Instagram continues to perform well despite inconsistent brand identity
In recent months, Instagram has gone to great lengths to capitalize on the latest social media hit tactics, often at the expense of its own original offerings for users. The friend photo-sharing app now features film rolls and mimics the success of TikTok. It introduced an option to hide likes, the iconic feature that has shaped social media as a whole since its inception. And now you’re pushing “suggested posts” into users’ feeds, sorted by topics a profile interests them, possibly before photos and videos shared by profiles they actually follow. As a direct imitation of TikTok, this seems to deviate very little in practice from hashtags, which are its original discovery feature. Instead, it seems to mimic the usability that younger TikTok users are familiar with to entice them to get more involved on Instagram.
This development further dilutes the “social” aspect of the media; Profiles of friends are already hidden in a flood of ads, influencers, and other large publicized accounts. The suggested posts feature is designed to further take the original social aspect of Instagram out of the user experience approach. Without the “like” and in addition to seeing fewer posts from friends, Instagram becomes less of a social network and more of a source of high-speed media consumption.
Despite the lack of alignment with its historical self and with a relatively small difference from other social media apps, Instagram still scores well. As previous MIDiA Research consumer survey data shows, social media platforms have become mainstream as they age, attracting users of all ages relatively evenly before they finally start to decline. This is the case with Facebook, whose weekly active users (WAU) aged 16 to 19 fell almost 40 percentage points between the fourth quarter of 2019 and the fourth quarter of 2020, and the participation of the elderly also decreased slightly during the same period. A similar dislike among young people can also be seen on Twitter, with WAU declining sharply among those aged 16-19, while WAU has even increased slightly among those aged 45-54.
The newer social networks TikTok and Twitch, on the other hand, show peak WAU values in the younger consumer segments and drop to relatively negligible usage among those over 35. They are new, digital-first for proposals and practices with digital knowledge, fast-paced, and focused on young people. So it is noteworthy that the relatively older Instagram and Snapchat headlines may still reflect this user distribution.
Both Instagram and Snapchat WAUs are peaking among 16-19-year-olds, and use is booming, but it still shows how successful the apps have been in attracting the attention of these younger users’ through several competitive options like TikTok.
In an attention economy where fandom and mood are increasingly important in attracting and retaining the attention of young consumers, it is fascinating that a social app with a somewhat ephemeral brand identity and a variety of uses is appealing to them attract. While Snapchat maintains a critically personal social focus that no other app replicates, Instagram replicates the use of almost every other app that has shown the least success. Its content is also infused with curated interactions on Twitter, TikTok reruns, and memes generated on Reddit (or 4Chan). The ‘influencers’ profile is giving way to broader internet trends, likely due to the coronavirus pandemic, which is reducing the value of sharing visually aesthetic luxury lifestyles.
Maybe that’s the beauty of Instagram in the end: It has become a prominent role, a kind of “internet header for yesterday” in an eye-catching, easy-to-consume, easy-to-share feed. It may not be particularly “social” anymore, but by adjusting to simply absorbing the best of what’s happening elsewhere, it has found a curating niche in an entertainment economy dominated by chaos.