You know something’s going on with Instagram when the Kardashians start posting memes to complain about it. This past month, Instagram made some changes to the app — some big, some small. And let’s just say the response hasn’t been great.
But what are these changes? What do they mean for Instagram users? More importantly, how can they affect the work you do as a content creator?
What are Instagram’s latest changes?
Like any other social media platform, Instagram is constantly evolving. Some of these updates are aimed at making the app more enticing for users, while others are about bringing in more money from advertisers. Here’s a breakdown of the latest wave of changes that are getting people riled up:
A new, TikTok-style full-screen feed
Your Instagram feed used to be something you could scroll through at blinding speeds until you found content you liked. Now, Instagram is experimenting with a full-screen feed, meaning a single photo or video takes up your whole screen. When you scroll, you switch from one piece of content to the next instead of going through your whole feed.
No more muting Reels
You used to be able to mute the audio of a Reel just by tapping it. Now, that just pauses the video. There’s no real way to mute a Reel unless you mute your entire phone.
“This is great!” said no Instagram user ever. In a TechCrunch article, Devin Coldewey reports that every fourth item in his feed is an ad. And because of the full-screen feed, you can’t just scroll past ads anymore.
Sneaky suggested posts
It’s gotten even harder to differentiate between posts from the accounts you follow, and the ones Instagram thinks you’ll like. Gone is the “Suggested Post” label. Now, the only way to spot these posts is to watch for the “Follow” button by the account’s name. Of course, it’s designed to be small and easy to miss.
So how bad are these changes? It’s only been a few weeks since Instagram rolled them out, and the platform has already started pulling back some of those updates. The full-screen feed is gone (thankfully), and Instagram is promising to reduce the number of suggested posts they send users. Not everything’s being taken back, though: You still can’t mute Reels.
Why is Instagram changing?
Tech companies often carry out experiments like these to try and improve their products. For social media platforms, that means finding ways to elevate the look of the platform, or how it behaves behind the scenes to create something users will want to spend more time on. The big challenge for apps like Instagram is having to balance the needs of users, advertisers, and content creators.
Instagram’s recent changes, though, are not-so-subtly about copying TikTok. While the people at Instagram probably won’t admit it, the full-screen feed and the increased focus on videos are both signs that they’re worried about TikTok. And perhaps they should be — TikTok is currently the most downloaded app in the world, while Instagram holds the second spot.
Why are users criticizing Instagram?
Well, if Kylie Jenner is to be believed, it’s because Instagram shouldn’t follow whatever TikTok does. According to a viral post Jenner re-shared on her IG Stories, Instagram should “Stop trying to be TikTok. I just want to see cute photos of my friends.” Now, considering she’s one of the biggest influencers on the platform — not to mention she makes bank on it — you should probably take her words with a grain of salt. That said, they’re a manifestation of something very real. People go to Instagram for a specific experience, and that experience isn’t TikTok. Instagram’s latest changes are trying to force you to interact with the app the way you’d interact with TikTok.
Ever heard of dark patterns? Basically, a dark pattern is a design choice that a company makes to trick users into taking a specific kind of action. This ranges from burying an unsubscribe link at the bottom of a marketing email, to making some buttons much more visible and attractive than others to affect which ones you’ll tap.
Some of Instagram’s latest changes fit within that definition. Removing the ability to mute a Reel is just a way to make sure you’re always engaging more fully with the content — because you’re hearing it. Taking away your ability to speed-scroll through your feed keeps you locked into every piece of content for at least a second or two.
Dark patterns can create visceral reactions in users that they don’t always understand consciously. It’s the kind of reaction that has some of us go “this app is stupid” and turn it off. Those negative reactions that led to the recent backlash is why Instagram is walking back some of its updates.
What can creators do about it?
Let’s answer your first burning question: Does this mean Instagram is dead? Probably not. Over the last few years, there’s been no shortage of reports suggesting that Snapchat is dying. However, not only is the app still around, it actually has more daily active users than it’s ever had before. So if you’re hearing talk of Instagram’s impending doom, just remember good old Snapchat.
Treat this as a learning experience. As a content creator, you may be dependent on social media platforms like Instagram for income, but you have no control over the changes they make or how the platform performs. That means if you invest too heavily on a single platform and it starts losing users, you can potentially see a dip in your income. Here’s how you can prevent that from happening:
How much of your income is generated from brand deals and sponsored content on a single platform? Much like how an investor diversifies their portfolio, you should look into different ways of making money. That can mean selling digital products like online courses, or starting your own brand, for example.
A fancy word that essentially means “get your content on multiple platforms.” If most of your content only lives on Instagram, start sharing it on other platforms to reach new audiences.
If you’ve been making the same kind of content in your entire content creation journey, you may be accidentally ignoring a format you’d be really good at. Try your hand at writing for a few months, and see how that goes. Film longer videos. Start a newsletter. Put a little bit of effort into these experiments, see how they perform, and don’t hesitate to pivot away from them if they don’t work out.
Most of all, don’t worry! Instagram is just one of many platforms for creators. Even if it sees a dip in users, it’s something you can rebound from.
Creators, you’ve got this
Instagram might have committed a big blunder with its latest changes, and reversing some of them was the right move. While we can’t be sure where the platform is heading in the next few months, it’s highly unlikely that it’ll lose too much traction. Keep making quality content, and don’t stress too much over the things you can’t control.