Why Has Instagram Made All of These Changes?
The short answer is: TikTok. Earlier this year, Meta (formally Facebook) announced that users are spending less time on its platforms and that they expect revenue growth to slow. This caused Meta’s stocks to drop 26%, resulting in a loss of $232 billion. Meta chief, Mark Zuckerberg, said on the company’s call with investors in February, “People have a lot of choices for how they want to spend their time, and apps like TikTok are growing very quickly. And this is why our focus on Reels is so important over the long term.”
TikTok has done a great job engaging younger audiences with short-form videos and increasing their time spent on the app. This has been made possible with TikTok’s unique algorithm, which learns how each individual uses the platform and feeds them content accordingly. The more time you spend on the app, the more the app will understand which videos to show you. Cue the Instagram changes. At a high level, both platforms are serving video content to users based on their behaviors. So why is Instagram drawing backlash from users for taking a page from TikTok’s playbook? It’s all about the value proposition each offers for users. TikTok was designed as a video-centric platform, so recommending exclusively video content based on user behavior is consistent with what users expect from the platform. By contrast, Instagram started as a photo sharing platform allowing users to connect with friends and family through sharing images. By not just introducing video, but prioritizing video (including video from accounts users don’t follow) over photos from accounts users follow, Instagram’s changes undermine the value proposition for many of their users.
What Does This Mean for Paid Media?
While the changes to Instagram have been on the organic side of the platform, they could have a chilling effect on users that impacts paid advertising on the platform. If users decide to leave Instagram over the changes the platform is making, this could dramatically decrease the reach of advertisers. Additionally, if advertisers want to be effective on Instagram, they would need to modify their ad content to keep up with the changes Instagram is making. Video has proven to be a priority for Instagram, specifically videos made to fit into Reels, so advertisers would need to make ads tailored to Reels if they want to remain effective. Not only would videos need to be reformatted for a vertical 9:16 ratio but they would need to capture attention quickly which might mean using trending audio, a trending dance, or a trending challenge.
Lastly, if Instagram does in fact become more and more like TikTok, advertisers may need to shift their advertising strategy within Instagram. Users have been drawn to TikTok because they can sit on the app and scroll for hours while being entertained by video. While TikTok successfully launched ads in early 2019, the ads have shown to be great for brand awareness. A study by MediaScience® showed that TikTok ads drive strong brand recall and positive sentiment across various view durations. Brand awareness is great, but Instagram has done a great job at driving direct conversions. If Instagram continues down this path to be similar to TikTok, ads on Instagram may not perform as well as they used to in the past in terms of CVR or ROAS. This is most likely because users are not as likely to click on an ad and make a purchase while they’re being entertained by videos, similar to YouTube, another platform great for awareness, but not as great for direct conversions.
What Should Advertisers Do?
Instagram is still an important platform to advertise on so advertisers must be prepared to adapt if they want their media dollars to be impactful on this channel. Instagram is a well-established, highly effective platform that reaches 1 billion users monthly, whereas TikTok reaches 689 million monthly users by comparison, and 72% of Instagram users cite that they have purchased a product they’ve seen on Instagram. Being able to leverage Instagram alongside TikTok is the key to success. This will help ensure a wide reach among advertisers’ target audiences and exposure on a platform with proven results.
To continue success on Instagram advertisers need to stay up to date with the changes that Instagram is making and the overall trends with social media channels. This is a great time to start creating videos specifically for Instagram Reels and testing them in Reels-only campaigns. While Instagram has delayed some of the rollouts they had planned due to the backlash, it isn’t likely that they will stop pushing Reels. Advertisers need to get ahead of the curve and shift their strategy to align with Instagram’s shifting strategy. It’s in the best interest of advertisers to align their social media ad content with Instagram’s ambition to push Reels as they try to stay competitive with TikTok. Pro Tip: most trends find their way on both platforms.