Adam Mosseri, who is in charge of Instagram at Meta, told people in early May that the main feed of the social media app would start to look very different to some people.
For a small test group, the feed they’d been using for 10 years would be replaced by an “immersive viewing experience” with full-screen photos and videos and many posts from people they weren’t following. In other words, Instagram would start to look and feel even more like TikTok, the short-form video app that Meta thinks is its biggest rival.
“Tell me what you think in the comments below,” said Mosseri, who was always serious. And with the patience of a parent showing their child both sides of an argument, he asked Instagram users to be honest with him: “If you love it, that’s great.” If you don’t like it, fine. “
Tell him that they did it. When the test was announced on different platforms, users gave a lot of negative feedback, such as “horrendous,” “very disgusting,” and “unusable.” Some people said they shut the app down right away because they didn’t like the full-screen feed. Others said they only saw posts from accounts they didn’t follow and “Reels,” which are short videos that look like TikTok videos. This week, even the most influential Instagram users, like Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian, shared a meme asking the company to “Make Instagram Instagram again.” This started a full-fledged media crisis.
👋🏼 There’s a lot happening on Instagram right now.— Adam Mosseri (@mosseri) July 26, 2022
I wanted to address a few things we’re working on to make Instagram a better experience.
Please let me know what you think 👇🏼 pic.twitter.com/x1If5qrCyS
Kylie and Kim spoke up
Just a few days after Kylie and Kim spoke up, Instagram gave in. Mosseri said the company would stop the full-screen test and show less recommended content to everyone. Data from inside the company showed that the full-screen redesign hurt key measures of how engaged users were.
Mosseri says that the recommendations weren’t as good as they should have been, which is a long way from TikTok’s algorithm, which seems to know what you want to see. People didn’t just dislike the changes because they didn’t like them. In fact, they were just bad.
Mosseri told Platformer Casey Newton, “When you find something in your field that you didn’t know about before, there shouldn’t be a high bar—it should just be great.” It should make you happy to see it. I don’t think enough of that is happening right now. “
Meta’s goals for Instagram
But even if Instagram temporarily stops some updates, memes, celebrity requests, or Change.org petitions, it won’t stop the company from trying to be more like TikTok. As growth slows, Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook, is betting that Reels will be a key part of its business as growth slows. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, is putting more pressure on his employees, and other top executives are warning that the company is headed for trouble.
Kylie may have bought everyone some time, but Meta’s goals for Instagram, like putting more emphasis on recommendations and short-form videos, haven’t changed. Whether you like it or not, this is how Instagram will be in the future, because Meta’s future depends on it.
Long-time users have already had trouble with the changes. Reports show that engagement rates for photos, non-reel video, and carousel posts are down by more than 40% on average. This is a problem for Instagram users who use the app for their businesses. Users say that their feeds are full of irrelevant posts from people they don’t know, which makes it hard to see posts from accounts they follow. Creators are wondering what’s left for them on Instagram because what users say they want is different from what Instagram is pushing them toward.
“Oh, so Instagram no longer likes photographers?” In a moment of anger earlier this month, Dino Kunik, a photographer who lives in New York, sent out a tweet.
For years, Instagram has been a great way for creative people like Kunik to market themselves. More than 76,000 people followed him on the platform because of his strange, dream-like photos. This helped him find new clients, sell prints, and even win photography awards.
“Having an Instagram account has become more important than having a website or a physical portfolio,” says Kunik. “The producers who would hire me look for photographers on Instagram, as does everyone else.”
Kunik says he doesn’t keep track of how his posts do all the time, but he did notice last year that his photos weren’t getting as much attention as they used to. Kunik thinks that his engagement and impressions have dropped by 70–80% on his account, and other photographers he has talked to agree with him. Later, a social media marketing company looked at 81 million Instagram posts and found that engagement on feed posts, excluding IG Lives and Reels, has dropped by an average of 44% since 2019.
Kunik’s business has been hurt by the bad performance of feed posts on the platform. Three years ago, before Reels came out in 2020, a photo post might have gotten 5,000 or 10,000 likes, and five people might have emailed him to buy prints. Kunik says that he might get one inquiry or none at all.
Instagram’s recent changes remind Kunik
Kunik is starting to feel worn out by the constant pressure to make and watch Reels. He’s been thinking about making a reel as a test because his posts aren’t getting as much attention as they used to. But he worries that becoming a full-fledged Reels account would hurt the quality of his photography because of the push to focus on video. Instagram’s recent changes remind Kunik and the thousands of other people who agreed with his tweet that the platform has always been just a tool that can change into whatever is thought to be most profitable.
“Making money is more important to them than making photographers happy,” says Kunik.
Instagram’s sharp turn toward short-form video is a smart move. Meta is facing a number of possible threats to its existence: This year, Facebook lost users for the first time in its history. This week, Meta saw its first-ever drop in sales. And the company’s big plans for Web3 and investments in the “metaverse” won’t pay off for years if they ever do. Now, Facebook is going through its own changes to act more like TikTok. Imitating TikTok isn’t just a way to hurt the competition; it’s also an attempt to fix big problems that can’t be ignored.
longtime Instagram users
But the development of a copy of TikTok seems to be turning off longtime Instagram users, like famous people who built their public personas and fortunes in large part by using Instagram. Zuckerberg told investors on Wednesday that by the end of 2023, the amount of recommended content that users see in their feeds (15 percent on Facebook and a little more on Instagram) will have doubled. Even though Jenner and Kardashian complained about what the platform had become, Mosseri has made it clear that he will keep pushing Instagram toward more videos and recommendations.
“We could just not enable videos.” We couldn’t try to make our video offering as good as our photo offering or as good as the competition’s video offering,” Mosseri told Platformer on Thursday. “But I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Christine Pai, a spokeswoman for Meta, says that the company tries to show users a mix of posts from friends, family, and strangers, as well as a balance between photos and videos “based on what we think you’d like to see.”
“Feedback from our community is key to getting this right, and we’ll keep making changes and looking into new options based on what we hear,” says Pai.
As changes keep coming, Jenneh Rishe feels like she’s being left behind. Rishe runs a nonprofit that educates and advocates for people with endometriosis. She says that Instagram’s move to the video has changed her ability to reach people. Like Kunik, Rishe’s interest in images has dropped, and she worries that people who need endometriosis resources won’t know what the organization offers because they won’t see it.
Rishe has tried Reels and found that it gets more engagement than her feed posts. But being forced to make reels in the hopes of reaching people who already follow her or new people who might find her organization seems to go against the spirit of her work on chronic illness and disability.
Rishe says, “I feel like the goal of Reels is to entertain, but that’s not what I’m doing.”
Ironically, the sharp drop in reach on the platform has made her doubt that her followers will see anything she posts, including Reels.
“The other day, I was talking with my husband,” Rishe says. “I’m like, ‘Do I need to get on TikTok?'”
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