The ONE Thing Instagram Can Do to Solve Its Existential Crisis
Hundreds of social media platforms launch every year. However, many of these sites simply fade into the background and blend in the shadows of their successful predecessors. Every once in a while, however, a social media platform gets the formula just right and hits it big.
When that happens, we get to witness a platform’s meteoric rise under the spotlight. Adults and kids alike spend hours scrolling through it, they rave about its features, and they think it’s one of the best social networking site out there for photo and video sharing.
Until they don’t.
Those days in the spotlight rarely last as long as platform developers like, and it always ends with a newer social networking site coming in hot to steal the old site’s users, advertisers, and sponsors for themselves. It’s always a case of a new platform pushing an older one out of the spotlight if they do not continue to evolve.
Remember the days of Multiply? How about Friendster? These platforms may have become artifacts of the past, but there was a time when they were all the rage. It’s always difficult to watch something so beloved suddenly fall from grace and into obsoletion. However, there is something even sadder:
Watching platforms devolve from their identity due to desperate, often silly attempts at competing with the new app in town.
With the continued growth and dominance of TikTok, we’re seeing this identity devolution happening in real time over on Instagram.
Analyzing Instagram’s Identity Crisis
It might not be entirely correct to say that Instagram wants to be the new TikTok.
The more accurate statement would be that Instagram wants to steal back the spotlight from TikTok by any means necessary. Unfortunately, Instagram’s weapon of choice is something that could only end badly for them: the good old copycat method.
When Instagram was founded in 2010, it became an instant big hit for being the first picture-based social networking site. This started both an online and offline revolution. Surely, you remember the days when people would decide where to vacation or even where to brunch based on what’s the most “instagrammable” place that offers the most “IG-worthy” views. People would even try out death-defying poses and stunts and say they’re “doing it for the ‘gram.”
Those were the glorious days for Instagram.
Over the past four years, however, every other social media platform has jumped the ship to promoting and incentivizing video-heavy content. In many ways, Instagram was forced into it, what with the implementation of IG Stories, IGTV, and of course, IG Reels.
These features have become somewhat the focal point og Insta’s innovation efforts, while its photo sharing capacity—the one thing that sets it apart and the very reason the app became popular in the first place—has barely enjoyed any innovations at all.
Outrage From IG Users
The above-mentioned changes, paired with today’s heavily algorithmic IG feed, as well as the heavy push for its users to publish “reels” using TikTok-esque remixes has drawn quite a strong backlash from its user base.
One of the biggest voices calling Instagram out for what it has become is social media socialite Kylie Jenner, from the influential Kardashian clan. She has gone viral for sharing an IG story calling on the platform to “make Instagram Instagram again.” It didn’t help Instagram’s case that Jenner’s post was re-shared by her older sister Kim Kardashian.
Among the chief complaints from IG users like the Kardashians was how difficult it has become to find and enjoy photo content coming from family and friends on the site.
“Stop trying to be TikTok, I just want to see cute photos of my friends.” Jenner said.
This is exactly why Instagram is having an identity crisis: they are turning their back on what used to be their bread and butter, and are unapologetic about it, too.
Instagram’s head Adam Mosseri even posted a video defending their move to support, well, more videos:
“I’m hearing a lot of concerns about photos, and how we’re shifting to video,” Mosseri said. We’re going to continue to support photos, but I need to be honest: more and more of Instagram is going to become video over time. We’re going to have to lean in to that shift while continuing to support photos.”
The Meta Trend
On the other side of the fence, Facebook is likewise having an identity crisis, with Mark Zuckerberg introducing the revival of the “chronological feed” and a revamped “home” tab that is obviously algorithmic, not to mention reminiscent of TikTok’s FYP.
This has been an observable trend with Meta. They do whatever they can to acquire a company, and if they can’t, they’d simply roll out changes in their existing platforms to compete with the company they wanted to buy out.
We saw this first in 2013 when they tried to buy out Snapchat for $3 billion. After Snapchat said no, it caused the birth of IG stories. At the time, this move worked brilliantly, because Instagram was still right under and dead center of the spotlight. What we now know as TikTok was still Musical.ly, and it just wasn’t a good idea for Snapchat to turn that offer down.
In 2016, Zuckerberg made it known that he was interested in buying Musical.ly. They clearly saw the threat from the emerging platform. Thus, it comes as no surprise that following their unsuccessful attempt at a takeover, Meta is now scrambling to make Instagram as TikTok-like as possible.
No matter how we look at it, however, it may be safe to conclude that this move will not work as well as Meta’s efforts to edge out Snapchat. After all, Instagram has steadily been declining in its usagem viewership, and engagements. There’s more media being published on Insta than at any other time in its history, and yet its viewership decreases day by day.
That, and the fact that some of its most prized users are disgruntled with the changes, does not bode well for the platform.
Why Instagram Engagement Is Tanking
The pessimistic view on the future of Instagram meets stringent opposition from those who believe that Meta knows what it’s doing, based on Facebook’s continued relevance in social media.
To be fair, Instagram has enough going for it to be around for at least another decade. After all, it still functions as a digital business card, and provides great representation of people’s brands.
Still, at this rate, engagement is headed to a freefall. Once large influencers stop posting as much, it might only be a matter of time before more users fall off the wagon.
Instagram’s Bleak Options
Suffice it to say that Instagram is now the problem child for Meta. Unfortunately, it is also true that Instagram has missed its opportunity to compete with TikTok on its own terms. Its only option is to draw up a merger with TikTok, which is currently improbable, given ByteDance’s roots in China.
Or they could simply buy the next platform that gives TikTok a run for its money.
Whatever Instagram’s next move might be, one thing is for sure: if it keeps on changing its platform so much to be more like TikTok, a collapse is in the offing.
The One Thing Instagram Can Do to Stay Afloat
Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian were probably right on the money when they urged Instagram to be Instagram again. Simply put, everyone seems to be in agreement that Instagram needs to reclaim its core values and return to what made it popular with its audience in the first place—if it wants to reclaim the engagement it used to enjoy.
As I always say, a company should not burn itself out trying to win the entire pie—it’s not a winner take all game in business, after all. Instead of trying to come after TikTok’s user base, Instagram should focus on keeping those who are still on the platform happy. Now that their time in the spotlight is almost up, they should focus on the half of the pie that they can still eat—people who are willing to wait for Instagram to come to its senses and stop trying to be something else.
Picture an intervention among closest friends. One where the person whose behavior is in question gets gripped by the shoulders, their best friend rocking them back and forth, saying: “Look at me. This isn’t you.” Right now, that’s what’s happening with Instagram and their faithful users. And unless the big wigs start listening, it will only be a matter of time before there are no more interventions to be made, just a group of friends who look back at the time they spent doing things “for the ‘gram” and laughing at how cringe they were “back then.”
And Instagram needs to learn how to listen fast. Or at least, someone in the head office should Google what happened in 2018 when Kylie Jenner got sick of Snapchat and tweeted: “soo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore?”
Luke Lintz is the founder and CEO of HighKey Enterprises LLC, a Puerto Rico-based company that helps brands and influencers become highkey famous through digital and social media marketing. Through HighKey Clout’s celebrity giveaways, he triggers social growth for some of the most influential figures on social media. Meanwhile, he helps create elite brands with video, design, and press publications through HighKey Agency.
Twitter: @LukeLintz & LinkedIn