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Is Instagram one update away from becoming irrelevant?

By Safiya Pomell | Business Director



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August 22, 2022 | 7 min read

Instagram has had a rocky few weeks, with users complaining that shifts to video are damaging their experience, prompting more clarifications and recalibrations from boss Adam Mosseri. As it fights for a share of TikTok's pie, is Instagram forgetting what makes it special? Safiya Pomell of social agency Wilderness thinks so.

A neon sign of an Instagram-style heart icon, with zero likes

Is Instagram forgetting what makes it special? / Prateek Katyal via Unsplash

This month, every social marketer and instagram user has been up in arms about the shift in the Instagram algorithm. All videos will automatically become reels and the home feed will now prioritize reels-content over images. This has been a hot topic for a while, but it’s hitting a peak.

Based on clear user feedback across the internet, it looks like it just might be. With Insider Intelligence research revealing that Instagram’s user growth rate is decelerating, and users taking to Twitter with statements like "Instagram makes you not even want to post photos anymore", the platform is on rocky ground.

Instagram had a clear USP: sharing images and videos across your home feed with friends and following. Now, the home feed is a mixture of suggested content, influencers, shopping, stories, ads and of course, reels.

You could say this has made Instagram a one-stop shop, great for brands and users alike with everything in one place. But the clear disdain for these updates is based on the distribution of this content onto the home feed, impacting users' visibility of content from those they follow, whether they be friends, brands or influencers.

Previously, Instagram had these functions (reels, ads, shopping) separated across tabs, allowing users to choose the type of content they wished to consume. Recent changes make Instagram that bit more confusing, and mean that, on average, you only see 10% of the posts shared by accounts you follow.

This has made it unclear what the main function of the platform is. Generation Z and millennial users turn to TikTok for short-form; Snapchat for stories; YouTube for long-form. What USP does Instagram have now it has taken focus off images?

One of the most noticeable algorithm updates is the shift to video-first content. Users are experiencing this as additional work, with the more curated, edited nature of reels vs TikTok. Likewise for brand marketers, it means a complete shift, or at least additional effort, across production to collate usable content for videos as the platform moves away from images.

Clearly, the shift to video was to compete with TikTok, but championing features such as Reels encourages people to watch, not engage – something Instagram has been notorious for.

Instagram has explored this route to appeal to brands, creators and advertisers, but is it really in their best interest? As regular users are deterred from the platform, reach and engagement rates will decline, impacting advertisers and creators negatively. A lot of users have complained about the decline in organic engagement due to the prioritization of media buying and monetization with a reported 25% decrease in engagement across the platform over the past year.

What does this mean for the social media market?

With users moving away from Instagram, it opens up a gap for another image-based platform. We’ve seen apps such as BeReal or VSCO emerge, becoming popular among generation Z. BeReal has been around for a few years, but TechCrunch recently revealed that the app has had 7.67 million downloads year-to-date, representing 74.5% of its lifetime installs. The younger generation are looking for an image-focused platforms where they can interact only with the people and brands they choose to.

Instagram has listened to feedback before and reverted features to keep users on the platform, like the option to change your main feed to following-only. However, this feature is a function you have to manually change every time the app is is used, affecting the user journey.

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Instagram's motivation is innovation, but platform efficiency is being impacted in the process. Perhaps instead, Instagram should be looking at the return of the home feed and separating out the tabs so as to not overload users' main feeds. With over a billion followers, Instagram isn’t going anywhere soon, but there is a real possibility of the platform becoming irrelevant as the appeal for regular users to share images declines. The next few moves will be pivotal to the rise or fall of the platform.

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