Many moons ago, I struck out on a legendary quest to see if I could use my budding digital marketing skill set to become a reputable content creator. Back then in 2016, Instagram was still quickly rising in prominence and organic reach on the platform was at an all time high. Alas, as with all social media eventually, this now is quickly becoming less and less the case. Moreover, in an attempt to compete with the meteoric rise of TikTok, everyone’s favorite photo sharing app has made a hard pivot towards vertical video. These days, it’s meme your way to viral success with Reels or slowly fade into irrelevance.
The recent changes put photographers like myself in a real pickle. We originally came to the Gram to share captivating imagery, not post silly memes just to garner more views. Sadly though, Reels are all that gets pushed out by Instagram’s algorithm these days. As a result, everyone who isn’t pumping out trending videos is seeing a terrifying drop in their engagement. What’s more, unlike with the longer form content that you see on YouTube, short form does not leave much room for nuance or context. As a result, it’s all but impossible to introduce anything in-depth with any degree of detail.
Meet Zucks, the Copy Ninja
Back when Instagram Reels first debuted, I thought that it was a great supplement to photos on the main feed. Just as Stories brought all of the spontaneity of SnapChat’s ephemeral content to Instagram, Reels initially allowed for an alternative medium to Instagram’s mainstay. Tragically though, it feels like these days the darling jewel of Mark Zuckerberg has elected to betray its original DNA. With its incessant push towards video content, Instagram has forsaken photography (and therefore photographers) in a desperate hope of remaining viable for just a few more years.
Will this reckless ploy by Facebook (now Meta), work out? Perhaps it will, perhaps it won’t. One observation we can make is that the general public’s attention on the Gram is not going anywhere soon. Thus, at least as a place to advertise on, Instagram will remain a linchpin in many marketers’ arsenals for at least a couple of years. After all, the AI-backed system that powers Facebook and Instagram ads is essentially unrivaled. Still, when it comes to the precarious reach of content creators like myself, our effectiveness is rapidly waning, at least insomuch as non-viral Reel content is concerned.
The Beginning of the End
Honestly, I think that this is actually the beginning of the end for Instagram’s social media reign. In a last ditch effort to not lose relevance to TikTok, the platform has become the very thing that it sought to defeat. This is evidenced by the fact that many creators just repurpose the exact same vertical videos on Instagram Reels as they first posted to TikTok. Furthermore, I and many others ironically do not actually spend much time browsing the dedicated Instagram Reels. While TikTok is a lot of fun, Reels feels more of a necessary evil that many begrudgingly go along with to appease the algorithm.
Now, Instagram has smartly fought back against the lack of people using the Reels tab by constantly shunting these vertical videos into everyone’s main feeds. Additionally, the algorithm also likes to plaster them all over the Explore Page as well. While this ensures that Reels get their due views, it’s all but destroyed what made Instagram originally appealing to me. As a general rule, photography now gets suppressed for whatever flavor-of-the-month video content is trending. What’s worse, a lot of the Reels you see are just repost from TikTok meaning that they’re stale on arrival.
There Were Warning Signs
All in all, it feels like Instagram has really lost its soul lately. In a scheme to not lose relevance to newer offerings, the platform has routinely tried to mimic its competitors. This all started back when Instagram blatantly plagiarized Instagram Stories from SnapChat. Since then, Instagram, with questionable degrees of success, has tried to copy YouTube with IGTV as well as now TikTok with Instagram Reels. Hell, the unscrupulous app even tried to incorporate the written word with its Guides feature! While this thankfully flopped, it is harrowing to think that Instagram will become anything just to survive.
Though many normal users and creators alike were unaware, the fall out from the algorithmic shift towards Reels has been going on for some time now. My marketing “spidey senses” originally picked up on the changes a few months after Instagram launched Reels in 2020. Back then, I noticed that despite growing a few thousand more followers, my actual reach on the platform was drastically going down. For a while, I thought I was alone. Recently though, I’ve noticed more and more camera-focused creators like @FrameOfTravel coming out of the woodwork to ring the death knell of the Gram.
In Need of Something Better
To be rather blunt, Instagram rarely brings me anything but headaches these days. I had originally considered starting a brand new account as a bid to rid myself of the inactive followers and bots that you inevitably pick up as a larger account. I’ve had a few friends restart their presence on the platform to great success. If you plot the trajectory of these creator’s rapid growth though, you’ll see that, without exception, they’re all focusing on mimicking trending Reels. At the end of the day, that’s just not the type of content that I want to make and therefore that avenue isn’t open to me.
After quickly regretting my decision to restart on Instagram, I ultimately came to the conclusion that I’d just struggle on with my present account, senescent as it may be. I mean, even if I started fresh, I’d still be struggling against the inescapable inertia that is placed upon photography these days by the algorithm. What’s more, I don’t really even want to be active on the present incarnation of Instagram recently to begin with. Really, the only reason that I persit is that the tourism industry here in Japan only wants to cast YouTubers and Instagrammers.
While I have nothing against the short form video format (in fact, I really love using TikTok when I have earphones in), I cannot even begin to express how disappointed I am with the current state of Instagram. I used to regularly turn to the app as a way to find inspiration and new locations to visit. Lately though, all I see in my feed is two-week-old TikTok trends or what can only be described as “flex travel content” that, despite looking dope, doesn’t provide much value to the viewer. I acknowledge that this type of content gets a lot of views but it’s really not what I’m inspired to make.
Regarding My Future Focus
Moving forward into the future, I am going to be putting less and less of a focus on Instagram. Though I will continue to have a presence on the formerly almighty Gram, I’m not going to invest in growing my following anymore only to have my audience taken away from me by the algorithm. This is always a risk when building a following on someone else’s platform but Instagram has just become too unbearable for the tradeoff to be worth it. At the risk of sounding like Kondo Marie, the formerly photocentric app just doesn’t spark joy these days. As a result, I think I’ll be spending as little time there as I can.
Oddly enough, I’ve really been enjoying Twitter and my Facebook group lately. These mediums have proven much more conducive to sharing the long form written content that I love producing. Additionally, as noted above, I have also really been diving into TikTok. Despite essentially being the same format as Reels, the experience is fresh and engaging whereas Reels feels like something awkwardly grafted onto a platform that once was for photography. Of course, writing here on the blog is both therapeutic and something that I will never consider giving up so you can expect to see more of my articles.
Hopefully, the powers that be will make something new that is decentralized in the very near future. As soon as a platform like that starts to take off, you can bet your bottom dollar (or yen) that I’ll be going all in on it. Thankfully, I have high hopes for what will come out of the crypto and blockchain spaces in the coming years. In the meantime though, I’ll need to make due with #Shitstergram while looking to eke out as many blog views as I can from the other platforms. It would be one thing if it was just the organic reach on Instagram but the lack of open borders has been a real double whammy for my sense of purpose.
Let’s Continue to Stay Connected
In closing, if you’re feeling extra generous and want to help reach as many people as I can with the dwindling power of Instagram, do me a favor and shoto my posts a comment or save. Since the algorithm cannot actually judge content on its own merit, it instead relies on proxies like engagement to vet the value of a post. Because of this, your comments go a long way in helping me reach more people. Of course, signing up for my newsletter is the best way to stay in touch. Regardless of whatever changes the big tech oligarchs enact, they can never disrupt that pathway.
Until next time travelers…