New York (CNN Business) — Tati Bruening was once a prime example of an Instagram user. Since the pandemic, she has built her career as a photographer on the platform, attracting hundreds of thousands of followers. But recently, her relationship with Instagram has started to change.
On Monday, Bruening shared a publication on the platform asking to “Redo Instagram Instagram”. The photographer told CNN Business that she scrolled through the app and was frustrated with the lack of content she saw from accounts she followed following recent updates prioritizing her favorite posts and videos. product. Reels.
“I was looking at a message from my friend under three reels and a recommended message from six days ago,” he said. As he said in his post, “Stop trying to be TikTok, I just want to see cute pictures of my friends.”
His post went viral. This Tuesday morning, it already had more than 1.7 million “likes”, in part thanks to the fact that two of the most influential personalities on the platform shared it: Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner. The famous sisters are among the most followed accounts on Instagram, with 360 million and 326 million followers respectively, and their opinions weigh heavily in the social media world. A February 2018 tweet from Jenner criticizing a Snapchat redesign was allegedly responsible for losing $1.3 billion in value to the company in one week.
The attention to Bruening’s post reflects the growing backlash against recent updates to the Instagram platform, which has more than a billion users. To counter the competitive threat from TikTok, whose discovery algorithm is considered its biggest competitive advantage, Instagram has started showing users a much higher proportion of recommended content from accounts they don’t follow compared to unfollowers. posts from their friends. He also prioritized video content over the photos he is known for. The platform has also experimented with displaying full-screen posts, like TikTok.
We can say that the problem has been brewing for years. Since 2020, the company has been experimenting with showing users more “suggested posts” in their feeds. Recommended content and ads are now a big part of the Instagram feed, often categorizing users into certain content categories (like recipes or relationship advice) in a way that sometimes seems to ignore whether they actually follow those accounts or not. interests.
Instagram’s latest controversy comes at a sensitive time for its parent company, Meta. The company is battling an aging and stagnant user base on its flagship Facebook platform, and Instagram is widely seen as its app family’s best bet for maintaining and growing the crucial young audience. But Meta, like many older players in the social media world, faces fierce competition from TikTok and struggles to gain momentum in its attempts to copy it. While Instagram users are slightly more likely to open the app daily, TikTok users spend an average of around 45 minutes more per day on the app than people on Instagram, according to a report from the research firm Sensor Tower for the second quarter of 2022. In a february call With Wall Street analysts, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Instagram Reels “is up against a competitor TikTok that’s a lot bigger, so it’s going to take a while to…catch up.” .
At the same time, Meta is relying on revenue from Instagram and its other apps to help fund its investment in building a future version of the internet it calls the “metaverse.” And the company, which is expected to report second-quarter results on Wednesday, could see a slowdown in ad spending, its core business, amid rising inflation and recession fears.
Shares of Meta fell nearly 3% on Tuesday after growing backlash from the Kardashians and others.
“The problem for Meta is that nothing is good right now,” said DA Davidson analyst Tom Forte. “Instagram is supposed to be the asset to leverage for Meta, to target the youth market, so it’s only natural for me that they use Instagram as a way to address the competitive threat from TikTok.”
This isn’t the first time Meta has done something like this. In 2016, months before Snapchat’s parent company made its Wall Street debut, Instagram copied one of the messaging app’s star features, Stories. Instagram quickly reached more users with its version of the feature than Snapchat. But his efforts to copy TikTok with Reels proved more difficult.
Many pointed out that the videos in the reels are often just old TikTok videos, sometimes shared weeks after they went viral on TikTok, and sometimes still bearing the TikTok logo. In some cases, users share a still photo on reel music in an effort to better position themselves on the platform. Instagram, for its part, has tried to incentivize users to create original reels, with funding schemes for creators and highlighting them in the feed. The company is also testing sharing all videos under 15 minutes as reels.
Admittedly, Instagram isn’t the only platform prioritizing videos and recommended content as it tries to keep up with TikTok, which surpassed one billion monthly active users last year. Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms have also taken steps in this direction.
“The view is that it’s like the cellphone, that is, it’s an evolutionary change in internet consumption,” Forte said. “What option does Facebook have? It would be almost impossible to buy TikTok, which was what was done before, so now they have to try to innovate.”
For creators like Breuning, who make a living from Instagram, the changes are particularly painful, given its origins as a photo app for artists and photographers.
“It’s wrong to change the algorithm on creators who have made a living and contributed to the community, forcing them to change their entire content address and lifestyle to serve a new algorithm,” Bruening wrote in a post. change..org petition calling on Instagram to “Stop trying to be TikTok!” It collected more than 150,000 signatures in four days.
Instagram did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. However, Instagram boss Adam Mosseri responded to the criticism in a video posted to the platform on Tuesday.
“We’re experimenting with a number of different changes to the app so we’re hearing a lot of concerns from all of you,” he said, acknowledging complaints about the move to video and increased content. recommended. “We’re going to continue to support photos, they’re part of our heritage. … That being said, I have to be honest: I think more and more Instagram is going to turn to video over time.”
Mosseri continued, “If you look at what people are sharing on Instagram, it’s moving more and more to video over time. If you’re looking at what people want and consume and see on Instagram, it’s also moving from more and more towards video, even if we don’t change anything, so we’re going to have to lean towards that change while still supporting photos.
Mosseri also warned that testing of the full-screen video feature was “not good yet” and had only been rolled out to a small percentage of users. And he pointed to the Instagram option launched earlier this year for users to switch the platform to a chronological feed of posts only from the accounts they follow.
But that explanation was not enough to silence the critics. Some users expressed in the comments that they had no choice but to start making more videos if they wanted the platform’s algorithm to display their content. Others suggested that if the platform was too similar to TikTok, they would be inclined to choose one of the apps instead of both.
“People make VIDEOS because our photos don’t have reach!” said fashion designer Alina Tanasa (@fabmusealina) in a comment on Mosseri’s video. “As a content creator, I need and want everyone and with photos all reach is cut and only videos are promoted. So it’s not us, it’s you who change everything and who are afraid of TikTok.”
Makeup influencer James Charles, who has nearly 23 million followers on Instagram, added in a comment, “I understand that every business has to evolve, compete and please investors, but Instagram is losing the competition and has lost its identity along the way. . . We are upset because we care about this app and the communities we were able to create/join here, but I’m really worried that if something doesn’t change there won’t be any communities left .”
However, if there’s a silver lining for Instagram, it’s that there are few other apps that put photos first, making it easier to criticize Instagram than to abandon it, especially for those who have built a life and livelihood on it. .
“Personally,” Breuning said, “I love Instagram and I won’t be leaving it anytime soon.”