Instagram is the fodder for many complaints straining from what many say are tactics to make money. My problem with these complaints is that they never speak to the business side. They only talk about why Instagram is at fault, but never why they might have had to make these decisions
In this article, I’ll go through the list of Instagram’s biggest complaints and try and take the side of the business to shine light on the other side of the perspective. Because there are always two sides to the coin.
I’m pro-algorithm. I know that’s not the most popular opinion, but there’s a reason. We all follow a lot of people. I follow around 1,000 users. These are all the makeup artists and models I’ve worked with, people I want to work with, other photographers, creative re-sharing accounts, celebrities, media hubs — you get the idea. Let’s take my thousand people I’m following and do some math.
In this group of users, let’s say 400 post daily. Of that 400, let’s say 50 post twice a day and 10 post 5 times a day (media hubs like Bleacher Report). That’s about 500 posts on my timeline a day on the low end. And here’s the thing, they’re not all posted throughout the day with equal time in-between. They’re posted around the same times at the start of every hour or half hour with some hot spots like 10:00am, 12:30pm, or 6:00pm. So, let’s say your favorite photographer announces they’re looking for an assistant at 10:00 AM, but you don’t get on Instagram that day until the afternoon. Unless you scroll through literally hundreds of posts, you’ll miss that. With an algorithm, you’re seeing the posts from people you want to see at the top at all times.
Whenever the makeup artist I work with posts, it’s at the top. Whenever Julia Kuzmenko posts, it’s at the top. The people I’m losing are the people whose photos I probably care less about. And since trying to cut Instagram to only marketing/engagement time, I’m only seeing what I want to see. I’m losing all the posts from models who went to the club the night before or photos of people with their siblings, which I’m not on Instagram for.
The reason people don’t like the algorithm isn’t because they’re not seeing posts they like; it’s because they’re not being seen on their followers’ timelines. Maybe the person didn’t like a couple of your posts, and boom, gone forever. The thing is, you’re more likely going to lose your dedicated followers because they won’t see your posts as often. You’d have to time your posts perfectly with when they’re on like Indiana Jones replacing the idol with the counter-weight. Let’s just say it didn’t work for Indy either.
There are 1,000s of photographers doing similar things to you out there. Why should someone stay invested in you over someone else? What are you offering them that they can’t find elsewhere? Being successful on social media means more than posting every day. It means connecting with the people who choose to follow you and going on and actually doing the work to get more people into your network. Unless you’re the cream of the crop photographer whose photo is literally a 10/10 every single time, you need to offer something else to keep attention and curiosity.
Pushing to Sponsored Posts
Of course they’re going to promote sponsored posts. You don’t realize how much Instagram costs. According to Hootsuite, in 2016 there were 95 million posts a day. A day. Do you understand how much that costs? Of course they want you to buy ad space when 95 million posts are being uploaded every day.
The general population doesn’t comprehend how much servers cost and what it takes for social media sites to break even. Most don’t accomplish this for years. Twitter didn’t post a profit as a public company until 2018.
So, knowing this, can you be mad that Instagram has “promote this post” buttons and notifications telling you to promote? I can’t. They need to make a profit at some point. And the fact that just about every person under 40 years old is on the app, this is a good way to help people reach their target audience.
The problem people have with sponsored posts is they think they’re forced to buy posts to get seen. Which yes, if you don’t have the time to actually use Instagram, sponsored posts might be the way to go. You can’t blame Instagram for the fact that you don’t engage with the app. You can’t just post to hashtags and get 100s of likes anymore, the same way you can’t put an ad in the newspaper and expect a million phone calls anymore. Things change.
This may seem like the only answer, but likes honestly don't mean anything. You need to be engaging with the users following you. When’s the last time you’ve gone through your followers list, gone to random profiles, and engaged with them? Never? Then why should they remember you exist? You can’t expect everyone who follows you to see your post and like it when they would have to do that for another 600+ people per day. We don’t live in a world where you can be a crappy photographer and still be in business because you’re the only guy in town with a camera studio. The same goes for social media. Just because you posted the photo doesn’t mean it’s going to get love. We don’t live in a world where you’re the only landscape photographer being followed. You need to show you’re worth it.
The App Isn’t Built for Photographers
You’re right, it’s not. It’s for everyone. Literally everyone. Not just people who take photos for a living, but for people who want to share their food with the recipe and people who write poetry and want a photo to compliment it and for people who met Robert Downey Jr. at a restaurant and got a picture with him. The app’s features are to meet all of these people’s needs, and they do a good job of it.
Seriously, the app’s UI is pretty perfect. Everyone gets an area that fits their screen. You get the photo area, the captions area, and the profile info. It all fits together on the phone’s screen from viewing to reading. The caption can be the important part, the photo can be the important part, you decide. It’s your space.
Want to know why it’s not full screen photos all the time? You know how annoying it is to rotate your phone back and forth between each photo to see what’s going on. Seriously. Swipe up to see the next photo and it’s a landscape. Rotate screen to see everything. Next photo is a portrait, rotate screen again. That’s not a great user experience. It's adding time between the experience.
Instagram keeps it one way. You see everything right there, nothing changes how you’re looking. Scroll, look, read, like, scroll again. Nothing is getting in-between this series of actions. You’re not rotating the screen, you’re not tapping a new page to see the next photo. It’s all right there. Friction-less. The only thing you can say is tough is the comments, but the comments aren't important to your viewing, because it's about you, not what others have to say about what you're viewing. You can choose to see other's comments, but you don't have to.
If you don’t like how your photos are viewed, make a website and put that in the bio of your Instagram page. Seriously. You can’t complain that no one likes your landscape photos because they are stretched so thin when there’s multiple landscape pages on Instagram with over a million followers. If you don’t care about the end consumer and just want a place to talk to photographers, then go to Flickr, 500px, or Reddit. You can’t complain that Instagram isn’t perfect for you because it’s not just for you.
The Grass Is Always Greener, Until It Isn’t
The biggest reason your favorite Instagram Killer won’t win is because it’s trying to win over the user now with these big dreams of never selling out, but that money has to come at some point. Vero was interesting. Their model was to make Instagram subscription-based after the first million subscribers. But is that what people really want? Are chronological timelines worth spending $3/month (speculation) for? What else are you getting out of it to switch? And what’s Dayflash’s plan to make money?
You acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.
So, the same thing as Instagram? Cool.
If your Instagram killer does actually kill Instagram one day, it will have to find profit somewhere. And as soon as too many people get on the site, it will “start to suck” just like you think with Instagram and your favorite subreddit. As things get more popular, more and more rules and regulations come into play to make sure everything runs smoothly. You need to accept that as more people join the platform, things essentially have to change to accommodate the larger group.
Too Big to Fail
We keep looking at new social media sites as killers of old sites, but the problem is all the social sites we have all reached Coca-Cola level status. What I mean is the monthly active users for each site are so much higher than Myspace that it’s almost infeasible that it will go away unless the government gets involved. And we don’t use social media the way we buy food. Coca-Cola and Pepsi can coexist because you don’t need to drink Pepsi if that’s what your friends choose. It’s an all or nothing deal when it comes to social media, because everything is dependent on who is on the platform.
Another problem is the Hierarchy of Social Needs for social sites. You can’t just be Instagram plus this or Instagram minus this. You need to really bring something new to the table that changes how people waste time. That’s why Vero had a hot minute and now Dayflash will do the same. They’re just Instagram with a fresh coat of paint. Look at what social sites are mainstream big. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and TikTok. They’re all different and serve different purposes. No one has quit Instagram to go to TikTok. They don’t step on each other’s toes. And until Instagram does something to make their entire base go away, whether that’s government intervention or a mass-exit due to a controversy, a new app just doesn’t have a spot. Not that it can’t, it just needs to be that much better and different.
The one caveat I’ve seen is Snapchat. I think this is due to the fact that it really is as private as it can get. Everything is gone in 24 hours still, so for teens and young adults, it’s where they’re talking with their friends, not on Facebook Messenger like we used to. So in a sense, it is different enough from IG Stories because they are used in completely different ways.
There’s No Perfect Platform and There Never Will Be
No one will ever be fully satisfied by a social media platform. You just have to play the game of whichever platform you’re on. Right now, Instagram is the best way to reach the masses. It’s a packed city with everyone fighting for attention from each other. As the city grows, the subway gets fuller, the traffic gets longer, and the streets get busier. You can acknowledge the larger population and work towards finding your spot in it. Or you can move to a new city that’s smaller that will eventually stay too small to survive or get too big and become exactly what you tried to leave.