Why Instagram Doesn’t Owe Us Anything

Why Instagram Doesn’t Owe Us Anything

It seems like every time you open Instagram, someone is complaining about their post exposure or the algorithm on their profiles. Whether algorithm changes or some other inexplicable event have dropped their engagement, the reason they don't have a following yet is because Instagram is always holding them back. What we fail to realize is that this free platform that promotes our work really doesn’t owe us anything.

Let’s put this in perspective: Instagram is a free application that allows photographers and videographers around the world to have a platform to display their work on a daily basis to over 800 million active users. Along, with catering to the sheer immense amounts of creatives, they have personal profiles and traditional businesses as well that they have to cater to. The fact that Instagram can manage all of this data and provide it to each individual user in a fair, calculated way while retaining a great social experience is a feat in itself. The ability to have our work on a world stage is a huge tool to us, but it shouldn’t be the only tool that you use to build your business. We should all be diversifying our social footprint, whether it be through using Facebook, Snapchat, Vero, and/or the other 80 or so relevant applications at the given time. Along with our social presence, we have to be out networking and creating meaningful personal relationships with the communities around us.

Instagram is a great community from which we can take an endless amount of inspiration, and it gives us a platform to help build our business. It’s free, easy, and accessible by a large portion of the world, but it’s made for everyone — not just us. We need to appreciate the fact that we live in a day where we have tools like this at our disposal because one day Instagram will be gone and the thousands of followers will mean nothing. When that day comes, some of the people who used it as a tool will find new tools, and the people who don't will be left behind.

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26 Comments

Michael Holst's picture

Yes!

They're a business and gotta make money somehow. Using the platform is free so they've turned it into a marketing tool for business to get ads in front of the population who uses it. Every free social network eventually turns into this.

What's this utopian future you speak of?

Vincent Alongi's picture

It's a free app. We're using it to promote ourselves... I'd say it owes us nothing... much in the same way any free social media site / app owes us nothing.

ALEXANDER TARDIF's picture

There were a number of posts over the years with folks loosing their mind over FREE social media platforms changing how they operate. One that comes to mind is by that little weasel Dani Diamond guy who went berserk over FB feeds - he promised to be "done" with FB and he was moving to IG (oh, the irony!) AFTER claiming that FB helped him get where he got in the first place.

You know what all these people have in common? ...nauseating sense of entitlement. It's disgusting.

Paul Choy's picture

To put forward an alternative viewpoint, for quite a while Facebook were actively advising that businesses should spent considerable sums of money "boosting" their page in order to reach a NEW audience, on the basis that any followers gained as a result would then see all future posts.

Obviously Facebook then moved the goal posts by introducing algorithms which prevented the majority of those followers from seeing posts without constantly boosting posts. I can understand why those businesses may be upset with these new changes, especially as Facebook has now introduced the same measures to Instagram.

Douglas Turney's picture

I'll agree with your there. FB has in the past promoted various marketing methods that you could pay for only to have FB change things after a short period of time. Or the other thing that drove me crazy was they never really explained how the feature worked. The would give very general guidance or hint at how the latest feature they were pushing would work.

Kawika Lopez's picture

Yes, the app is free. Yes, the account is free. Yes, every post is free.

What’s not free is my time. While I may not be spending actual dollars paying for the service, the time many of us have spent creating content, curating, networking, engaging, and building a following is worth a lot to any creative.

If I’m reading “the rule book,” you’re right. But it sure is a kick to the crotch when many of us have spent literally years of our time and energy marketing on a platform that has become volatile and unpredictable.

Imagine if all that time (and in many cases, money) had been spent on different kinds of marketing, skill development, etc.
That's what blows my mind about IG. SO many people are investing SO much time (and money) into it at the expense of other types of promotion. For most of them, it's simply a quest to become internet-famous and to financially capitalize on that. For some, it has worked out. For most, it hasn't. It appears, to me at least, to be quite typical of a multi-level marketing scheme.
In any MLM (and IG/FB), the number of people you have in your down pipeline, the more money you make. For IG/FB specifically, the goal is to get followers and especially followers who are engaged, even better if you can get them to repost your stuff, tag you, etc..
In any MLM and on IG/FB, there are a few who make great money, gain notoriety, become famous (at least within the confines of that scheme), and urge others to simply "do what I did" while the majority of everyone else ends up spending more than they make in resources only to grow frustrated and resentful. Additionally, the biggest winner in a MLM organization is the organization itself. It grows to a VERY large size on the backs of the hardworking peons who never profit from their efforts while doing VERY LITTLE themselves. And IF the peons start to see some success, the MLM company moves the goal posts to make success (at their expense) more difficult but they'll disguise that change as "good for you".
IG/FB truly is multi-level marketing. There's simply no denying it.

Douglas Turney's picture

Yes, but that was your choice to spend that time and effort. IG did not force you to do it or even charge you to have the chance to build your following. What about those companies that advertised in newspapers years ago only to have that market change? Things change and we all must be willing and able to change with the times.

Here is one promotional activity that never seems to change - networking, especially face to face. I get more work by talking to people about what they want/need and what I can offer. Much easier than figuring out what the latest social media platform is and how it works.

Do I use IG? Yes, but I use it for 1) to have a place people can see my work quickly - especially when talking to them face to face and 2) to have a place to put up some fun personal type stuff my friends and family would like to see. I also have a website that I use as an online portfolio. I have two meetings this week about potential work that came about from me sending out a cold call email to them. I also have a meeting for potential work next week from simply walking up to the other party at an event with an idea of how my photography could help with their fund raising activities.

If I'm going to put my marketing eggs in a basket, I want to be holding the basket, not some company that can change how the basket is held.

Christos Dikos's picture

They don't "owe" us and we don't "owe" them. I'm sure however they do appreciate user feedback and user's appreciate that they listen.

Brandon Adam's picture

I think they do owe us in a way. As much as I don't like it, they are now a publicly traded company via Facebook. Which means, in a round about way, that if their users are no longer happy, it's actually effecting people's pocket books. It's their responsibility to make money and keep stock holders happy. Making your users turn on you will have quite the opposite effect on stocks. Snapchat has recently been in the headlines multiple times because of this. Celebrities have been sharing their displeasure with the app and their stocks tanked.

Not only that, but without creatives, Instagram would just be millions of mediocre cell phone pictures.

"Not only that, but without creatives, Instagram would just be millions of mediocre cell phone pictures."
Pretty sure that's what they envisioned initially as evidenced by the fact you could only upload via mobile.

Michael Holst's picture

I think sometimes we creatives get stuck in our own bubble and forget that the vast majority of social media users are just doing it to be social. They follow and like our stuff but until we (creatives) start paying money we are in a limbo between the bigger businesses that pay to get special treatment, and the general users who they want to target.

Some users might "turn" on Instagram but not enough to even make an impact. We are a small minority.

Stas F's picture

As much as I'd like them to think they owe us they don't. Their one and the only responsibility is shareholder wealth maximization through increasing stock price. It's written in the law. Whether they do it through charging more for ads or putting out more ads or using proprietary feed algorithms - non of our concern. All the talks about "well, we don't like this, that means we are going to abandon Instagram and go somewhere else" are just talks and they know that and the board of directors know that. Snapchat was a big short from the day of the IPO just like GoPro. Celebrities and news can affect stock price but if there are fundamentals to support stock price, it will recover. SNAP and GPRO don't have those fundamentals so almost any news/event would crash the stock so it's not fair to say Rihanna crashed snapchat (e.g.). Facebook's strategy for a long time been expansion though acquisition (remember whatsapp?). If they see a threat to Instagram they'll just buy that competitor.

Joey Jonaitis's picture

What this post does not address is that Instagram uses it's free users to contribute the content for their app so they can continue to sell advertising to companies. While they need to cater to everyone on the platform, if they stop catering to the content creators who people go to Instagram to see then the creators will go somewhere else. Look what is happening to YouTube.

Brandon Adam's picture

Jonathan Brady This is my point exactly.

Michael Holst's picture

YouTube is making a lot more socially complex mistakes than Instagram is. Plus thats comparing apples to oranges because YouTube has Ad revenue for creators who reach a certain level of viewership. Instagram does not offer that. So when an ad goes up on a controversial YT video it's a big deal because those advertisers are now connected to the creator. Instagram is just photo posts.

Michael Holst's picture

It's a give and take. They offer a service that connects people together digitally but with the other hand they prepare to use the data gathered or put you in front of advertisements.

Michael Holst's picture

A few tweaks and anything came become something it wasn't intended to be. But I pretty much agree.

Vincent Alongi's picture

I take it all with a grain of salt.It's cool to see your followers climb, then shake your head when they unfollow. Lol. And with Facebook, it's nice to watch your following build over time. But it's all just window dressing.

The real deal is face-to-face networking. In a half-hours time last night over coffee, I met a pretty good local contact who I'll be picking up some work from on the side... as he develops websites, I'll be referred to for the photos. Not a bad gig. Not earth-shattering, but it's a nice way of referrals, marketing, etc. Facebook has netted me a couple of gigs lately, but that's too sporadic. I'm relatively new, I could use a better approach than social media.

Matthew Saville's picture

TLDR, no social media platform owes anybody anything. We're giving away our time, our artwork, our social interactions, and in many cases our personal information, in exchange for a fleeting chance at fame, fortune, and a nice convenient way to keep in touch with friends.

There is no free lunch. No investor was ever planning on sinking money into these endeavors indefinitely, and they're all getting greedy and hungry for millions / billions in profit, as you might expect when so much capital is being spent on projects left and right, many of which fail by the way.

Get over it. There are still plenty of ways to "get popular", or to make a buck, for relatively cheap or even for free, let alone to connect with your friends and family in ways that were totally unimaginable just 20 years ago.

Joe Healey's picture

Do not include me in the word "Us" in the title. How can so many photographers put so little value on their content? Zuck and the Valley Boys must be sitting around the board room popping a bottle of White Gold reading these ‘here’s my free photos, thank you very much for allowing me to view your advertisers content while data mining me and following me around the web. Much love <3” Control of the internet rests in the hands of too few individuals and this is the reason why.

Taz Rahman's picture

You are missing the point. For photographers, instagram success is not success as a photograpgher but success as a marketer who also happens to be a photographer.

Chris Bruna's picture

Hello Social Media. I’m Chris. My goal is to have 100 million followers. And I am willing to follow 100 people. I will be social to those 100. And to the 100 million I will broadcast. Now give me money.

mark mil's picture

I think that there is some trade going on between users and IG. Without consent IG has nothing to offer and nobody will 'watch.' So, users provide content, IG makes money on advertising (and data mining).
By messing with the algorithms, what seems to have happened is that what was initially a very low cost to enter has become impossible to define. IG defines who the 'influencers' (don't get me started) are by who they allow to trump the algorithm. Again, which seems impossible to define.
It seems to smack of an 'unfairness' Which I can understand how that upsets people.
The business world, at least in my estimation is a very unfair one. Better to learn that on IG then out in the world.

Aleksi Lausti's picture

Actually they do kind of owe us in the sense that we provide them with free content for them to make money with. Not the other way round. All of our photography is just revenue for them without which they are worth nothing. If you consider your photography "worthless" then this article makes kind of sense.