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Instagram: No Longer Just a Photo Sharing App

Updated: May 14, 2022

There has been a dramatic change in experience when opening the Instagram app in the past few months. You have probably noticed a change in the layout of your homescreen where at the bottom there are two new additions, Reels and Shop.

In September the head of Instagram posted a video announcing significant changes the app is planning to make over the next few months. Adam Mosseri announced that the company doesn’t want people to think of Instagram as the “square photo sharing app” any longer. He noted that based on research, the #1 reason people use Instagram is to be entertained, and in order to maintain their edge across stiff competition like TikTok and YouTube, the app needs to adapt and change.

Instagram began testing these features to understand how updates would affect user experience. They updated their algorithm for Reels to show individuals more engaging content based on their preferences and also updated their ecommerce store to get more users to purchase in-app. Below we will look more in-depth to what their testing indicated and what changes they made as a result.

Updates in content that reaches the eyes of users

Instagram prioritizes showing users recommendations for topics they aren’t following on their feed. This can be done through the user’s main page and explore page. Back in September and October the app tested this feature by allowing some users to choose from a list of topics they want to learn more about. This data allowed Instagram to understand what demographics of users preferred different kinds of content to be rolled out on a larger scale.

Instagram Reels

Another feature is making video content more immersive for users. The trend that video content is king among social media is clear. Platforms like TikTok and YouTube are driving a huge amount of traffic from video content and other platforms have taken notice.

Twitter attempted to get in on the action with its video first update “Fleets”. However, the feature was shut down due to users not adopting the update in the platform. Instagram may be more poised for user adoption of video due to the nature of the app. Being an image based platform, they can take the leap into video far easier than other platforms like Twitter

Experiential Changes

Finally, the head of Instagram said that the app will be building new experiences broadly across the platform.

These experiences will encompass giving new monetization tools for creators on the app, shifting more power into the hands of creators and away from the institution.

Second, they will be testing different forms of video content and the way that it is displayed, as in full-screen, immersive, entertaining, or mobile-first priority.

Instagram is also expanding its shopping feature to become more prominent on news feeds – this trend was accelerated by the pandemic shifting individuals buying offline to more online.

Finally, the app is changing the way individuals interact on the app. They want to shift away from feed and ephemeral stories as the main communication method toward direct messaging.

Instagram making the shift from a photo only app to a general entertainment app that is more driven by algorithms doesn’t mean that photo content will become irrelevant. What it does mean is that users will be recommended more content that they aren’t following already, and a higher priority will be placed on video. The shift to prioritizing video is a move to keep up and remain relevant to competition like YouTube which garners 1 billion hours of watch hours per day. The features will be rolling out on the app throughout the end of the year, not in an overnight shift. To best increase your reach on the app, test the features to find what works best for your audience. Find the best mix of content for your feed and diversify it with still image and video to use the algorithm to your advantage.


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