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Understanding Instagram Changes

August 19, 2022

Lately it seems like Instagram changes every other week. And if you haven’t been paying too much attention to social media tech news, you’d be forgiven for wondering what the heck is going on. 

But if you’ve been paying too much attention to social media tech news, you may think the end is nigh for the platform that seemingly had the biggest effect on the content creation ecosystem since the MySpace days. 

That’s right — everything from questions on whether Instagram’s new priorities could spell the downfall of the Kardashian social media empire (it feels weird to refer to it as a “social media empire” given the family has been on TV since 2007, years before even Facebook went mainstream, much less Instagram) to reminders that “hating Instagram” is kind of integral to the app in the first place. 

But what is actually going on and what does it mean for the people who use social media to actually build a brand and business? Can you still reach your core fans — and new ones — with your content?

Instagram Changes In A Nutshell

If you’ve got literally no more time to read this article, here’s the one word you should take away from it: video.

That’s really what all of the conversation around Instagram changes boils down to. A shift towards focusing on video. But Instagram has done this before — remember IG TV? 

That was Instagram’s attempt to carve out some of that sweet medium-to-long-form video viewership from YouTube. But YouTube owns that space and has forever.

Getting more people to tune in to standard 16:9 video content on Instagram just wasn’t working out, and the delineation between what was IG TV and what was just a regular post confused users. Really, it was hard to understand the value of using it. So Instagram depreciated “IG TV” and just rolled it all into one general video tab. 

Now the focus is specifically on “short-form” video. That is, video in a native 9:16 format (the kind you get when you normally film with your phone) lasting typically under one minute. 

Oh So Instagram Really Is Just Trying To Become TikTok?

Eh, we typically caution against this kind of thinking, since pretty much all social media platforms are just borrowing/stealing/iterating from each other when they find what keeps the most eyes coming back. 

And at the end of the day, what works on one platform really may not be replicable elsewhere. 

But there’s no denying users love short-form, shareable video with a huge variety in subject matter. And that’s what Instagram is focusing on. But it’s not just Instagram, actually. Meta (the parent company of both Instagram and Facebook) is hoping to give users a “twofer” and create more discovery on Facebook by adopting an algorithm more geared towards discovery.

That is, both Instagram and Facebook are going to focus on their “reels” aspect and recommend more trending content regardless of where it’s from. 

So What Isn’t Going To Work On Instagram Anymore?

Uh, pictures, probably. Ok that’s an oversimplification. But it is at the heart of the matter. More and more users are realizing the first thing they see when they log in are Reels and not standard image feeds.

This is at the heart of the discontent among many of the users who already built huge followings, brands, and businesses off their carefully curated images. They’re worried Instagram changes mean they won’t be able to reach their audience with the content that originally worked — and that they won’t be able to see photos from people they follow.

This major change was actually manifested in a change.org petition that so far has more than 300,000 signatures and is (probably unwisely) titled “Make Instagram Instagram Again.” The tagline is basically “stop trying to be TikTok” and “I just want to see cute photos of my friends.” 

But it’s probably not quite as simple. It’s kind of like if Spotify decided that instead of pushing out songs on its Discover Weekly platform, it was going to push out podcasts instead. Suddenly you’d have musicians everywhere scrambling to figure out what they’re supposed to do — because they don’t make podcasts. The same way a lot of Instagram users don’t have a natural tact for creating short-form video. They’re entirely different mediums. 

Instagram did walk back a change or two in response to the pushback, but it’s temporary. The changes are coming. Because no matter how many people sign a petition, Instagram has the actual user data. They know what people are actually logging in to see, and if they’re making pivots this big, it’s almost certainly not “the same thing they were using Instagram for 12 years ago.” 

All free social media platforms measure their value in their reach, quality of users, and time on platform. That’s why Instagram started showing way more posts that involved multiple pictures and longer captions. They were more likely to keep people on platform longer and to comment and provide more data for the platform to understand what kinds of ads to serve them. A focus on short-form video is the next iteration in this process. 

Alright So What Do These Instagram Changes Mean For Me?

If you’re a content creator who has been making content at least longer than TikTok’s recent surge, you know the drill. These big shifts and pivots aren’t really anything new. 

You’ve pivoted before and you’ll probably pivot again. 

But the most important thing is to make sure you stay in your niche. Don’t suddenly worry about trying to hop on trends or use trending sounds if they don’t apply to what you do. If you’re a band, keep focusing on what your band focuses on. If you’re an educator or coach, keep providing insights. 

It’s just a slightly different medium. Instead of writing that long caption for your Instagram yoga pose, set your phone down, film it for 15 seconds, do a quick voiceover explaining what’s going on, and be sure to add caption and descriptions with important key words. 

And then make sure you post those videos NATIVELY to Instagram Reels and TikTok. Do not try to repost a video with existing titles or watermarks. That’s the best way to tank your reach in these apps. 

If you’re a musician, focus on just doing little clips of performing and including titles at the top of your post. Maybe write out the lyrics. Yes, it may feel like a little more work, but it’s ultimately content you can repurpose across platforms.

And just remember — they measure your content differently and push it out differently. There are small, independent artists who may get hundreds of thousands of views on a video on TikTok and 5 views on that same video on Instagram Reels (or vice versa). The most important thing is to stay consistent, not get “married” to any particular content, and work smarter, not harder. 

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