The usage of social media has been a prevalent phenomenon since the early internet days. However, since the early use in the noughties, a lot has changed. One of the most significant changes in how the function of these platforms is the way in which they produce their revenue. Though most of these pages have used advertisements to keep afloat for a long time, it feels like there has been a shift in which the advertisements come first, and the user experience comes second. This shift can be most clearly seen in the latest Instagram update.
In their new update, the Instagram developers made some major changes in the app layout. These changes consist in replacing the button to add content to your profile with a Reels (the Tik Tok copycat) button. Another major change is switching the heart button (in which the user could see notifications to their interactions) with a shopping tab. Needless to say, these new features were not welcomed by most users, since they basically shift the purpose of the app into a more shopping oriented one.
The discontent with this update can be seen in numerous of the latest app reviews such as:
“I used to love Instagram! It’s getting worse and worse. It used to be about sharing photos, art and social connection. Now it is mostly all advertising. The new shopping tab, reels and suggested posts are going too far, you have no control over what you see anymore. I feel brainwashed and frustrated when I use it. I no longer have Facebook for similar reasons. Please someone create an Instagram copy, happy to pay if it’s ad free.”– Jodie Toms, 19 November 2020
“App was pretty fun for a while but with the new interface its hard to log on and just see shopping as a priority. I don’t get why every social media app has to be the best in everything. We have separate apps for a reason. Insta is good for photos and chatting. But that doesn’t seem to be the focus currently. The lack of regard for user concerns is not great”-Katherina Martin 21 November 2020
These two reviews are not knit picked or alienated opinions, instead there countless of reviews sharing the same level of disappointment towards the new update. After all, there has been a tonal shift, in the core of this app and the users can sense it.
Social media platforms are marketing oriented. Even though this is not inherently bad, there has been an overall shift in which the users are feeling neglected. The goal of these platforms used to be to enable people to connect with their friends and likeminded people. But with the increase of sponsored posts appearing in the users feed and now with this new update, it is undeniable that these platforms have been overcome with greed.
 Instagram, 2020. Vers. 22.214.171.124.120. Google Play Store, https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.instagram.android
Thank you for sharing your perspectives on Instagram! I was actually thinking the same, especially since the buttons were moved as you said. Instagram is mainly focusing on the advertisements and the marketing aspect of the platform, rather than the “regular consumers”. I personally use Instagram a lot, but it does annoy me that they constantly want to provide everything. The app basically copies the “unique selling points” from other apps (Snapchat, Tiktok) and make these their own. It is now an all-in-one social media platform, a store, and a place for many people to market their businesses…
I was actually talking with a friend of mine about this new update. Before it was stories and reels which were meant to replicate the features on both Snapchat and TikTok, now, they are transforming the app into a shopping centre. The app was meant to advertise products since basically the beginning, after all, the majority of revenue comes from advertisement but, the new layout just seems to make an advertisement and the marketplace the top priority whereas users are no longer the focus and are left out more and more with every new update. Pretty sad in my opinion.
I agree with the points you raised, but should this development actually come as a surprise, considering that Instagram is owned by Facebook? It seems like they intend to move in a bigger way to develop eCommerce, both on Facebook and Instagram and… who knows? Perhaps even WhatsApp??
Interesting read! Social media apps are definitely becoming more marketing-oriented, and while I don’t necessarily always enjoy that, I personally also see the benefits of this kind of marketing. Last week, for example, I purchased a product at a shop in Amsterdam (called “Hutspot”) via Instagram DM. The product was not online on the web shop anymore, but when I sent them a message about it they actually told me they had one available for me and immediately sent me a paying request via chat (so I did not even have to go to the web shop itself to purchase the product). Although I think these platforms shouldn’t be too heavily commercialized, I also think apps like Instagram can be an informal, easy and fun intermediary between seller and buyer.
I think I will join a group of unhappy users. Before reading your post I never really looked at the shop button, but now I did and it is terrifying. First of all, I see recommended products of brands I don’t even follow but I looked at them a long time ago and forgot that they even exist. Second thing is, how much data do I leave on Instagram that they know me so well? I really could buy each item that is recommended. I understand that Instagram and other social media are basically machines of commerce, but in times when we really have to cut the waste and think about the planet, such a move is at least irresponsible if not dangerous.
Thank you very much for sharing your perspective. Its very true that the market orientation of a lot of these social media giants has become more and more surface level evident in the last year or so, even with basic advertising.
For me, the shocker has been YouTube and its insanely forceful advertisements that plague practically every single video on its site. What used to be a single ad per video that could be skipped, has now evolved into several ads per video (sometimes right after each other) of which most cannot be skipped. Whats even more worrying is that if you report ads too much, you temporarily lose your ability to report ads! Clearly quarantine has allowed marketing agendas to skyrocket…
Thank you, Fiona for your post! Before getting into the main topic of your post, I’d like to stress that it took me until a few days ago to get used to the new lay-out. As Chrissy Teigen perfectly captioned in one of her posts: “I don’t usually do throwbacks but that’s how long it took me to figure out how to post it on this new god forsaken Instagram layout”. In my opinion, the combination of Instagram’s new layout makes their advertisement change even more annoying. I really used to enjoy the app, but since their shift of turning into a marketplace – and their lay-out change that makes this shift evennmore apparant – I do not use it that much any more. And to have read all the comments that are posted before mine, I can see I am not the only one who is not excited about Instagram’s developments. I do hope Instagram will listen to their users and rule this advertisement aspect out again. Otherwise, I am not sure how much of you’re Instagram posts I will like in the future, as I will not use it anymore.
Very intriguing post, thank you for that!
I never even paid attention to this button before I read your blog, to be honest. (Such inattentive self, haha). But I can relate to the point of people from the reviews. It is not that much of a surprise that all social media right now used as a platform to promote and sell something, but adding this new function shifts the main goal of Instagram.
On the other hand for shopaholics (like myself sometimes) such type of function is convenient, so it is a problem of two sides of the same coin.