Is Instagram dying? No. But, just like a star athlete past their prime it seems like it’s begun the decline; waiting for someone new to take over the spotlight. Unlike athletes though, Instagram has the robotic ability to make mechanical adjustments and improve. It also has absolute power in the photography world and reportedly 1 billion users are on the platform each month.
Instagram is not dying.
But is it as fun as it used to be? Has it hit that wall that Facebook did about 5 years ago where the fun was sucked out of it by the business, pay-to-play system, and the fact that everyone’s mom was on their every movement? Has it stopped being cool? In social media, the lack of “cool” is often the start of the demise.
Again, no. Instagram isn’t going anywhere, and it still has power few social medias have. And more than anything, it has the power to flip a switch (much like it did with the addition of stories a couple years ago) and totally re-engage its audience.
But all that said, my love for Instagram is waning, and I think there are a couple adjustments that need to happen for my love to be rekindled.
Who’s Killing Instagram?
For the sake of this article, let’s assume that Instagram is dying. So, if its dying what/who is killing it?
The common opinion of users is that Instagram is killing itself. The thought is that the algorithms are against users creating original content and that it’s holding back users in preference of brands. The fear is that the pay-to-play system of Facebook is about to take over.
But, let me blow your mind.
Instagram isn’t killing Instagram. Users and creators are.
Instagram is a user-driven platform meaning that it simply responds to user behaviour. And, the average user’s usage of Instagram is simple: follow friends, celebrities, and escape your world with pretty pictures.
As a result, original creators (read: photographers, videographers, artists, etc.) don’t get shared out on the same level members of the other 3 categories do.
And, if I’m being honest, the average user doesn’t care one bit about creators. They jump on Instagram because they want to escape. Escapism in general, is our real reason for using social media. We want to escape to a world of celebrities and world exploration. But, while the users care about the celebrity, they don’t care about the creator of a pretty picture – only the location they’re escaping to.
As a creator, it’s hard to hear, but that’s the reality.
To put this into perspective, how many times have you walked into a fancy hotel and saw a beautiful painting on the wall? How many times have you gone up and found out the creator? Or, how many times have you then looked at that creator’s portfolio? How many times have you bought their work? Chances are never. So, why would users on Instagram be any different. Users don’t care about the creator, only the euphoria they feel by escaping through the imagery.
As a result, users lean towards big share accounts full of only the best imagery.
As a result of that, Instagram’s algorithm sees a high level of engagement on the massive share accounts and spreads that content.
Maybe the biggest culprit of Instagram’s demise are creators themselves.
Creators have been gaming Instagram since the day it started. Most of the “big” accounts used some sort of way of manipulating Instagram at some point. They’ve used bots to follow/un-follow people to gain followers. They’ve taken part in engagement pods to trick the Instagram algorithm into promoting their content to the explore page. For many users not willing to game the system, it can be demoralizing. It can be easy to start to feel like the only way to grow is to “cheat”.
But, even bigger than the crime of gaming the system is the crime of illusion.
I hate that creators have tricked the world into thinking that a certain style of imagery is the key to growth on the platform. And, I hate that I fell into that trap. I also despise that it has caused Instagram (and really the photography world in general) to become entirely unoriginal. It’s the same filters, same light, same poses, same people; same, same, same.
But most of all, I hate the fact that creators have led people to believe that this unoriginal style is what leads to growth, rather than the engagement pods and algorithm trickery. These days, the only real way to grow (without manipulating the system) is to be truly original. But, there are so few people doing that, and its hard to find those creators behind the share accounts and backs of people on view points with back light. If that effect worsens, Instagram dying will become a certainty.
**Disclosure: Full disclosure, I’m a creator. I’ve had my Instagram account for about 5 years and have been a part of instagram creator culture as well. I’m as guilty as almost anyone else here. Sure, I don’t use bots or pods. But, I’ve fallen into many of the creator traps as well. This is not a “holier-than-thou” post, but rather an analysis. I’m not denying my own complicity.
How Can Instagram Save Itself from Us?
Instagram isn’t without complicity. It’s ignored certain aspects of the platform that have been dangerous to the community’s long term health because it’s made its numbers look good. But, it has the opportunity to take steps to save itself from us.
These are some ideas I have that Instagram could implement to encourage growth, originality, and a healthy community.
A F*cking Share Button
Seriously, a f*cking share button! Is that so hard?
The reason that Instagram has been taken over by massive share accounts is because of the inability to share images within the app. So, instead, the big share accounts screen-grab – or use an app – an image that fits their story and publish it on their own account.
Yes, most of them credit photographers. But, often that credit is hidden. And rarely do people click on that credit anymore. 4 or 5 years ago, I would do work for @TravelAlberta. When they’d share one of my images during the assignment, I’d see 300-400 new followers. I did a project with them about 18 months ago. When they shared, I saw 10 new followers at most. Recently, I was shared by an account that has 500k followers and saw only 3 new followers from the share. People aren’t following the original creator anymore. So, the share account is rewarded and the original creator isn’t.
A share button totally solves this.
The way a share button would work is simple. At the bottom of a photo, there’s a tab for “share”. Any account that shares that image has it show up in their feed and on their gallery. But, when it shows up in their follower’s feed or on their own gallery it shows as “Original image by @brendanvanson – shared by @shareaccount”. All the likes and comments show on the original image.
It seems like a win-win-win
Users: Users can carry-on not caring about creators and get their dose of escapism provided by the big share accounts.
Share Accounts: Still have the pretty pictures to entice people to follow them – and get their own work / influencer projects. They can still run their own ads.
Creators: Increased engagement on their work means that they’re rewarded for their work. And, they have more chance of showing up on the explore page. Moreover, with their account name showing more prominently, there’s more chance user’s actually follow them.
Integrating Stories into The Feeds
One of the ways that Instagram saved itself in recent years is by promoting stories. Honestly, stories are great. In fact, I rarely scroll through my feed anymore because I’m more interested in the “insta” of the people I follow. So, I tend to stick to stories.
The stories almost bring us back to the original aspects of Instagram that made us join in the first place. It was a real, fun look into people’s lives. We were sharing more often, and we were less worried about posting a “gallery worthy” photo and more worried about sharing our lives with one another.
I’ve seen the engagement on my stories go way up in the past 6 months, so I’m not the only one who is starting to prefer the stories to the photos.
So why not integrate this feature into the main feed of users?
Right now, we’re seeing all the photos from the galleries of the people we follow. But, how great would it be if Instagram would start throwing in a story from a creator that was getting really good engagement into the main feed?
Improve engagement on stories
Make Instagram more intereactive
Encourage creators to create engaging stories.
An Explore Page That Focuses on Creators
I think one of the big reasons that creators game the system so much is because they see it as the only way to reach the explore page and grow. But, the explore page sucks. I mean, it’s really bad.
My personal explore page is just a bunch of images and videos by massive share accounts. I don’t even follow any share accounts personally. So, why is there not a single human being on my explore page?
Instagram needs to get back to the creators.
I think they could do this by turning their explore page into more of a magazine style which featured creators.
Right now, the explore page is lazy. It’s algorithm-based and totally impersonal. Bring it back to the creators, and feature them. Pick 10-12 categories that users fall into based on their activity. Show those 10-12 categories at the top and let people click through them to discover users.
Feature 5-6 creators every week. Share a little blurb about them, or just include their bios. Then, feature their 4-5 most engaging images. Hand pick creators that are doing unique and exciting things. Bring it back to the creators. Because, as much as Instagram is a user-driven platform, without the creators there in the first place there’s no content.
Fight the Bots and Pods
I actually believe that Instagram doesn’t care about bots or pods.
In fact, I think that Instagram is purposefully avoiding these two degenerating aspects of the platform.
Because Instagram’s numbers look phenomenal because of bots and pods. The automated activities of bots (for both fake and real profiles) accounts for a massive percentage of engagements on the platform. And, the engagement pods (which are manipulated by real people rather than bots) are also creating a massive amount of phony engagement on the platform.
If Instagram took action against the bots and pods, their numbers would drop massively. And, they’d have to report that to investors. It would be ugly. In fact, I imagine they’d lose a huge chunk of their valuation.
But, if Instagram doesn’t start taking care of bots and pods, they will start losing real users fed up with it all.
Respond to Spam
I don’t even look at my DMs anymore on Instagram. Why? Well, because it’s full of spam. Literally every 10th DM is a bot account trying to sell me followers or engagement. But, there’s no spam button; only “Accept” or “decline”.
To make matters worse, even when you do report the spam it takes Instagram months to respond.
I report spam on a daily basis. I feel like it’s part of my duty as a knight for Instagram. But, I rarely head a resolution on the report. And when I do, it tends to be a month or 3 later. Instagram needs to be quicker on dealing with spam.
So, Is Instagram Dying?
But I feel like people are on the edge of being “over it”. I feel like lots of creators are starting to become apathetic. And a lot of the influencer marketing money that drove creators has started to dry up.
Creators might be the main reason that Instagram is less fun than it was, but if Instagram wants to save itself it needs to get back to promoting creators. Instagram needs to be reminded that original content is queen, and that without it the platform is nothing.
Creators and users won’t change their habits unless Instagram takes the steps to shift their habits and their user experience. And, honestly, I hope things change because I really do love Instagram, and would hate to say it fade.
So, What’s Next?
I swear, enough despair. We’ll be back to fun and photography on the next post.
Is Instagram dying? Who cares, YouTube is alive and well. Be sure to check out my photography channel there. I’m here in Greece for a while long. We’ve got trips coming up to places like Santorini, Naxos, and Mykonos. I’ve also got a guest YouTuber arriving here today. So, there should be lots of fun on the channel.