can vary from people who may "like" fewer posts until it is harder to discern who bought fake followers.
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Several influential and marketing specialists told CNN Business that there is a concern that hiding the “likes” will make it difficult to discover which accounts fake followers have bought to inflate their popularity fraudulently. Previously, brands, and average users, could see that an account with one million followers only received 50 likes on a photo, and determine that their number of followers was probably false.
Instagram has been working to end this practice, which goes against its policies.
“When we find spam activity, we work to counteract and prevent it, including blocking accounts and deleting content that violates policies. We also constantly work to improve our technology in this area… Every day we block millions of fake accounts in the registry, ”said the Facebook spokesman.
Even experts see reasons to be optimistic about hidden "likes"
Joe Gagliese, executive president of Viral Nation, a company that connects companies with influencers to obtain agreements, said brands should look beyond the likes of anyway. He argues that they should take into account information such as the demographics of the influencer's audience and how well his person coincides with the brand and its values.
"That vanity number is not a representation of how powerful someone can be," he said. “I like them” are a very informal form of commitment. A lot of people like things without even looking at them or are so used to touching the 'I like' button. ”