Building connection through communities, creators, and ads

Instagram has received a lot of pressure after its recent trial of TikTok-like features, to the point where Adam M has now chosen to publicly apologise in respond to the community’s backlash. These were bold changes, and bullish given a quick review of where both players are.

Instagram is already on track to capture nearly 3x the amount of influencer marketing spend compared to TikTok this year ($2.23 billion compared to $774.8 million respectively), which Instagram will serve to its 1.2Bn users and TikTok to their much smaller 0.75Bn users.

This different in platform size really matters. Relevancy is king when offering content to audiences for their attention. The more people you have, the more likelihood there is that you can find something in commerce that’s tailored and exciting for each member of the platform. Today, only 3% of users feel TikTok ads feel relevant and with their massive 25% demographic between the age of 10–19 there aren’t enough of the right people to make future ad dollars stick. We’ll soon be seeing ad saturation in the 18–35 y/o’s of TikTok, and diversity across generations is not a small problem to fix.

So why is Instagram aping TikTok?

The market is seeing a lot of excitement in a new method of engagement through TikTok whereby 100k views is possible for a fraction of the existing spend/investment on other platforms. TikTok’s magic is in how fast their feed plays for you, increasing the volume. With TikTok’s approach users now control a skip button, instead of a play button.

The issue is that each slice of attention then becomes far more diluted. TikTok’s algo is so overwhelmingly focused on viral levers that 90% of an advertisers content just isn’t going to be hitting someone with a powerful intent to engage before they perform yet another swipe.

And this is becoming visible through content types that now have dominance on TikTok. It’s now firmly an entertainment platform giving you fun things to watch, completely different from Instagram today, which is the collection of all aspirational things you desire in life served up by a community of people you either trust or admire.

But the threat does still feel real, TikTok’s engagement mechanic is all about growth and its rise to fame is undeniable. Yet, because of these big differences in content and connection are they really competing for the same behaviors from both the consumer and creator sides of their offerings?

The trade off in becoming more TikTok

It takes time to nurture and connect people to their creators… can TikTok really claim that their model creates communities under influencers? OR is is merely that they have a measure of how viral a creators content is…

Instagram’s choice to follow TikTok is now damaging one of its core principles, the value of content from people because of our association to them. Instagram’s replication of a rival in both recommended content and interface erode this job to be done instead of strengthening the bond sentiment across each person’s follower graph.

It was a recently written by Ben Thompson about the inherent risks of changing too much when it comes to social. What’s important isn’t what in the interface changes but why it changes.

New features should promote the working together as a community people on the platform, this means creating a place for ads to live natively without obstructing the natural desire for people to see what those they care about or aspire to be like are posting about. If these models are build to encourage the same behaviour (skip, not play) then growth can be found more natively to them.

Four new engagement models

Theme: Community commerce

Popularised by Reddit with the WallStreetBets community disrupted retail investing with their crowd fund of GameStop. Instagram is a social commerce platform where what we all collectively consume still has no single platform that allows communities to drive group purchase behaviour.

Could Instagram affect the impact of communities around their spending culture and learn memeCommerce?

Theme: Friends and community assimilation

Instagram knows not just what you do, but how that moment relates to what others in the world are also doing which is the same. Today, Instagram could invest in building out the ability for users to see how similar lives to their own are being spent, and how to create movements from those bottom up associations (lots of people like you are doing this)

Can Instagram become the definition how our lives overlap, and bring us closer to those with shared interest?

Theme: Timeless scrap-booking

If you recently visited a great restaurant or purchased a product, why not discover who achieved this, regardless of when it happened re-living moment through association.

Could instagram move beyond real-time trends to offering a timeless feed of moments based on how you experience your life where others have also as some point?

Theme: Creator clusters

A reach of 500k followers from 50 micro influencers has far more advertising power than 1 mega influencer with the same amount. Today there is not collective feature that enables influencers to collaborate in their own communities. Content could be more dynamic and authentic (Gen-z) than their larger peers. These super communities would be more relatable and create less friction with recommendations by their levels of diversity mitigating the saturation of a more skip-led home feed.

Can Instagram empower syndicates to create new types of influence, able to self-govern and out perform their less effective but more notable rivals?

Instagram now needs to invest in people

Instagram has really compelling ways to make its connections integrate better with advertising and commerce. These are the grounds to compete in the years leading up to their AI taking over the majority of content. It’s humans that they need to back to enable retention, and it’s the context around the ads from their content that will help break the current cycle of recommendations sucking the fun out of a soon to be skip-based engagement model.

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