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.
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.
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.