The Case for Instagram and Why It Might Not Be the Bad Guy You Make It out to Be

The Case for Instagram and Why It Might Not Be the Bad Guy You Make It out to Be

Instagram is the fodder for many complaints straining from what many say are tactics to make money. My problem with these complaints is that they never speak to the business side. They only talk about why Instagram is at fault, but never why they might have had to make these decisions

In this article, I’ll go through the list of Instagram’s biggest complaints and try and take the side of the business to shine light on the other side of the perspective. Because there are always two sides to the coin.

The Algorithm

I’m pro-algorithm. I know that’s not the most popular opinion, but there’s a reason. We all follow a lot of people. I follow around 1,000 users. These are all the makeup artists and models I’ve worked with, people I want to work with, other photographers, creative re-sharing accounts, celebrities, media hubs — you get the idea. Let’s take my thousand people I’m following and do some math.

In this group of users, let’s say 400 post daily. Of that 400, let’s say 50 post twice a day and 10 post 5 times a day (media hubs like Bleacher Report). That’s about 500 posts on my timeline a day on the low end. And here’s the thing, they’re not all posted throughout the day with equal time in-between. They’re posted around the same times at the start of every hour or half hour with some hot spots like 10:00am, 12:30pm, or 6:00pm. So, let’s say your favorite photographer announces they’re looking for an assistant at 10:00 AM, but you don’t get on Instagram that day until the afternoon. Unless you scroll through literally hundreds of posts, you’ll miss that. With an algorithm, you’re seeing the posts from people you want to see at the top at all times.

Whenever the makeup artist I work with posts, it’s at the top. Whenever Julia Kuzmenko posts, it’s at the top. The people I’m losing are the people whose photos I probably care less about. And since trying to cut Instagram to only marketing/engagement time, I’m only seeing what I want to see. I’m losing all the posts from models who went to the club the night before or photos of people with their siblings, which I’m not on Instagram for.

The reason people don’t like the algorithm isn’t because they’re not seeing posts they like; it’s because they’re not being seen on their followers’ timelines. Maybe the person didn’t like a couple of your posts, and boom, gone forever. The thing is, you’re more likely going to lose your dedicated followers because they won’t see your posts as often. You’d have to time your posts perfectly with when they’re on like Indiana Jones replacing the idol with the counter-weight. Let’s just say it didn’t work for Indy either.

There are 1,000s of photographers doing similar things to you out there. Why should someone stay invested in you over someone else? What are you offering them that they can’t find elsewhere? Being successful on social media means more than posting every day. It means connecting with the people who choose to follow you and going on and actually doing the work to get more people into your network. Unless you’re the cream of the crop photographer whose photo is literally a 10/10 every single time, you need to offer something else to keep attention and curiosity.

Pushing to Sponsored Posts

Of course they’re going to promote sponsored posts. You don’t realize how much Instagram costs. According to Hootsuite, in 2016 there were 95 million posts a day. A day. Do you understand how much that costs? Of course they want you to buy ad space when 95 million posts are being uploaded every day.

The general population doesn’t comprehend how much servers cost and what it takes for social media sites to break even. Most don’t accomplish this for years. Twitter didn’t post a profit as a public company until 2018.

So, knowing this, can you be mad that Instagram has “promote this post” buttons and notifications telling you to promote? I can’t. They need to make a profit at some point. And the fact that just about every person under 40 years old is on the app, this is a good way to help people reach their target audience.

The problem people have with sponsored posts is they think they’re forced to buy posts to get seen. Which yes, if you don’t have the time to actually use Instagram, sponsored posts might be the way to go. You can’t blame Instagram for the fact that you don’t engage with the app. You can’t just post to hashtags and get 100s of likes anymore, the same way you can’t put an ad in the newspaper and expect a million phone calls anymore. Things change.

This is how some photographers feel when it comes to getting their work seen.
Model: Claire Vanbeber - MUA: Jessie Lynn

This may seem like the only answer, but likes honestly don't mean anything. You need to be engaging with the users following you. When’s the last time you’ve gone through your followers list, gone to random profiles, and engaged with them? Never? Then why should they remember you exist? You can’t expect everyone who follows you to see your post and like it when they would have to do that for another 600+ people per day. We don’t live in a world where you can be a crappy photographer and still be in business because you’re the only guy in town with a camera studio. The same goes for social media. Just because you posted the photo doesn’t mean it’s going to get love. We don’t live in a world where you’re the only landscape photographer being followed. You need to show you’re worth it.

The App Isn’t Built for Photographers

You’re right, it’s not. It’s for everyone. Literally everyone. Not just people who take photos for a living, but for people who want to share their food with the recipe and people who write poetry and want a photo to compliment it and for people who met Robert Downey Jr. at a restaurant and got a picture with him. The app’s features are to meet all of these people’s needs, and they do a good job of it.

Seriously, the app’s UI is pretty perfect. Everyone gets an area that fits their screen. You get the photo area, the captions area, and the profile info. It all fits together on the phone’s screen from viewing to reading. The caption can be the important part, the photo can be the important part, you decide. It’s your space.

Instagram screenshot showing UI

You see everything you need right here with no friction in-between this photo and the next.

Model: Taylre Carre - MUA: Jessie Lynn

Want to know why it’s not full screen photos all the time? You know how annoying it is to rotate your phone back and forth between each photo to see what’s going on. Seriously. Swipe up to see the next photo and it’s a landscape. Rotate screen to see everything. Next photo is a portrait, rotate screen again. That’s not a great user experience. It's adding time between the experience.

Instagram keeps it one way. You see everything right there, nothing changes how you’re looking. Scroll, look, read, like, scroll again. Nothing is getting in-between this series of actions. You’re not rotating the screen, you’re not tapping a new page to see the next photo. It’s all right there. Friction-less. The only thing you can say is tough is the comments, but the comments aren't important to your viewing, because it's about you, not what others have to say about what you're viewing. You can choose to see other's comments, but you don't have to.

If you don’t like how your photos are viewed, make a website and put that in the bio of your Instagram page. Seriously. You can’t complain that no one likes your landscape photos because they are stretched so thin when there’s multiple landscape pages on Instagram with over a million followers. If you don’t care about the end consumer and just want a place to talk to photographers, then go to Flickr, 500px, or Reddit. You can’t complain that Instagram isn’t perfect for you because it’s not just for you.

The Grass Is Always Greener, Until It Isn’t

The biggest reason your favorite Instagram Killer won’t win is because it’s trying to win over the user now with these big dreams of never selling out, but that money has to come at some point. Vero was interesting. Their model was to make Instagram subscription-based after the first million subscribers. But is that what people really want? Are chronological timelines worth spending $3/month (speculation) for? What else are you getting out of it to switch? And what’s Dayflash’s plan to make money?

You acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.

So, the same thing as Instagram? Cool.

If your Instagram killer does actually kill Instagram one day, it will have to find profit somewhere. And as soon as too many people get on the site, it will “start to suck” just like you think with Instagram and your favorite subreddit. As things get more popular, more and more rules and regulations come into play to make sure everything runs smoothly. You need to accept that as more people join the platform, things essentially have to change to accommodate the larger group.

Cute puppy with a football

You've made it this far: here's a puppy photo as a thank you.

Too Big to Fail

We keep looking at new social media sites as killers of old sites, but the problem is all the social sites we have all reached Coca-Cola level status. What I mean is the monthly active users for each site are so much higher than Myspace that it’s almost infeasible that it will go away unless the government gets involved. And we don’t use social media the way we buy food. Coca-Cola and Pepsi can coexist because you don’t need to drink Pepsi if that’s what your friends choose. It’s an all or nothing deal when it comes to social media, because everything is dependent on who is on the platform.

Another problem is the Hierarchy of Social Needs for social sites. You can’t just be Instagram plus this or Instagram minus this. You need to really bring something new to the table that changes how people waste time. That’s why Vero had a hot minute and now Dayflash will do the same. They’re just Instagram with a fresh coat of paint. Look at what social sites are mainstream big. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and TikTok. They’re all different and serve different purposes. No one has quit Instagram to go to TikTok. They don’t step on each other’s toes. And until Instagram does something to make their entire base go away, whether that’s government intervention or a mass-exit due to a controversy, a new app just doesn’t have a spot. Not that it can’t, it just needs to be that much better and different.

The one caveat I’ve seen is Snapchat. I think this is due to the fact that it really is as private as it can get. Everything is gone in 24 hours still, so for teens and young adults, it’s where they’re talking with their friends, not on Facebook Messenger like we used to. So in a sense, it is different enough from IG Stories because they are used in completely different ways.

There’s No Perfect Platform and There Never Will Be

No one will ever be fully satisfied by a social media platform. You just have to play the game of whichever platform you’re on. Right now, Instagram is the best way to reach the masses. It’s a packed city with everyone fighting for attention from each other. As the city grows, the subway gets fuller, the traffic gets longer, and the streets get busier. You can acknowledge the larger population and work towards finding your spot in it. Or you can move to a new city that’s smaller that will eventually stay too small to survive or get too big and become exactly what you tried to leave.

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18 Comments

Jonathan Brady's picture

Random annoyance: why do people say "the case" instead of "a case". It comes off as though they are asserting that there's only 1 case for (fill in the blank) AND that they are the only person who could possibly think of such a thing? There are many cases for many things.
Except Instagram. The servers should be loaded onto a shuttle and sent to the sun.

Rupali Renjen's picture

Hi David, I'm one of the co-creators of Dayflash. Thanks for weighing in on Dayflash. I just want to make it clear that Dayflash is not aiming to replace Instagram. Dayflash is a new kind of social networking platform that's doing things differently in big ways that many of our users value.

As photo sharing platforms unfairly use algorithms to dictate which followers get to see a user's posts and as they push users to spend more time on stories from friends, long-form videos and shopping (all so they can make more money on ads & business accounts), less and less time is being spent on creators who share photos and short-videos to entertain or inspire the world, and these big changes by the well known photo sharing platforms are taking away visibility and opportunity from creators all over the world.

The team and I at Dayflash believe it should be easier to entertain or inspire the public through photos and short-videos—and form community and new friendships around interests. This is why we created Dayflash, which is a creators-first social networking platform that's aiming to bring more visibility and opportunity to creators while empowering creators to bring more entertainment and inspiration to the world. Moreover, Dayflash is not only used by creators—Dayflash has many users who simply value being inspired by accounts they love and using Dayflash for public self-expression, inspiration or entertainment.

We're introducing a new kind of photo & video sharing experience, which many of our users have been enjoying for several months so far.

To clarify our company's purpose... Dayflash is aiming to ignite greater public attention and recognition to people who share photos and short-videos to entertain or inspire the world. No other photo sharing company is set out to do that. Other photo sharing platforms have become permanently focused on friends and family use cases and ephemeral stories for the long term—at the expense of creators. We see a future where the world is spending much more time each day being inspired or entertained by photos from creators, but this future can only happen if there's at least one company like Dayflash that's set out to make that happen.

In regards to monetization, Dayflash will always be free for users to download and use. We're currently not monetizing and when we do turn on monetization in the future, we will always put our users first. We take user privacy very seriously, and as creators ourselves, we understand and will avoid the negative user experience that many people have been facing on some of the well known photo sharing apps. User privacy is among our highest priorities.

Really looking forward to an Android version of your app, any idea when it's coming? I've had screenshots from my iPhone friends and it looks good.

Wishing you and the team good luck!
Competition is always great for the end user
And look forward to trying it.

Rupali Renjen's picture

Thank you for your comment and kind words. An Android version is coming soon; it's definitely one of our top priorities. Feel free to sign up on the following Typeform to receive an email invitation to join Dayflash as soon as the Android version becomes available: https://dayflash.typeform.com/to/N902E8 It'd be great if you could join our community as soon as the Android version becomes available.

Done! Thanks for the link, I hadn't seen that before!.

David Justice's picture

Hi Rupali! Thank you for responding. My article is in no way a way to de-value Dayflash. Your inclusion is because of it's article on Fstoppers with the title "Say Goodbye to Instagram and Hello to Dayflash" as well as its photo-sharing similarities.

As you read in my article, I don't devalue the way you plan to monetize the platform, I just point out that at some point monetization will need to happen and whenever that happens users get upset.

I also say in the article that the app will have to be different and not hedge off being "Instagram + this or Instagram - this". You are targeting photographers and creatives specifically with your platform. Your comments here tell me that you aren't trying to reach every single person, but creatives looking for a creative community.

This article is about Instagram as a marketing platform to reach everyone more than a place to share your work. "If you don’t care about the end consumer and just want a place to talk to photographers, then go to Flickr, 500px, or Reddit. You can’t complain that Instagram isn’t perfect for you because it’s not just for you." Your app falls more into this category than an end all be all platform for everyone. That is what I'm getting from your comment here.

Rupali Renjen's picture

Thanks so much for your response. As you can read from my earlier comment, Dayflash is not only for creators. Dayflash has many users who simply value being inspired or entertained by accounts they love and using Dayflash for public self-expression, inspiration or entertainment.

The main difference between Dayflash and Instagram is our long-term purpose and strategic priorities. The next difference is our unique combination of user experiences that we've developed based on feedback from thousands of users during our public beta.

From my previous comment, I said the following: "To clarify our company's purpose... Dayflash is aiming to ignite greater public attention and recognition to people who share photos and short-videos to entertain or inspire the world. No other photo sharing company is set out to do that. Other photo sharing platforms have become permanently focused on friends and family use cases and ephemeral stories for the long term—at the expense of creators. We see a future where the world is spending much more time each day being inspired or entertained by photos from creators, but this future can only happen if there's at least one company like Dayflash that's set out to make that happen."

user-248633's picture

Yawn

Mark? Is that you?

Thank you for this article David.
I see why people get annoyed by Instagram and it annoys the hell out of me too. I'm active and engaging with my followers and the people I follow and my engagement is extremely high, though I struggle to build up followers. But I get why Instagram has to be like this. There's more and more photographers joining the platform every day and at some point there must be a selection. Also, people somehow got to expect that app developers have to work for free and then - on the same platform - complain that photographers are expected to deliver free content. Wtf?

What I really don't get is the fact that the same locations with the exact same images (see insta_repeat) get pushed so hard while creative people get left out.

I guess overall Instagram is a shitty and a great platform. There sure is a lot they could change without losing money that would increase the user experience a lot. On the other hand I got my first jobs through Instagram and got to know a lot of great people

David Justice's picture

Thank you for reading and understand why I wrote this. I just feel like a lot of the basics of how this app runs and how it’s how we’ve always felt about every single thing in the world that gets “too popular”. As for your copying creativity point, let me try to theorize why this happens.

1. It is a basic human trait to want to be popular. So you follow trends and go to where people are going because you want to see what they saw and do what they did.

2. This has always been the case, but with Instagram we’re now seeing it more than ever because every photo on earth is readily available. I mean how many people went to Yellowstone to capture photos similar to Ansel Adams, or tried to recreate that photo in NatGeo of the woman in the turban with the stunning eyes, or honestly how many people tried to recreate Jackass? These were all trends before social media took off and we all know people who want to be like them.

3. There’s more beginners and lower-middle talent than ever before and when you’re at that level you tend to copy others who are better to build up your style. When I first started I wanted to be Clay Cook so badly. I had all his work saved so I can create my own work around his style and eventually, as I got better, I moved out of that.

The problem is not everyone gets better and they stay in that copy zone and become famous on social media because...

4. The end consumer doesn’t care and the market for photography is so flooded, they will only see 1 person’s landscape and not the 22 exact replicas.

The end consumer also, at some point, just tops off what they think is great photography. So to you, an image might be a 4/10. To a regular person, that could be an 8/10 because they don’t see all the things wrong with it that you do.

So let’s say the original image is a 10/10 landscape in Tacoma. A bunch of photographers go and find the spot and take the same photo and they’re all 5’s and 6’s. The average consumer of landscape photos will think the version of it they saw is a 10/10 because they’re seeing the location and not the style and composition the way we do.

This leads to people copying and still getting all the likes and at the end of the day, it’s just another hurdle to be seen in this over-shared society.

It’s now about the everything else. It’s like going for a job now. So okay you went to college. What else? It’s not enough to just go to college or in this case, post a landscape. You can complain about that, or you can realize that with social media, those 80 people who liked your landscape photo are 75 more people than who would’ve seen it before the internet. And if you try to add to your story-telling and engagement, you can turn that into 500 easily.

C Fisher's picture

Lol I think Vero sucks because there's not enough people yet. I was one of the first million or so who got in for free. There's toooooons of photographers there though, the ratio of photographers to regular users is quite higher than insta.

David Justice's picture

The problem is it comes down to attention. How many photo sharing apps do people want and need? If you’re a creative, that number is higher because you tend to want to share your work with everyone. For normal people, they really just want their spot to share photos with their friends and look at what they deem enjoyable. Every app they have has a separate purpose and need and they don’t care if everything they’re seeing is visually similar or whatever. They haven’t spent years studying photos and styles, that doesn’t pop out to them.

That’s why Vero doesn’t have a larger following of normal people. There’s no incentive for normal people to switch. But if you just want to talk to photographers, maybe that platform is for you.

It really comes down to what your main focus is in sharing your work. If you want to share your work with just creatives, maybe Instagram isn’t the place for you. Maybe a platform that is specifically for creatives would better serve you.

If you’re trying to reach *everybody*, you go to where everyone is spending their time and you work around what that platform gives you.

I’m coming at this from a marketing perspective. Not a “I want to share my work with people” look.

German Simonson's picture

I think one of the biggest complaints I am seeing is that IG "is bad for creativity", all photos are very similar etc. While this is quite true, whether it is actually IG's fault is up to a debate.

David Justice's picture

I’ve heard this as well. I think they say it stems from wanting likes so people do the same thing over and over because they see other people get popular and do it.

You can say a person might be pressured to be like everyone else to get likes. That’s just following trends the same as fashion and music.

And you can say it is toxic for artists of all creeds. I’d say it comes with your own insecurities and if social media didn’t exist, you would just be trying to copy what you saw in magazines because that’s what people did before social media.

If you can’t handle likes and you feel pressured to change your style because of it, that would happen with anything else. If you’re not finding validation and you feel empty, you’ll do things to help find validation. That’s what people have always done and that isn’t because the internet.

Once you realize people haven’t changed in 100’s of years, they’re just given different tools to interact with, you start to realize things like social media aren’t changing us like you hear people always say. We have the same feelings, emotions, and reactions as people in the 1800’s, we just have different tools than they did.

Man your article read like an apology for Instagram written by a PR agency hired by Facebook to avoid that photographers leave the platform.

Literally all your points are pointless. You are following 1000 people you say that you may work with. There are not 1000 people that are interesting enough to follow. But besides this - how exactly do you use Instagram as a place to organise your contacts. I mean the management is pretty awful for that and to IG’s defence that’s not really what it is for. « Hey I am looking for a model in San Francisco, hmm let me go through my 1000 contacts one by one until I find the right model who is based there. Darn 50% of them don’t even say where they’re based. Back to Model Mayhem then.

Seriously what sort of argument is the cost side of Instagram for the Algorithm. The only thing it does is to prioritise images that a popular. How is that a decision that is beneficial to what you want to see? More often than not I’m not convinced that I’m being shown what I actually am interested in. You follow a model and suddenly you get a bunch of fitness bunnies into your explore page and all the girls come straight on top because, what, I’m a man and therefore I like girls in bikinis because I followed a model? Unfollow... back to square one then.

As I result I only follow 200 people and I don’t get to see everyone’s post when they happen and that bothers me... se the point of IG is that they want u to follow 1000s even if it is complete nonsense to do so

Chris Jones's picture

"The reason people don’t like the algorithm isn’t because they’re not seeing posts they like" This like 70% of the reason I hate the algorithm, missing posts from photographers and people I love unless I go directly to their profile and not even getting a timeline option is trash. Yes I will gladly scroll all through all the posts from the 600 or so people I follow cause not everyone is posting daily. At least give me the option!