Thought Leadership

Has Instagram lost its marketing mojo?

Critics argue Instagram has lost its way with a series of changes that are too similar to the video streaming service TikTok, is the brand loosing it’s way?

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director

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If the future of digital brand building is community then Instagram has a problem; namely that its community of users aren’t happy with a series of updates and changes, which critics argue are too similar to the video streaming service, Tiktok.

Twitter is awash with complaints from Instagram users that they can no longer see their friends’ pictures, prompting the question is the brand in danger of losing its purpose and unique selling point. 

Meta has been trailing and testing some new features with its users such as a full-screen, immersive viewing experience, showing suggested posts and having an increased emphasis on Reels and short-form videos. The changes have sparked a change.org petition calling for the return of a chronological feed and an algorithm which prioritises photos over videos. Influencers including Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian have shared the petition on their Instagram accounts showing that they are in favour of the change.

Instagram subsequently rolled back a number of the changes and moved to reduce the amount of recommended posts users receive from accounts they do not follow. 

Of course, any product loved by consumers is likely to receive push back when it seeks to change its model. Any update needs time for users to adjust and embrace; remember how uncomfortable zoom calls felt at the beginning of the pandemic. Yet the subsequent rollback raises questions as to whether Instagram is at risk of alienating both brands and consumers. With this in mind, we asked a selection of industry experts: has Instagram lost its marketing mojo?

Tamara Littleton

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Global CEO

The Social Element

Meta has long worked on the basis that if a feature works on another platform, it will work on theirs. Instagram stories were taken from Snapchat. Reels are TikToks. And this approach has worked pretty well – stories in particular are broadly speaking a mainstay of social communication between friends. The problem is, there’s a thin line between adopting features that make sense for the platform and losing the identity of the platform itself. This is where the backlash from users is rooted: we all still think of Instagram as a photo sharing app, and without it there’s no real competitor in the photo space for users to flock to (aside perhaps from the up-and-coming BeReal).

The reality is that Instagram doesn’t make decisions based on emotion, it makes them based on data – and clearly they’re seeing that users are engaging more, and for longer, with the content that they’re working to boost, such as videos from recommended accounts. We may say we don’t want it, but our habits betray us. However, data doesn’t always tell the full story – Instagram may well regret losing that emotional connection that links the platform with our favourite photo memories if it turns into a junkbox of clickbait video content. Instagram needs to be careful of this, especially as the rise of micro-communities signpost user behaviour change towards wanting smaller and more relevant interactions between users and creators. In order to stay relevant, it has to once again understand what drives the emotional connection between it and its users and tap into that effectively to ensure it remains an attractive platform for marketers.

Callum McCahon

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Executive Strategy Director & Partner

Born Social

Based on the evidence, it would be short sighted to write off Instagram and its 2 billion users, compared to 1 billion on TikTok. It's still a mainstay in the marketing mix. But if we talk about momentum and mojo, TikTok is undoubtedly where culture is happening and where social ad spend is shifting. 

Instagram is clearly having an existential crisis as it faces up to the competition and it needs to make a call on whether to be a social app or a media app. There is enough mojo to go around, but not for copy and paste tools and features. Whilst TikTok are winning on entertainment, where Instagram can shine is leaning into connection and community - something its users (we see you Kardashians) are clearly crying out for.

Edward Fraser

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Managing Director

The Tree

It’s hard to blame Instagram for trying to be more like TikTok when you can see its tremendous rise in popularity, but the intrinsic difference in values and user base means that consumers look for varied experiences from each platform.

Instagram is quickly losing its authenticity and trying to become something that it isn't – a video platform. One lifestyle brand we spoke to reported a 44% decline in reach in July 2022 vs July 2021. This has been demonstrated through the removal of IGTV from Instagram’s UX, and all video content appearing as a Reel. Users have quickly become frustrated by the videos flooding their feeds instead of the striking imagery that Instagram was always known and loved for.

The algorithm changes are the biggest problem here, with users seeing less and less from the accounts they actually follow, whether that’s friends and family, or the brands and organisations they like to see. This means brands are losing control on the platform, and needing to shift reliance to paid media rather than organic.

These frustrations have been echoed by well-known and Instagram reliant celebrities including Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner, who have been outspoken with their thoughts. This backlash has led to Instagram eventually listening to its community and beginning to roll back some of the changes over the coming weeks.

Instagram has to remember its pedigree and remain true to what gave the platform its success in the first place. It’s inauthentic to try and copy the success of another platform and will only ostracise its audience who have made the app a part of their daily lives.

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