With north of 800 millions users, Instagram is probably the greatest, largest and most successful image sharing platform we have yet known. And yet, it is in trouble. Why? It appears to be planting the seeds of its own destruction.
The problem is that it keeps changing, arguably for some, indeed for most, for the worst. March 2016 brought the beginning of the end of the chronological feed, in favour of the algorithmic feed.
Ever since, everyone has been running around like headless chickens trying to figure out what on God’s green Earth is going on. Rumours abound, including that those who have used engagement "pods", themselves in many cases a response to declining engagement in this first instance.
In truth, it changes so much that nobody can keep up with it. Just now, in January 2018, it seems that that have been more changes, leading to a huge outcry about the lack of engagement and declining reach. Here is one post that has been reposted a few times in recent days from @anastaciabeverlyhills
The algorithm shows you what it thinks you like; in doing so, it had made Instagram into a vast echo chamber which to a large extent takes away one of the greatest strengths of the platform: exposure to a wide diversity of photography content and a stream of content from the accounts that a given user actually follows.
Since then, it seems to me and to others around me that the platform is in terminal decline: content creators have less and less of their content seen by the people that actually follow them, and user’s feeds are increasingly comprised of accounts they don’t follow, especially now with hashtag follows. Not to mention an ever-growing number of ads sprinkled in for good measure, although this has been going on for a few years.
As long as there are a large and growing number of users on Instagram, it will remain critical for many brands to retain Instagram as part of a wider marketing strategy. However, this does less and less for much smaller users and content creators who don't have marketing budgets and who also happen to make up most of the best content creators on the network.
Money. The problem for Instagram for a long time was always the question of how to make money from Instagram. They couldn’t quite figure it out: I remember when I first started using Instagram in February 2015 that there was a brief experiment with ads, but it proved unpopular and I think it was pulled (correct me if I’m wrong).
Although Facebook actually bought Instagram in 2012, it seems that they mostly left it alone, until 2016 when it started to work alot more like Facebook with the pay-to-play model. It seems that they have finally cracked it: but at what cost? We have an application which everybody (although opinion is divided) increasingly dislikes. For want of an alternative many (including this writer) will continue to use Instagram because there quite simply isn’t anything better out there.
Tides May Turn
Necessity is the mother of invention, however, and with so many content creators being suffocated with declining reach it may only be a matter of time before an alternative emerges. It may happen slowly, creeping, but it would be shear folly to dismiss this as a possibility. Once upon a time, Flickr and MySpace were great platforms, but who gives two hoots but either of those now?
Anticipate & Diversify
If you are a content creator/ photographer that largely depends on your Instagram reach to disseminate your content, my strongest recommendation is that you seriously consider diversifying your use of social media out of Instagram. The aim? Build reach that comes different pathways. Yes, there is risk involved with this: you may expend some time and effort on something that could be a dead end. But those who live for sure things will be very disappointed in this life: nothing is certain.
Stepping back from the epistemic, it is likely that your ability to do business over Instagram will steadily decline to a point where the boat does stay afloat anymore (although this very much depends on who you are). In general, Its never a good idea to have all of your eggs in one basket.
As above, so below
I will go into more details about this various alternatives in a different blog post, so stay tuned to see how things develop, as well as some other things I have been thinking about.
Anticipate and Diversify:
The Best Hedge for our Time
As ever, I invite discussion and healthy dialogue (as well as counterpoint) about the topics I write about on the blog. Please comment below if you feel that I have missed something.
Joe Shutter is a freelance photographer and content creator working between the UK, Iceland and wherever nature calls. You can follow his recent work on this website.