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'Stop trying to be TikTok': How Instagram’s copycat strategy has backfired with loyal users

Users' complaints have been multiplying since Instagram has started experimenting with new video-focused updates.
Users' complaints have been multiplying since Instagram has started experimenting with new video-focused updates.   -   Copyright  Canva
By Giulia Carbonaro

A petition to "make Instagram Instagram again" and stop the platform from "trying to be like TikTok" has been signed by nearly 150,000 users fed up with it experimenting with features inspired by its rivals.

In recent months, users have been complaining about not being able to see their friends’ posts anymore, while being submerged by ads and suggested content.

Many are nostalgic for the times when their Instagram feeds weren’t taken over by Reels, the app’s TikTok-like short video feature.

Instagram, which was born in 2010 as a social media platform where you could share hipster-filtered images with your friends, is now a far different animal than what it used to be before Mark Zuckerberg’s then-Facebook-now-Meta acquired it in 2012.

Only a year after the company’s takeover, the app introduced video posts.

Now the platform offers the possibility to share Stories, IGTV, Lives and Reels, and users’ feeds have been recently overwhelmed with suggested reels from profiles they don’t even follow, making Instagram a bit more like TikTok.

Many of these video features, introduced to keep Instagram’s users engaged and attract new generations approaching the social media landscape, have been “copied” by successful features from other existing apps.

Instagram’s Stories were directly “inspired” by Snapchat, while Reels were adopted from TikTok’s videos.

These changes somehow betrayed the core purpose of the app - and what most users liked about the platform.

"Instagram’s success is largely because it didn’t actually copy other apps' way of doing things," Louise Watson-Dowell, Digital Strategy Director at Definition, one of the UK’s leading B2B PR agencies, told Euronews Next.

"Let’s remember this started as a photo-sharing app - the first to be solely focused on sharing beautiful, inspiring or envy-inducing pictures of breakfast, sundowners, outfits, and other halves.

"Unlike Facebook, you didn’t need to be friends with the people you followed, and the content was more escapist than Twitter, less professional than LinkedIn," she said.

"But with the success of video – YouTube is the world’s second-largest search console behind Google – all social media apps have had to adapt to continue to attract and retain users".

A new, video-focused Instagram

In May, Adam Mosseri, the Head of Instagram, posted a video on Twitter saying the app was testing feed changes to reflect the importance videos and messages were gonna have in the future of the platform.

“We’re moving Instagram to a place where video is a bigger part of the home experience,” Mosseri said.

Last week, Mosseri again announced new updates, this time to Instagram’s Reel function.

The company says these changes have been successful, with 91 percent of users responding to a company’s survey saying they watch videos on the platform every day.

Shares for the company have also increased on the markets after these updates.

But users are not happy, and it looks like the app's "copycat" strategy is no longer working for Instagram.

'Make Instagram Instagram again'

"We The People declare that this is what we want: BRING BACK CHRONOLOGICAL TIMELINES!" reads the petition brought forward on Change.org by user Tati Bruening on July 23. In just three days, the petition has already received nearly 150,000 signatures. The number makes it one of the top signed petitions ever launched on Change.org.

"There’s no need to overcomplicate things, we just want to see when our friends post. The beauty of Instagram was that it was INSTAntaneous. Back in the dawn of the app we were all living in the moment, seeing our best moments in real time," the petition continues.

"STOP TRYING TO BE TIKTOK! We have TikTok for a reason, and let’s face it, the only reels uploaded are recycled TikToks and content that the world has already seen".

Bruening asks Instagram to bring back "an algorithm that favours photos," Instagram’s focus before the app redirected its attention to videos in an attempt to chase the success of rival apps like now-defunct Vine, Snapchat, and TikTok.

"Let’s go back to our roots with Instagram and remember that the intention behind Instagram was to share photos, for Pete’s sake," Bruening writes in her petition.

Canva
Many Instagram users have complained of seeing their photo-based content hidden or being unable to see their friends' posts.Canva

On Tuesday, Mosseri addressed Instagram’s users with a video aimed at "clarifying a few things".

Talking about concerns around photos and the way Instagram is shifting towards video content, Mosseri said: "We’re going to continue to support photos, it’s part of our heritage".

"But I’m going, to be honest. I do believe that more and more of Instagram is going to become video," Mosseri said, adding that the shift is happening with or without Instagram’s updates, and claiming the app is just leaning into it.

The backlash was immediately apparent in the comments to Mosseri's post.

"If people don’t post videos they are basically shadowbanned,” wrote Italian writer and content creator Carlotta Vagnoli. “That’s a scam. And you’re doing it only to compete with TikTok. Years and years of work are gone for thousands of users and you still don’t listen to us. This social media is destined to end soon like MySpace did and Facebook too (land of boomers = dead). This is not TikTok. Deal with it".

Euronews Next has contacted Instagram for comment.

Has Instagram fallen out of touch with its base?

Many content creators, online shop owners, and photographers have been complaining for weeks - if not years - about Instagram abandoning its core function: sharing pictures.

"Over many years Instagram has seen a rich photography community grow from strength to strength, but the Facebook takeover and their stubborn efforts to challenge TikTok has led to the app feeling almost hostile to photography today," London-based photographer Anselm Ebulue told Euronews Next.

"It’s a real shame as there is still an appetite for photography on the app Instagram is failing to embrace. The Instagram desire to challenge TikTok has done more harm than good as it’s now become a Jack-of-all-trades app that doesn’t stand out in any way".

Marketing and social media experts aren’t happy either.

"From the perspective of the social media industry, it is changing how all aspects of Instagram activity work," Kenny Metham, social media manager at performance marketing agency connective3, told Euronews Next.

"It makes content creation a longer and more expensive process as video content comes at a premium. From the perspective of influencer marketing, influencers now have to produce primarily video content to get the most engagement, which means influencers are charging more due to the level of production required for video".

While it’s possible most users will adapt to the app’s latest refocus towards video content, there’s a possibility Instagram's chameleon-like quality of mirroring the best features of other apps might not work this time.

"This time it doesn’t feel authentic. Instagram just missed the boat on this one - its feed doesn’t compete with TikTok’s algorithm, which serves hours and hours of exactly the kind of content its users want in a never ending feedback loop," Watson-Dowell said.

"I don’t use Instagram the same way I do TikTok. For me, TikTok is about irreverence, humour, trending tracks. The sound blasts as soon as I open the app.

"In comparison I watch everything on Instagram with the sound off. I get my news, follow my friends, my colleagues, brands I like. The Reels I see are often not entertaining, funny, or even educational," he said.

"And the ones that are were on TikTok two weeks earlier. Instagram just got this one wrong - people don’t want the same experience on a different app. They want something better and this ain’t it".