For a while, the ‘like’ count as a measure of engagement is a simplistic and blunt instrument that is long overdue for an upgrade. We should be grateful Instagram is dragging us away from it, even if we are going kicking and screaming.

The goal of removing likes is to free users from the pressure of the almighty ‘like’ count, allowing them to develop and post more creative and fearless content and spend less time ‘copycatting’ their peers’ most liked posts. Whether or not you buy that explanation or you are more cynical, the change will ultimately keep users on the platform for longer.

The marketer and influencer hysteria surrounding this amputation of the ‘like’ count echoes the industry uproar in 2016, during the shift from a chronological to an algorithmic feed. The theory behind the shift to algorithmic feed -at least publicly- was that showing users more of what they wanted to see would keep them happier, more engaged and on the platform for longer.

Did it work?

Instagram’s one billion users now spend almost 25% more time on the platform per day than they did prior to the 2016 feed change (source: eMarketer).

So there’s nothing to fear, right?

Not quite. Most, if not all, ad agencies and marketers curate the influencers they work with according to an ‘engagement’ metric – typically the average percentage of an influencer’s followers that hit ‘like’ on their recent posts. But likes aren’t really a great indicator of whether or not a creator has actually built up a reputation as a trusted expert in an engaged community with real conversations. Likes are so ‘cheap’ they don’t actually require you to think about what you’re looking at. Removing the ‘like’ count presents an exciting and much-needed opportunity to replace this tired vanity metric with some more refined techniques and strategies.

So what’s a better way to measure engagement?

I talked to some clients and friends in the industry and they’ve shared what they think are the top ten ways that we can better vet creators in a like-less future.

1. Average Comments Per Post

A bit of a no-brainer. Who is actually spending the time to engage? Look out for lots of different people commenting, not just a few commenters spamming the posts.

2. Comment Quality

Is there a real conversation happening? Look for thoughtful, meaningful comments that indicate a dedicated fanbase.

3. Instagram search tools

You can use search-tools like Strawberry Socials (for full disclosure, I built this) to automatically search Instagram to find influencers and their engagement rates, saving you all the manual work.

4. Tagged Photos

Do they have lots of accounts tagging them in posts? That is usually a good sign they’re part of a larger online community have a strong network.

5. Post Frequency

How often are followers thinking about this creator? Look for creators that are posting at least 3 or 4 times a week and have consistently active stories.

6. Total Number of Posts

The veterans have experience and are often easier to collaborate with. Look for longevity.

7. Authenticity of Followers

Do they have a real community? We recommend using a service like HypeAuditor if you aren’t quite sure if an influencer’s followers are the real deal.

8. Separate Blogs

Do they produce broader content that helps build a stronger connection with fans? Take a look at their bio for external links to websites, blogs, and other content channels.

9. Presence On Other Platforms

Do they have a following outside of Instagram? YouTube subscriber is a great place to start, but Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, TikTok and LinkedIn all matter too!

10. Your Own Judgement

Trust your instincts! Do they look like a quality influencer and a good fit for the project? You’re the expert on what you need.