It was a regular weekday morning, much like any other — coffee, perhaps a croissant while scrolling through our Instagram feed at the start of the workday, when we came across a post by Ramona @monalogue, a Blogger/Instagrammer from Somerset. In it she laments, “So I have a confession to make. I’m getting pretty bored of Instagram, which is a big deal as I’ve been obsessed with it for five years or so and it’s currently my main line of work. I need something else to focus on/learn. I’m thinking about doing a masters or finding some more work. Hopefully it’ll turn out I’m just having an off week or month. Anyone else feeling bored?”
And the responses that poured in echoed what we have been hearing for a while now (and even our own feelings toward the app): no one seems to be having any fun anymore on Instagram.
“can we sit and chat about instagram for a minute? so many people talking about it but barely anyone posting about it. how much it has changed. how hard it is for people to see your posts now. how hard it is to grow your following compared to a year or so ago. how they want you to pay to show your pictures even to the followers you worked really hard to get naturally. how you try not to care about the number of likes because it’s an app and not anymore than that…but it can still feel discouraging and not great when you put a lot of effort into the images you take. (or maybe it’s a lesson that we shouldn’t get hooked on internet attention?) so you try to just say “i’m gonna post what makes me happy and who cares!” but then people can’t see your post unless it’s some kind of insanely pink picture and you second guess yourself if your photos are good. i feel like all of that has taken the magic away from instagram. a tool that used to be so fun and engaging and good for business and all of that. can we just go back to how it was before!? where everything is in chronological order and we can see our friend’s posts? have you guys noticed the big shift? do you think i’m gonna get blacklisted for posting this”
So what’s changed? What Bri is referring to is Instagram‘s announcement in March 2016 that it would be moving from a chronological (oldest-to-newest) news feed to a new, algorithm-based feed with the statement “You may be surprised to learn that people miss on average 70 percent of their feeds. As Instagram has grown, it’s become harder to keep up with all the photos and videos people share. This means you often don’t see the posts you might care about the most. To improve your experience, your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most.”
The change, of course, was much protested by Instagram users, all the while the app stubbornly maintained that the new feature would help users discover lost posts. This projection, unfortunately has not been the case, as the posts of those accounts that we follow here at TIG no longer flow through our feeds as they used to, forcing us to seek them out just to see updates, and, perhaps most infuriating, our own posts are not reaching our followers. It would seem that the days of free and organic reach are over.
Shortly after the app’s move to the new algorithm, the Huffington Post wrote an article about who this shift impacted the most: small retail businesses (who saw a dramatic drop in sales), brand ambassadors (who are reaching a much smaller portion of their following), and photographers (who relied on potential customers seeing their work on a regular basis). The move was created, it has been speculated, to frustrate users into eventually paying for exposure, as is the case with Facebook‘s current business model.
Over the past few years, Instagram has rapidly grown to an astonishing 500 million monthly users posting over 95 million photos and videos every day. Apart from regular users, many businesses (large and small) have flocked to the app, making it increasingly difficult for everyone (or anyone, save for a small selection) to be seen. As with anything, with popularity comes overcrowding and clutter, and Instagram seems be suffering from the latter these days. If you’re currently using the app as a tool to promote your business, this new development can be rather frustrating.
Besides the overcrowding, there are also other issues with the app, such as the sheer number of accounts with fake followers. According to influencer marketing agency Mediakix, “The Instagram influencer market size is currently $1 billion. That figure is set to double by 2019.” As long as there is so much money to be made, there will be people who will figure out a way to work the system, and some influencers have been taking advantage of the market demand by buying fake followers and engagement to artificially inflate their clout.
In fact, Mediakix ran an interesting experiment to prove whether or not it’s possible for accounts with fake followers and engagement to land brand sponsorship deals. The agency created two completely fictitious Instagram influencer accounts grown entirely with purchased followers and engagement (likes and comments) and then applied for ad campaigns on popular influencer marketing platforms. In the study, the phony accounts landed four paid brand sponsorships, two apiece, offering compensation, free product or both.
Assuming the influencers were real and hadn’t purchased any phony followers, there is still also the issue of bots. According to Digiday, “Many agencies and marketing platforms promote the idea of ‘micro-influencers’, who are considered more authentic than those with millions of followers. But this cohort — whose following base typically falls in the 10,000 to 100,000 range — are mostly likely to turn to bots to inflate their authenticity.” Bot providers, costing anywhere from $9 to $40 per month, are used to generate followers, post likes and comments based on certain rules in an automated way. A user can program the bot to comment on specific posts about travel, or more specifically, to like images posted from Paris.
Digiday speculates that bot use is not only prevalent among influencers and brands, but also agencies, with the larger ones even going so far as to buy “user farms” — large groups of low-paid workers hired to follow social accounts in order to improve their engagement on the photo sharing app.
So what’s the solution? Well, there is always the option of paying the app for exposure, although from what we’ve been told, this option is only successful if you’re willing to spend several thousand dollars (spending $10 or $20 to simply ‘boost’ a post, we’ve heard, makes no noticeable difference). The other option would be to rejoin the analog world once again, even if only for a few hours at a time. Begin networking again. Become reacquainted with old colleagues, acquaintances and contacts. Attend retreats and trade shows. Perhaps even interacting with other humans.
If you have, like many others, found yourself enjoying Instagram a lot less lately, or are among the many who worry about the negative effects of social media on your mental and physical health, take solace in the thought that perhaps for now, it’s for the best. Perhaps it’s a sign that it’s time to switch off the phone for a while, and find some balance, for just recently, there was an article in the The New York Times declaring that Our Love Affair With Digital Is Over.