If you’ve recently noticed a change in the way your favorite social media platform works, you’re not alone.
Even Kylie Jenner, arguably the most online person in the world, seemed fed up this week as she reflected on recent changes to Instagram’s algorithm that prioritizes shorter videos of brands and strangers rather than content from people and companies that users choose to follow.
“Make Instagram Instagram again,” Jenner complained to her 360 million followers. “Stop trying to be TikTok, I just want to see cute pictures of my friends. Sincerely, everyone,” she said in the story, which her sister, Kim Kardashian, later shared with her 330 million followers.
For the family that essentially invented the concept of social media influencers to stave off attempts by social media companies to influence what we see, it shows just how meteoric rise TikTok has been.
Founded in 2016, TikTok has seen explosive growth during the pandemic to become the world’s most downloaded app in 2022, racking up billions of users.
It only allows users to share videos, and it works with brands and influencers to promote products in those videos. This business model is starting to eat into the profits of more established social media companies.
Financial results hint at a changing landscape
Meta Inc., which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, revealed financial results this week that indicate how quickly the social media landscape is changing.
For the first time in its history as a public company, Facebook saw its revenue decline in the three months to the end of June. And he expects that trend to continue this quarter.
There is a certain irony in the evolution of these platforms as Instagram started out as a service that only shared still photos and its meteoric success led Facebook to buy the app. Then, video became the latest trend after the introduction of video messaging app Snapchat, prompting Facebook and Instagram to introduce features for users to share short videos.
Instagram’s latest push for more videos is just the latest step in that evolution, according to Richard Lachman, director of the Creative School at Toronto Metropolitan University.
“Facebook and Instagram were seeing reductions in their audience size, so they’re trying to chase where the buzz seems to be,” he said in an interview.
So far, the main weapon in Facebook and Instagram’s arsenals seems to be trying to emulate what TikTok is doing.
Instagram manager Adam Mosseri explained what the company was up to in a video this week – tellingly, that video was posted on TikTok itself – confirming suspicions that it was “experimenting with a number of different changes in the application”.
👋🏼 There’s a lot going on on Instagram right now.
I wanted to touch on a few things we’re working on to make Instagram a better experience.
Don’t hesitate to tell me what you think 👇🏼 pic.twitter.com/x1If5qrCyS
“I have to be honest. I think more Instagram is going to go video over time,” he said, acknowledging that many users are upset with the changes. “It’s not good yet,” he admitted bluntly.
The refusal of superusers like Jenner has apparently prompted a rethink, as the company told CBC News in a statement this week, it would “pause” the full-screen test and “temporarily decrease” the number of recommendations that users will receive from outside their network.
For rivals, the lesson of TikTok’s runaway success is that people want more video content. And much to the chagrin of some of their users, these rivals are adjusting their business models accordingly to deliver more video whether users like it or not.
“The problem with these platforms is that they are based on [engagement] growth,” Lachman said. “But at the end of the day, they are competing for a limited number of hours [so they] end up duplicating each other’s functionality, not always successfully.”
He says the attempt to be everything for all users “sometimes doesn’t sit so well with users who already know and love the platform.”
Different platforms have different uses
Marlie Cohen, a Toronto-based fitness and parenting influencer who posts on both platforms as Kale & Krunches, says she’s acutely aware of the change, both as a content producer and as a as a user.
“As a creator, I understand that eyeballs are really on TikTok right now, and that’s because the algorithm gives us the kind of content we want to see,” she said in an interview. with CBC News.
“I understand that other apps want to follow this and keep our attention on them as well, but as a consumer I find this extremely frustrating as I go to different platforms for different things.”
Cohen joined Instagram in 2015 and says it quickly became her favorite medium because of the sense of community she could create. By 2017, she had enough followers that she could quit her corporate job and become a full-time content producer.
While her Instagram account grew to 60,000 followers today, she says she managed to double that number on TikTok in much less time.
Users push back
Because TikTok’s algorithm prioritizes content people react to regardless of the creator’s follower count, Cohen says it allows talented creators to quickly find an audience.
But for many Instagram users, the platform’s attempt to emulate TikTok’s success simply means they’re being offered content they don’t necessarily want.
On the streets of Toronto this week, many users expressed their disappointment with Instagram’s experimentation.
“It takes away from the original version,” Rachel Wong told CBC News. “Personally, I like pictures more.”
Taking photos for his Instagram feed in downtown Toronto, Oleh Dehtiarov said he prefers Instagram to TikTok for the same reason.
“I am more in the pictures. I don’t mind, like, a few video shots, but I feel like if it’s just video, it can get pretty boring.”
Instagram’s sudden push of video over photos is also increasing the demands on content creators to produce higher quality content to rise above the fray.
That’s where the likes of Drake Andrews and Kyle Pretzlaff come in.
They are the founders of Kozen Creative, a digital-focused marketing studio that helps people and brands hone their online presence for social media audiences and create content that gets noticed on TikTok.
Unlike text-based or even photo-based platforms, they say video has huge marketing potential if done right.
“You can show your personality. You can be a little more authentic and connect with the viewer,” Andrews told CBC News in an interview, while shooting video for one of his clients, a hair salon.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to be a lot more important and impactful.”
The fight to stay relevant
Andrews says Instagram’s strategy is necessary to keep it relevant.
“In any business you will have to adapt to what is happening in the market,” he said. “You don’t want to be the Zellers. You don’t want to be the MySpace.”
While Andrews acknowledges the user backlash is real, he doesn’t see the video as a flash in the pan and says those who don’t adapt will be left behind.
“It’s going to get old fashioned and people are going to treat it more like Facebook, where it’s left to the older generation,” he said of Instagram.
“The younger generation is not going to get into it because they already have TikTok and they’ve embraced the platform.”