If Instagram Is No Longer a Photo-Sharing App, Should You Ditch It and Use Twitter Instead?

Last week, the head of Instagram declared that the platform is no longer an app for sharing photos. Photographers are now turning to Twitter in their droves. Why is Instagram abandoning its roots and what makes Twitter the best alternative?

Instagram head Adam Mosseri’s video covered a number of topics, but one short quote stood out, immediately becoming the headline: “We are no longer a photo-sharing app.”

The announcement comes as Instagram continues its attempts to make the platform less opaque and much more cuddly, having recently given a few insights into how its algorithm works and now using a video shot on a mobile phone (one assumes) to explain forthcoming changes.

It’s long been clear that Instagram has moved away from its origins as a platform for sharing photographs. Its rich history as a pioneer of mobile phone photography — made special at the time through its retro filters and providing a simple means of connecting with others — has long disappeared, and Instagram is now focused on competing with the likes of Tik Tok and YouTube as a platform for providing entertainment and shopping. The announcement from Mosseri did not reveal anything new, but the video was perhaps a PR misstep, confirming to many photographers what most of us have long suspected: we’re probably better off posting images elsewhere, and as Instagram adapts to provide more shopping opportunities and even more video, its unsuitability is only going to become more pronounced.

So, why is Mosseri’s announcement of any significance given that Instagram shifted its focus away from photography several years ago? It’s a combination of reasons, not least because many photographers want to share their images on a platform that respects and appreciates their work. By contrast, in addition to this pronouncement, Instagram has little concern for copyright, actively encouraging accounts to steal photographers’ work by promoting feature/community accounts that repost imagery, often without permission, and typically with very few benefits for the creator. Photographers built Instagram’s initial success, and while there have been a number of reasons to try elsewhere — freebooting, the loss of the chronological feed, fiddly formats, counting hashtags — there was still an appreciation of what Instagram could offer: engagement and accessibility. Mosseri’s announcement puts a decisive dent in that appreciation.

Instagram created a culture where reposting and copyright infringement has been normalized.

When Mosseri says that Instagram is no longer a photo-sharing app, it confirms everyone’s suspicions: “We don’t need you, we don’t value you, and we don’t value your work.” Photographers know this; it’s just that having Instagram’s boss says it so plainly is, for many, the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

As the platform openly moves further away from still images, there’s less incentive for photographers to plow energy into using Instagram to promote their work. What’s the point in investing time and resources into an app that is stepping ever further away from the type of content that you want to share? Sure, many photographers will become content creators, producing video content designed to maintain engagement and try to keep eyes on their work, but for stills purists, there is no desire to evolve to match a platform that’s made it clear that photography is no longer a valid currency in a land of social media so often dictated by Mark Zuckerberg. Some photographers just want to share photographs.

Not Another App

Photographers are looking elsewhere to share their work. Numerous contenders have come and gone since Instagram abandoned the chronological feed, with many of them claiming to be an ideal solution for photographers. Each of them fails on one basic premise: photographers are not interested in showing their work solely to other photographers in an endless game of circle jerk. Instagram’s early success came because suddenly everyone who downloaded the app was a photographer, and this success was sustained because “real” photographers could reach a broad audience.

Twitter Is Good but Not Perfect

For this reason, I’d argue that the best alternative to Instagram is Twitter. It’s not designed for photographers, and yet, it’s an excellent platform for sharing images. There are other advantages: you can switch to a chronological feed, the adverts are not intrusive, you’re not exhausted by influencers, you can curate lists and follow those created by others, and crucially, there’s a system for re-sharing other people’s work that doesn’t involve infringing their copyright. Even better, it directly increases the visibility and reach of the artist whose work you are sharing.

I’ve written about Twitter’s disadvantages before and in an era when tech companies pride themselves on being nimble, watching Twitter sluggishly miss the open goal presented by Instagram is excruciating. Twitter needs to update its terms and conditions, give users greater control over how their work is shared and embedded, and fix its thumbnails. For whatever reason, Twitter does not want to embrace photography, which is frustrating given the evidence that photographers seem to be ready to try something new.

It’s impossible to judge whether a sea change has taken place, but searching Twitter for “photographers” and “Twitter” shows a steady stream of people discovering the potential for image-sharing on the platform for the first time. As well as being able to reach people outside of photography’s bubble, there’s also a supportive community, keen to share each other’s work and create connections.

So, Should You Switch?

No. Use both. Or just use what works for you.

If you get clients or sell prints through Instagram — or if you simply enjoy posting — Mosseri's news is not a reason to walk away, but perhaps a reminder that you should hedge your bets. The social media landscape changes rapidly and assuming that Instagram will always offer the best solution could be a risk.

Social media is not an either/or but a couple of different options that hopefully also complement each other. Compared to Instagram, Twitter requires far less effort (fewer hashtags, no weird cropping, less time pondering the perfect caption), and it feels like you can drift in and out without jeopardizing your leverage of an algorithm. Sharing images is made easy by services such as Buffer, which allows you to schedule (for free) a number of tweets over the course of the day, and there's no faffing around having to send files to your mobile device or figure out fiddly workarounds. Drag and drop. (Dear Buffer: please implement copy and paste. Twitter has done it for years, so should you.)

Plus, there's nothing to stop you from linking your Instagram to Twitter for some cross-pollination. Instagram disabled image integration into tweets a number of years ago, but there are services, such as IFTTT, which provide a solution.

Conclusion

Instagram is and has always been a social media app, not an app for photography. Given that social media is in a constant state of evolution, Instagram's announcement is no surprise and should be a reminder that diversifying your online presence is never a bad idea, assuming that you have the energy. Fortunately, Twitter is low-risk and low-effort and has some excellent photo-sharing features, which make it an ideal alternative to Instagram.

It might not be a replacement, but it is another means of sharing your work and one that hasn't just declared that photo-sharing is a thing of the past.

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30 Comments

David Illig's picture

Neither Instagram nor Twitter counts as a photo-sharing site for me. Flickr, SmugMug... those are for people who want to display photos at their best Internet quality.

Jason Frels's picture

I prefer Flickr as well, but it is not where the most people are apparently.

Michelle Maani's picture

I see them as photo-theft sites. Only post stuff you don't care about. Flickr at least tries to prevent theft, if you put the right permissions in.

Rob Sheppard's picture

But that is the best way to make money from photography - post your best photos on photo sharing sites, use the various image search engines to track where they get used and invoice any commercial use - inevitably the thief will claim ignorance/thought it was free/etc etc, and try to get out of paying and then you take them to court. Depending which country you are in, the payout can be substantial. A relative of mine was recently awarded £80,000 (GBP) for a copyright infringement. I've heard storied of photographers getting even more, even for "throw away" shots that would have cost very little to commission or find similar on a stock image site that would have cost a few pounds.

Alex Herbert's picture

Copyright infringement fishing... sounds like a game I'd like to play!

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

I use both, but, if I had it my way, Twitter would be my primary between the two. Their image quality and size is way above IG's. And, you can properly view a horizontal photo on their app. But, unfortunately, not everyone I follow or would follow are on Twitter.

Tom Reichner's picture

For me, I cannot imagine switching from Instagram to Twitter.

I use Instagram for two reasons:

reason 1: to connect with other photographers and wildlife enthusiasts who share the same obscure interests that I do

I maintain friendships and share information with a few hundred other wildlife photographers on Instagram. Instagram is where I met them in the first place, and I have gone on to meet dozens of these Instagram friends in real life. We all keep up with each other via posting our latest wildlife photos on Instagram, and by messaging each other a crapton on there, as well.

reason 2: to do research on specific species of wildlife and on specific wildlife areas

I also learn about wildlife opportunities on Instagram. For instance, if I am interested in finding and photographing Speckled Rattlesnakes, I will get on Insta and run searches for hashtags like #speckledrattlesnake and #crotalusmitchellii Then I will find the images that come up and reach out to the photographers who took those images, asking for their advice on where to go to find Speckled Rattlesnakes.

A few of these people that I message will offer to get together with me and take me out with them the next time they go out for Specks. Others may not offer to guide me, but they will share some valuable location information.

Instagram is invaluable for this type of research. I simply cannot imagine that Twitter would be anywhere near as useful. The people who are really into wildlife photography aren't even active on Twitter, so I wonder ... how the heck Twitter could ever do what I need an app to do? Twitter is completely useless for the things I use Instagram for, and would be a terrible replacement.

brokenlandphotography's picture

Avoid anything to do with any form of social media, Instagram, is part of Facebook which I've never used nor will I. I was thrilled when google+ went down now I'm waiting and wanting Facebook to go down also. However, I use twitter, but only for contacting and stay in touch with retailer's support pages as they are there in an instant without having to email or call them. it's the fastest way I've been able to keep in touch with and stay in direct contact with retailers and vendors of the products I used routinely.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Instagram has monthly active users of over 1 billion. Twitter has monthly active users of 330 million. Both are huge numbers but no matter how you slice it, your target audience is likely three times as large on Instagram than it is on Twitter.

I don't have specific demographic metrics handy but I'd also be willing to bet IG's demo is much more skewed towards the audiences that photographers commonly want to reach than Twitter.

The other big one is the Twitter profile is awful for showing off a portfolio. Not that IG should be your "portfolio" but it at least effectively shows off your images in a grid format on the profile homepage. Twitter doesn't really do that at all.

Personally, I've come to loathe both of them but I think IG is still the unquestionable leader for sharing photography.

Michelle Maani's picture

And for having it stolen.

Ryan Cooper's picture

If you post a photo online ever, that is always a risk.

Daniel Lee's picture

Keep in mind though that although Twitter has less active users, they do allow chronological feeds so your follows are much more likely to be able to see your stuff compared to IG which likes to control what you see.

Not to mention that IG compresses your photos so badly you could completely miss focus and not be able to tell on there.

Chad L's picture

If we wanna go by pageviews, Reddit is a great place to share photos and then receive feedback/have discussions about them. Reddit is the 7th most visited website in the U.S according to Alexa. That puts them ahead of sites like Twitter, Wikipedia, eBay and Netflix.

Mark F's picture

The smell of desperation is overwhelming. I’ve already been hearing the kids don’t Insta anymore, but I don’t care what the kids want. I really hate they don’t have an iPad app because I can’t stand looking at little pics. Anyway, If they start throwing useless crap in my feed, I’ll never come back. Kids are probably right. Zuckerberg has aged out of tech.

Daniel Lee's picture

It’s pretty much like how most people 30 and under don’t use Facebook, soon the same will be said for IG!

Tom Reichner's picture

Daniel Lee said:

"It’s pretty much like how most people 30 and over don’t use Facebook, soon the same will be said for IG!"

Are you sure that you meant what you wrote, the way you wrote it?

To me, it looks like the primary demographic using Facebook are people over 30, and that the younger crowd are not using it very much at all. People from 45 to 65 seem to be using Facebook quite a lot, while people under 30 seem to hardly use it at all.

Daniel Lee's picture

Oops my bad, was meant to be 30 and under! Edited and thanks!

Daniel Lee's picture

I stopped using IG a long time ago and just use Flickr and Twitter. IG is more about selling your info to third parties like FB so if they lose all their users to Tik Tok and YouTube, that won’t be good for them. Don’t get me wrong, Twitter probably do the same but I see them as the lesser of two evils since they at least allow chronological feeds and actually display your images in a decent quality!

Toby Seb's picture

We need a new app for photos. Twitter has photogs not customers for photogs. IG is the best to use for now while holding my nose.

Michael Krueger's picture

I post a few photos to Instagram and Facebook for friends to see, most of my work goes unseen at this point and I'm ok with that. I take photos because I enjoy the process.

Rafael Hoyos Weht's picture

The amount of hate on twitter makes me stay the hell away from it

Naruto Uzumaki's picture

So far, no one has beaten flickr yet in terms of providing good quality images. Instagram is the worse though, as they compress everything to a horribly low quality and scale images down to like 1 megapixel. It makes it impossible to appreciate any image a photographer shares.
While twitter is far less destructive to the images as compared to Instagram, they still apply heavy handed compression and downscaling, thus images end up having compression artifacts and are still downscaled be a large amount, though nowhere near as bad as instagram.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

In regards to Twitter, "thus images end up having compression artifacts". I don't see this.

1. You're probably still thinking of old Twitter. Last couple of years or so, they've ramped up their image quality.
2. Or, you were viewing images uploaded in low quality.

Dieter B's picture

An excellent alternative to consider is GAB. Don't believe what you hear on CNN and other fake news! There are photography groups set up, decent community. There isn't the rampant censorship like on Twitter, no advertising. And its Pr0n free unlike twitter which is infested with it.

Sam David's picture

Probably shouldn't note this, but Instagram censors or bans images, Twitter doesn't. I'm sure the morality cops will be swarming on Twitter soon.

Douglas LeBlanc's picture

I wanted to like Instagram, then Facebook bought it -- UGH! I don't mind Twitter, but it needs a real gallery to curate images portfolio style.

I don't think there's going to be much else app wise for a while until someone else comes up with a new photo gallery platform that somehow draws more eyeballs of the general public so our work gets seen meaningfully.

William Faucher's picture

I don't really understand how Twitter can replace IG? There's no feed like IG has, there's no place to see everything laid out in one place. At least Flickr has a Photostream. But Twitter doesn't have any gallery of sorts, as far as I'm aware? I could be wrong though.

Ruby Coxona's picture

Instagram is my favorite site, and I love Twitter, and I would be offended if instagram stops functioning as it used to

Tom Reichner's picture

It seems that Instagram is really encouraging its users to post video content, a.k.a. "reels".

This is a bit bothersome to me, because I really don't enjoy watching short video clips of things. I really, REALLY like to see still photos of things, and when I want to just be entertained with interesting eye candy for a while, I seek out still images.

Reels just aren't very interesting or entertaining to me, so I don't understand why Insta is pushing so hard to get less interesting content posted more often.