Kylie Jenner can’t save Instagram forever

In early May, Meta executive in charge of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, shared some news: the social media app’s main feed would start to look drastically different for some users.

For those in a small test group, the feed they’d been using for a decade would be replaced with an “immersive viewing experience” featuring full-screen photos and videos with lots of messages from people they didn’t follow. not. In other words, Instagram would start to look even more like TikTok, the short-form video app that Meta considers its toughest competition.

“Let me know what you think in the comments below,” Mosseri said, still serious. And with the patience of a parent showing their child both sides of an argument, he urged Instagram users to be honest with him: “If you like it, great. If you hate it, great.

And tell him they did. On several platforms where the test was announced, users responded en masse with negative comments: “awful”; “Very disgusting”; “unusable.” Some said they closed the app immediately because they didn’t like the full-screen stream so much. Others have complained about only seeing Reels, Meta’s short video format that mimics TikTok videos, and other posts from accounts they don’t follow. And this week, even Instagram users at the highest level of influence — like Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian — circulated a meme pleading with the company to “Remake Instagram Instagram,” sparking an all-out media crisis.

Just days after Kylie and Kim stepped in, Instagram relented: Mosseri said the company would phase out the full-screen test and reduce the recommended content for everyone. The company’s internal data revealed that the full-screen redesign wiped out key user engagement metrics. By Mosseri’s own admission, the recommendations weren’t as good as they should have been, a far cry from TikTok’s algorithm that seems to read your mind. The changes that caused so much backlash were not just a matter of taste. They were actually just wrong.

“When you discover something in your field that you haven’t tracked before, there should be a high bar — it should be awesome,” Mosseri said. PlatformIt’s Casey Newton. “You should be delighted to see him. And I don’t think that’s happening enough right now.

But even if Instagram temporarily pulls back some updates, no amount of memes, celebrity appeals or petitions will force the company to abandon its plan to be more like TikTok. Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook, is betting on Reels as a key area for its business as growth slows. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is ratcheting up the pressure on his employees, and other top executives are warning of trouble ahead for the company. While Kylie may have saved everyone time, Meta’s ambitions for Instagram — from leaning into recommendations to focusing on short-form video — aren’t letting up. Like it or not, this is what the future of Instagram looks like because the future of Meta depends on it.

The changes have already caused friction for longtime users. Reports indicate that engagement rates on photos, non-reel videos, and carousel posts are down more than 40% on average, posing challenges for users who rely on Instagram for their business. Users say their feeds are cluttered with irrelevant content from strangers, making it harder to view posts from accounts they follow. The gap between what users say they want and what Instagram is pushing them to has creators wondering what’s left for them on the platform.

“So Instagram hates photographers now?” New York photographer Dino Kužnik tweeted earlier this month in a moment of frustration.

For years, Instagram has been a powerful marketing tool for creatives like Kužnik. His surreal and dreamlike photographs have garnered him over 76,000 followers on the platform, helping him find new clients, drive print sales and even land photography awards.

“[Your Instagram presence] has become more important than your current website and a physical wallet,” says Kužnik. “Producers who would hire me…everyone is looking for photographers now on Instagram.”

Kužnik says he doesn’t obsessively follow the performance of his posts, but last year he noticed his photos weren’t getting the same traction as before. Kužnik estimates that his engagement and impressions have dropped between 70-80% on his account, and other photographers he has spoken to echo his findings. A survey of 81 million Instagram posts by Later, a social media marketing company, found that engagement on stream posts excluding IG Lives and Reels has dropped an average of 44% since 2019. .

The poor performance of stream posts on the platform had an external effect on Kužnik’s business. A photo post three years ago – before Reels was introduced in 2020 – might have garnered 5,000 or 10,000 likes and led to five people emailing it to buy prints. Now Kužnik says he might get an investigation or none.

The relentless pressure to do and see Reels is starting to wear Kužnik down. He plans to do a reel as a test as his engagement on posts continues to drop. But he has doubts about wanting to focus on video and fears that becoming a full-fledged Reels account will diminish the quality of his photography. For Kužnik and the thousands of others who felt the sentiment of his tweet, Instagram’s recent evolution is a reminder that the platform was just a tool from the start, likely to morph into what is considered as the most profitable.

“Their priority is capital, not the photographers’ happiness,” says Kužnik.

Instagram’s sharp shift to short-form video is a strategic move. Meta faces a series of potentially existential threats: Facebook lost users for the first time earlier this year. Meta announced its first-ever revenue drop this week. And Web3’s grand vision of the company and associated investments in the metaverse are years away from paying off – if they ever do, of course. Now Facebook is undergoing its own transformation to also behave more like TikTok. Impersonating TikTok isn’t just about hampering competition; it’s an attempt to fix existing problems that are too big to ignore.

But engineering a copy of TikTok appears to alienate longtime users, including influencers who have built their public personas — and their fortunes — largely using Instagram. Zuckerberg told investors on Wednesday that the share of recommended content users see on their feeds — 15% on Facebook and slightly more on Instagram — would double by the end of 2023. And even after Jenner and Kardashian lamented what platform had become, Mosseri made it clear that he will continue to steer Instagram towards more videos and recommendations.

“We could just don’t 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 said. Platform Thursday. “But I think that would be a mistake.”

Meta spokeswoman Christine Pai said the company strives to show users a mix of posts from friends, family and strangers, as well as a balance of photos and videos “in depending on what we think you would like to see”.

“Feedback from our community is essential to getting it right, and we’ll continue to iterate and explore new options based on what we hear,” says Pai.

For Jenneh Rishe, the piling up of change feels like she’s been left behind. Rishe, who runs a nonprofit dedicated to educating and advocating for endometriosis, says Instagram’s shift to video has improved its ability to reach its constituents. Like Kužnik, Rishe’s engagement with the images has taken a nosedive, and she worries that people who need endometriosis resources won’t know what the organization provides because they won’t see it.

Rishe experimented with Reels and found the engagement to be better than his stream posts. But being forced to do Reels in hopes of reaching people who already follow her — or new people who might find her organization — seems at odds with her work ethic around chronic disease and disability.

“I feel like the Reels engine is all about entertainment, and that’s not what I’m doing,” Rishe says.

And ironically, the dramatic drop in reach on the platform has shaken her confidence that her followers will see everything she posts, including Reels.

“I was having a conversation with my husband the other day,” Rishe says. “I’m like, ‘Do I need to go on TikTok?'”

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