12th August 2022
Instagram has rolled back some of its recent updates intended to make the platform more video-centric. The photo sharing app announced the turnaround following user backlash to the changes, with high profile celebrities like Kylie Jenner criticising the platform for trying to be too much like TikTok.
Instagram has recently started to pivot away from its origins as a photo feed platform to encompass vertical full screen videos. This move is widely seen as a response to the popularity of the format amongst users and the growing popularity of its main proponent, TikTok.
Since launching in 2017, TikTok has amassed over a billion users and is hugely popular with Gen Z with its feed of short, fun clips and music videos picked by algorithm and served to users in an endless scroll.
Instagram, which has been Meta’s growth engine for a decade and has 1.2bn users itself, has tried to emulate that success, taking over users’ social media feeds with videos – or Reels - that it thinks users want to see.
The changes Instagram introduced included an algorithmic main feed pushing recommended videos or Reels it thinks users want to see, a move to make all videos shared on Instagram “Reels”, and heavy promotion of the TikTok-style “remix” feature.
The new feed changes resulted in users struggling to find content from friends and family against recommended content. This led to complaints from users that Instagram had become too video-centric and was pushing content from accounts that people did not follow and that it was mimicking TikTok at the expense of a loyal user base that wanted renewed emphasis on its photo-sharing origins.
US influencer and photographer Tati Bruening was widely reported to sum up the sentiment when she said: “Stop trying to be TikTok I just want to see cute photos of my friends.” Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian (who have 354m and 328m followers respectively) shared posts demanding “Make Instagram Instagram again”, a trend started by Bruening.
Following the backlash, the company said it would roll back some of the changes, including a test version of the app that gave a full-screen display to posts. It will also reduce changes to its algorithm it has been trying out that resulted in users’ feeds featuring more videos from accounts they don’t follow. But one change not being reversed is that all videos posted on Instagram will become “Reels”, the app’s TikTok-style feature.
However, the pause on some of the changes is unlikely to be forever as Instagram’s head, Adam Mosseri, said: “I want to be clear, we are going to continue to support photos, it is part of our heritage… that said I need to be honest, I do believe that more and more of Instagram is going to become video over time”.
A generational shift at Instagram could be alienating older users. Instagram focused on photos as the format and was the platform for Millennials and Generation Y. TikTok is the format for Generation Z. However, as Instagram’s Reels videos are already a billion-dollar format for Meta any slowdown or changes could be a big issue for Mark Zuckerberg who will want to keep up the momentum. It’s highly likely that Instagram will revive these updates in the near future in some form or other and the platform will continue its path towards more video. The issue for Instagram is how to do this without alienating a loyal user base.