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Are Instagram abandoning their USP

by Eleanor Hanwell

July 16, 2021

Recently Adam Mosseri the Head of Instagram posted a video about what the team are currently working on in terms of new features.

This announcement has got a lot of marketers and creators talking, so we thought we’d delve into what is coming and what the reaction has been.

No Nonsense Summary

The video talks about 4 key areas of change for Instagram:

  • Creators – actively helping them make a living by shifting the power from institutions to individuals
  • Video – leaning into the growth that this medium is currently driving online
  • Shopping – supporting the commerce shift from offline to online
  • Messaging – moving private communication away from the feed and stories and directly into private messages

Although all of the above are mentioned, the main bulk of the video concentrates on the new features that will be introduced for video. With Mosseri directly saying that Instagram is, “no longer a photo-sharing app or a square photo-sharing app”.

With this in mind it does feel as if Instagram are abandoning their USP. But are they and if they are, is this really a bad thing?

Why the change

Through research, the Instagram team has found that their users are looking to be entertained. To lean into this entertainment trend, they feel that means video content. It looks like they have partly made this decision by looking at the competitors who are doing best in the entertainment space and these are TikTok and YouTube; both of whom specialise in video content.

What will change

Instagram already has video, with Reels and IGTV in particular but from the video it’s clear they feel they need to step it up in order to compete with their competitors and keep their users on the app.

With this in mind, it means they will be experimenting with:

  • Recommendations – this may be done via topics that you are interested in. The key thing here is that these are recommendations of accounts you do not follow and puts their functionality much closer to TikTok and YouTube’s current functionality
  • Embracing video more broadly – this will include full screen, immersive, entertaining, mobile-first video. Again, these changes put the functionality much closer to that of the TikTok app and YouTube Shorts

Why all the fuss

A lot of the talk online has been about how this appears to point to Instagram simply looking to copy what their competition is already doing and doing well. To some, it looks like they are abandoning their USP of images and jumping on an already crowded bandwagon. But is this really the case?

What is Instagram’s USP

To answer this question, we need to go back to the beginning, back to when Instagram was actually called Burbn and was a location-based iPhone app. Burbn let users check in at particular locations, make plans for future check-ins, earn points for hanging out with friends, and post pictures of the meetups.

However, the app as a whole wasn’t very popular as it was too complicated. But the photo-sharing aspect did work well for their users. They also found a gap in the market for a simple app which could not only share photos but allow filters to be added to improve the quality of the images. Essentially bringing a gap between the social media platforms and photo-filter apps of the time.

Looking back, it’s actually clear that in many ways Instagram’s USP is actually their ability to look at what the market needs and wants and evolve accordingly. We’ve seen this a number of times:

  • Moving from Burbn to Instagram to concentrate on photo sharing and photo filters
  • Introduction of their algorithm, which favours high-quality content that users want to engage with
  • Introduction of Stories after seeing how popular these were on SnapChat
  • Introduction of Reels, which are very similar to TikTok

Is everyone copying everyone else in the social space

What stands out from the above is although Instagram has evolved, often they’ve done this by replicating their competitors' features. But are they alone in this? I would say no. Stories, although started by Snap, are now used on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (although Twitter have recently announced they are shutting down Fleets). Clubhouse pioneered audio spaces, but now both Facebook and Twitter have their own versions. Even TikTok, who have been incredibly innovative compared to some of the other social media apps have recently added a ‘Shoutout’ option which is eerily similar to Cameo.

In fact, now it seems sensible for social media platforms to diversify in their offering. By giving their users more than one way of communicating, they are giving them multiple reasons to stay on the app and in some cases removing the need to engage the apps of competitors.

But is it always a case of social media platform vs social media platform? Again, I would say no. Obviously, Facebook owns Instagram so these two platforms work very closely together. But many social media platforms and apps make it easy to export their content into another platform. From TikTok’s built-in feature that automatically allows you to share your videos to Instagram to using Snap’s filters in a live stream, there are lots of examples of social media platforms and apps working together for the benefit of their users.

What does this mean for marketers

With Instagram publicly standing up and saying they are leaning into video; it will be very hard for brands to continue on Instagram without at least some video content. Although Instagram are not currently moving away from photo sharing completely, if video proves to be consistently more engaging for their users, it’s not hard to see that they will prioritise video content in both the feed and stories in the future.

At the moment we don’t know how quickly these changes will be released and how long any testing will take before full roll out. But we’d suggest all marketers look at their content strategy to ensure they are taking advantage of video content and if they aren’t then factoring that in now before it is too late.

Do you need help creating video content? We are a content led production agency with in-house expertise. Our team produces data-led content from video to animation, audio to content strategy. Get in touch with our expert team to see how we can help you embrace the power of video.


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