Per the screen shot, Instagram said: â€œWe want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get.â€
That sounds benevolent, and it aligns with all of the studies that suggestÂ social media is stressing people out. But as is seemingly the case with everything else involving Facebook/Instagram changes, the ulterior motive probably boils down to one thing.
Consider this: The first thing any marketer looks at when evaluating an Instagram post, feed or influencer isÂ engagement rate, a quick measurement of how many people, as a percentage of a feedâ€™s overall following, like or comment on a post. If you canâ€™t tell whoâ€™s got engagement and who doesnâ€™t, it makes working with an influencer far less appealing.Â
If like counts do go away, what becomes of Instagram Influencers? If theyâ€™re not already looking to conquer new territory, they should be. Short-from video sharing network TikTok is probably the most obvious landing spot, and Facebook recently launched â€œLasso,â€ a TikTok competitor. Anyone whoâ€™s serious about being an influencer has a vested interest in skating to where the puck is going to be, and taking their followers with them.
The question is, will Instagram take this drastic step? I think theyâ€™ll keep it in their back pocket for a while. But it feels inevitable.
Despite massive popularity, unrivaled cultural relevance and a billion daily active users, Instagram canâ€™t seem to figure out long-form video. Specifically, its â€œIGTVâ€ platform, which originally launched as a standalone app in June (remember that?) is largely being ignored by users, at least if multiple media reports (New York Magazine, Fast Company) are to be believed.
We donâ€™t have much else to go on. Despite scouring the internet, I couldnâ€™t find a credible reporting of IGTVâ€™s monthly active users (MAUs). Presumably, that would indicate that the number is underwhelming, and as such, it hasnâ€™t been released. I found a random tweet that pegged it around 65 million, but that number is unsubstantiated and seems unlikely.
Quick, informal polls on my Twitter and Instagram feeds suggested the same conclusion.
In my own Instagram story and Twitter feed last week, I asked followers, most of whom work in the digital marketing space, if they actually use IGTV. Of 40 responses to my Instagram story poll, only one person acknowledged actually watching the IGTV platform.
At 2.5% percent, thatâ€™s about as effective as a PPC ad. Thatâ€™s not what we industry types call a great conversion rate.
On Twitter, most replies were â€œNope.â€ Others suggested that theyâ€™d only landed on IGTV accidentally.
Instagram launched IGTV to much fanfare midway through 2018, with analysts proclaiming it to be a potential YouTube competitor. That didnâ€™t pan out. Almost a year later, the platform feels like, at best, an afterthought, and at worst, a miscalculation. When the initial standalone app failed to take off, IGTV was more deeply integrated into into the main Instagram experience.
However, IGTV doesnâ€™t seem to be resonating with rank-and-file Instagram users.
Early on, Instagram was preaching patience. â€œItâ€™s a new format. Itâ€™s different. We have to wait for people to adopt it and that takes time,â€ former Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told TechCrunch in August of 2018. â€œThink of it this way: we just invested in a startup called IGTV, but itâ€™s small, and itâ€™s like Instagram was (in the) â€˜early days.’â€
A month later, Systrom, along with Instagram Co-founder Mike Krieger, left Facebook, Instagramâ€™s parent company.
So, is IGTV the new Google+? Itâ€™s likely too early to tell, but itâ€™s looking that way.
Instagramâ€™s main feed and Stories products have become symbiotic with the influencer community, and IGTV seems tailor-made for brands and influencers to offer longer-form content; videos can be up to an hour long. However, the people who should have the most interest in the new platform, creators themselves, are mostly just repurposing (read: cropping vertically) their YouTube content.
Without a clear monetization path, theyâ€™re unlikely to continue to put any real effort into the platform. Top talent on YouTube can make six figures or more a month.
IGTV isnâ€™t the first time that Facebook has swung and missed on long-form content. Facebook Watch, which was also positioned as a YouTube competitor, initially was paying content providers, with an estimated budget of $90 million. But as that money started drying up, outside of truly unique content like Tom Bradyâ€™s â€œTom vs. Time,â€ â€œBall in the Familyâ€ or WWEâ€™s â€œMixed Match Challengeâ€, there wasnâ€™t much to see on Watch.
Far more problematic beyond a revenue model is the main issue for influencers: If nobodyâ€™s watching, whoâ€™s being influenced? Is there really a long-form content appetite to be fed on Instagram via the smartphone?
Depending on which gurus you believe, millennials either want â€œsnackableâ€ short-form content, or they actually want long-form content. Go ahead: Google â€œlongform video making a comeback.â€ Youâ€™ll find articles from 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018 in the first page of results.
But hereâ€™s the thing: Long-form content never went anywhere. With apologies to L.L. Cool J, donâ€™t call it a comeback. Long form content has been here for years. Itâ€™s called YouTube. And why is YouTube so successful?
One word: search. YouTube is the second-biggest search engine in the world, trailing only its parent company, Google.
IGTV, in an effort to differentiate itself from YouTube, launched without proper search functionality. In fact, when you activate IGTV, it opens with static fuzz, like what you would see when you turned on a TV with a cable box back in 1983 and flipped through channels, not knowing what youâ€™re going to get next.
â€œBecause we donâ€™t have full text search and you canâ€™t just search any random thing, itâ€™s about the creatorsâ€ Systrom explained at the time of the launch. â€œI think that at its base level that itâ€™s personality-driven and creator driven means that youâ€™re going to get really unique content that you wonâ€™t find anywhere else and thatâ€™s the goal.â€
Search has since been added to IGTV (and it quickly auto-suggests feeds that create IGTV content), but when I opened IGTV over the weekend, I was served up content from ESPN, WWE, Gary Vaynerchuk and The Daily Show.
This is all content I can find everywhere else, on Twitter, television, Linkedin, etc.
Discoverability is one of the main issues thatâ€™s continued to plague Snapchat, and seems to be hurting IGTV as well. With all of the choices we have today, am I going to invest five minutes into a random piece of longform content that an algorithm thinks I want to watch? Possibly.
The likelihood increases dramatically, however, if itâ€™s something Iâ€™ve searched out.
With all of the data these major platforms have at their disposal, why do they continue to make such large errors in assessing what their users actually want? Why do they fail in targeting new spaces like Google did with social, or Instagram seems to be doing with long-form video?
In reading about the Google+ failure, one anonymous former Googler said the company was “late to market” and motivated from “a competitive standpoint” as they looked to take on Facebook.
If youâ€™ve never read this infamous tweetstorm from another former Google+ engineer, it describes office politics, siloed teams and a lack of clear vision as major factors in the demise of Googleâ€™s failed social network. Hereâ€™s the start of that thread:
Given the recent Instagram drama surrounding the foundersâ€™ departure from Facebook, itâ€™s likely that similar forces were at play with IGTV.
Whatever the reason, IGTV hasnâ€™t lived up to the hype of last yearâ€™s launch, and it may never take off at all. Instagram itself doesnâ€™t seem to be losing steam. But they badly misread the market and their usersâ€™ appetite (or lack thereof) for long form content.
The lesson might be this: You donâ€™t have to be all things to all people.
Or, as Facebook Watchâ€™s LaVar Ball says, â€œStay in yo’ lane!â€
I’m almost convinced Facebook staged Wednesday’s all-day near-blackout on purpose.
If Instagram is still down by the time you’re reading this, then you’ve certainly got a few extra minutes to burn, so do me a favor. Read Chapter 2 of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, where Mark Twain explained social media marketing all the way back in 1884.
Oh great, you’re back. More on Tom Sawyer in a moment.
The blackout was devastating. Lindsay Lohan couldn’t take it, requesting that Instagram contact her. The lower-case, no punctuation request/demand was softened by a “please,” but she seemed to mean business.
The Fat Jewish (no really, that’s a popular influencer’s nom de guerre on social media) wondered what would happen if the ‘Gram never returned. Joking about Instagram models going unemployed was low-hanging fruit, knowing he’d garner tons of “engagement” when people clapped-back at him, asking where he’d go to steal content.
Others wondered if Elizabeth Warren had already broken up Big Tech.
Everybody was talking about it on Twitter, since it was the only major platform operating at the time. (Sorry, Snapchat.)
Make no mistake, the prolonged Instagram blackout was a cultural event. It was bigger than Beto O’Rourke confirming his presidential run (maybe push that back a day, strategy team?), The Bachelor Finale recaps or Donald Trump grounding faulty 737s.
The visceral, unhinged reaction to the longest blackout in Facebook’s history was a depressing confirmation of what we’ve long since already accepted: our phones own us, and it’s rapidly getting worse. It’s a runaway train, and the distracted conductor’s not looking at the tracks ahead.
This chart is truly tragic. The “Don’t Drink and Drive” message we were bombarded with since the late 1980s made a protracted but significant impact over a 20-year period. Sadly, all of that work has basically been undone in half the time. Our smartphone addiction is Exhibit A.
The machines are literally killing us, and Skynet isn’t even self-aware yet. Or is it?
What’s the URL for that again? (“Nevermind – what’s new on Netflix?”)
Journalists didn’t seem to mind Facebook and Instagram taking a siesta. After all, Twitter drives their relevance, and to a lesser degree, referral traffic. When actual news happens, people find out first on Twitter. But wouldn’t it be nice if it was 2005 again, when people talked to each other at dinner, and you had to type in www.bostonglobe.com or www.sfchronicle.com to find out what’s really happening?
The replies to this tweet were fascinating.
For one, people don’t want to pay for content. They’d rather be the content. (“@OneSlowDude” is an interesting handle, all things considered.)
Dear @OneSlowDude: If it’s free, you’re the product, brother.
Journalists rely on those subscriptions (that you don’t want to pay for) to feed their families. After all, who is going to work for free?
Henry Apple (no relation to Tim Apple, at least as far as I know) certainly isn’t willing to work for free. But guess what? Everybody on social media is. Zuckerberg must have read Chapter 2 of Tom Sawyer, because he’s convinced a billion people to whitewash his fence every month.
But back to the replies:
“The local news is fake, but Instagram ain’t!”
Perhaps you want more world news, and don’t care about what’s going on in your own backyard.
World events are important. Alicia makes a point. Then again, what if the only news worth sharing is the news that hey, Facebook and Instagram are down?
It’s been a tough year for Facebook. Basically every story that’s come out in the last year has been negative, and now politicians want to break them up. They’ve lost control of their own narrative, which reminds me of the old Don Draper axiom of marketing.
Perhaps a little reminder from Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp was just what the doctor ordered. “You love us, and you can’t live without us.”
Finally, I’ll leave you with some Mark Twain:
â€œTom said to himself that it was not such a hollow world, after all. He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing itâ€”namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is OBLIGED to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.â€
I’m looking forward to speaking Tuesday morning at Digital Summit Phoenix, where I’ll present on Instagram Influencers. I’ll share research and insights from Instagram Influencers about how they like to work with brands, and teach you how to spot fake followings.
For more details, check out the session description below.