Instagram: Goodbye Images, Hello Video?

Instagram have said they’re “no longer a photo-sharing app”. Here’s what the future holds for the platform, and why video is about to become more important than ever.

The death of images

Head of Instagram Adam Mosseiri released a video on his personal profile a few weeks ago. In it, he asserted that “Instagram is no longer a photo-sharing app”. Instead, the platform is focusing on four key areas: Creators, Video, Shopping and Messaging. Today, we’ll be focusing on the second (and arguably the most significant) – video.

This is huge. This announcement confirms what many have believed for a while – that Instagram is steadily moving away from static images and doubling-down on video. Why the change of direction?

TikTok.

It’s impossible to ignore the monumental success of TikTok. As we mentioned in last week’s blog piece, TikTok was the most downloaded app of 2020 and has 689 million active users. It’s gone from being a pandemic pastime for Gen Z to a social and cultural powerhouse. TikTok has no traditional feed, captions take a backseat, and most importantly – it’s entirely video.

Facebook, Inc. has enjoyed a near-monopoly on social media for a long time. Almost everyone uses Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. It sees TikTok as a threat to Instagram. 70% of Instagram users are under-35, as are 62% of TikTokers (not including under-16s). They’re competing for the same audience.

‘If you can’t beat them, join them” is Instagram’s approach when it comes to competition. First it was lifting stories from Snapchat in 2016 (IG Stories), then long-form video from YouTube in 2018 (IGTV) and finally ‘TikToks’ in 2020 (IG Reels). Each new Instagram feature has achieved varying success – Stories have become wildly popular, whereas IGTV flopped.

As for Reels? It’s too soon to say. Adam Mosseiri’s statement conveys Instagram’s desire to become the home of video – and not just any video – short, vertical video.

The rise of short-form video

Why are short videos so popular? Social media is the epitome of an attention economy. Content lives and dies by its ability to be eye-catching. It doesn’t take long for the modern user to get bored, which is why concise, focused content is king.  Short-form video is between 10 – 60 seconds long. It’s perfect for the smartphone generation, who cycle through social media apps all day but only spend short bursts of time on each one.

It’s almost entirely vertical. TikTok, Reels, Snapchat, Stories, even Fleets (R.I.P) – what do all these relatively new features all have in common? They’re all in portrait, a 9:16 aspect ratio. Once again, perfectly suited to smartphones, providing an immersive, full-screen experience without the need to rotate your device. Compare this to any social media timeline – almost all the images are square. They weren’t designed with smartphones in mind. It’s simply not as engaging.

Let’s not forget authenticity. The rise of stories (and influencers) can be attributed to a growing desire for ‘authentic’ content. Having a highly stylised appearance on Instagram is not as important as it once was. Stories are ephemeral – they disappear after 24 hours. Users feel much more comfortable spontaneously sharing, and ultimately – users go where their friends are.

TikTok-style videos are essentially an evolution of stories. They share many of the same characteristics – they’re short, snappy and fun. The only difference is TikToks (and Reels) are much more of an audio-visual experience and live on your feed.

Final thoughts

Is there room for feed posts, stories and Reels on Instagram? Many users felt the addition of Reels made the UI feel bloated. Instagram has still yet to reveal the popularity of Reels, but appears to be steadily gaining traction. This is no surprise – after all they’re trying everything to encourage adoption. First by moving the Reels icon to the home screen, then by featuring suggested clips on the main feed. Even if you don’t follow the creator.

The question we find ourselves asking is: is this a case of user-pull, or platform-push? Are they adapting to social media users’ tastes, or deciding them? We’ve provided some fair arguments that the rise of short-form video is a natural one. However, we also have anecdotal evidence that platforms artificially boost the performance of new features to encourage usage.

Either way, we’ll be keeping a close eye on developments. There’s no denying that short-form video is here to stay, and should always be a key consideration when building your social media strategy. We don’t think it’s time to say goodbye to images just yet – static can still have a powerful impact, and people like a varied content diet. It’s the same reason we use YouTube (video), Twitter (text) and Instagram (photo) concurrently, rather than just one.

But one key takeaway to remember is: video is becoming increasingly dominant on every platform, including Instagram. Don’t get left behind.