As Instagram chases after increasingly popular video-based content, will its writing community be left behind?
2021 has been a tough year for Instagram, and it’s forced the popular photo-sharing platform to make some hard decisions. Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat—the ‘big three’ in the social media industry—have kept a monopoly over the popularity of social media users for some years now. However, as we’ve spent more time indoors to protect those around us, many of us have filled our voids with short, snappy and sweet videos.
And what site has filled this void the most? Tik Tok.
According to the Statista Research Department, TikTok saw a significant increase in popularity during the COVID outbreak in the US, with a growth of 180 percent among 15–25-year-old users 1 . When participants from this demographic were asked about why they used Tik Tok, 79% said that short-form mobile videos pulled them in was characters, personalities and storylines, while 88% stated that the quality of videos was the main reason2.
In simpler terms, Tik Tok has single-handedly altered the social media meta. Photos are out, and videos are in; and with it, a whole new host of throw-away genres, each trendier and more relatable than the next. With not much occupying us in lockdown, a perfect breeding ground for all-consuming content has emerged. And while COVID seems to be slowing down, it appears as though Tik Tok videos are going strength from strength.
Of course, Instagram is a business first and foremost, and it’ll naturally be keeping tabs on where its competitors are succeeding. While Instagram already allows its users to upload video-based content through the ‘reels’ function, Tik Tok dominates the short clip market. As a video-sharing platform, Tik Tok entices users with its functional controls that allow people to easily create or digest catchy content in a short matter of time.
Inevitably, this has hurt Instagram’s back pockets. Although this social network’s user figures grew by 6.2 percent in 2020, the development has slowed down to a 3.7 percent annual growth rate in 20213. From a purely economic stance, Instagram needed to change, and on the 30th June 2021 they did.
The Ripples Start To Grow
Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, announced in a video that Instagram is “no longer a photo sharing platform”.
Although video integration isn’t a new concept to Instagram, the extent to which this new aim will be pursued has been controversial—to say the very least. There was plenty of division when Instagram included reels onto its platform all those years ago, but now more creators are starting to feel like Instagram is not listening to their community, and old fractures have opened again.
Instagram was originally created to be a photo-sharing platform, and so by pursuing this new direction they are essentially flying in the face of everything they’ve marketed and built so far. Creators have spent years carefully cultivating communities of likeminded people on the platform, and now it seems as though all this hard work will be teared down in a matter of days—days that are already upon us.
Video Killed The Writing Star
After noticing my likes and views quickly decline at the end of July, it feels like a mass exodus is occurring on the platforms. There seems to be less creatives like me on Instagram now, and it’s somewhat depressing. In some ways it’s an end of an era. Where whole communities of writers, poets and artists existed in their thousands is now a wasteland of…nothing. There’s not much art or poems to find on Instagram anymore, because without the support of the Instagram developers there’s only so much you can do, and so far you can go.
Artists and writers mostly rely on photos to show off their content, because you can’t literally record a painting or a poem. Moreover, as these professions have people sitting alone and creating for hours on end, they usually attract the imaginative-introverts of the world, who may lack the confidence or ability to subject themselves to the long recording and editing processes of the stereotypical Tik Toker. Instagram expects its influencers to belong to the same cookie-cutter outfit, with either the filtered face of an Insta-queen or the slick-hair of an E-boy, and frankly that ain’t us, popping off pouting or lip-biting faces while we take a ten second clip to a song that we can’t even sing the lyrics to. We just don’t have their kind of (un)natural ‘talent’ to rake in the views!
Nor do many creatives have access to an influencer’s ‘daddy money’, making any transition from photo-to-video content impossible. If I wanted to create video content on the same level as my usual, photo-orientated content, I would have to dedicate hours more of my own time to learning an entirely new skill, sinking hundreds of pounds into new software and equipment. And for what? Well, not much really—for me, at least. I only created the Blog and Instagram accounts to simply get my work out there, but even with over thousand Instagram followers I’m getting less and less attention (and likes). So why should I put my hand in my wallet to change my format to something I never intended on adopting, for an aim that isn’t important on the grand scheme of things?
This is a conundrum many creatives are facing. Right now, they’re migrating their content elsewhere, predominantly towards the well-settled creative scenes on Twitter. Although that platform has a less-than-tolerant userbase, in polite terms, the blue bird’s promises of better views are nevertheless alluring, and it will inevitably steal away any of the few creatives left on Instagram.
Now that I’ve discussed the why’s and how’s, it’s time to move onto a greater question. Does this change in Instagram’s core identity have any benefits?
In some ways, I hate to admit, it does. Most of the time change is good. Change is refreshing and offers so much in the way of creating potential. We may not like it, but sometimes it’s what we need. Will this change be good, I doubt it—but I want to be proven wrong.
And frankly, the writing and poetry community of Instagram has badly needed a good kicking. Rupi Kaur and the Instapoetry scene as a whole had created a new obsession with poetry that, while accessible and popular in many demographics, has arguably lowered the bar for what can be defined as poetry—or good poetry for that matter. It may seem a bit elitist, but I do think that Instapoetry has stretched the definition of poetry too far, to the extent that anything arranged in verse lines can be hashtagged as a poem.
Its insulting when someone churns out small poems every day, that have taken minutes to create, and then having the audacity to galivant around social media, pretending to know more about poetry by using sophisticated language and theories they barely understand to condescend other writers–some of whom take three years out of their lives to learn the craft in immense detail at university–in a way that’s as cringeworthy as a Rick and Morty fan lecturing a physicist about quantum mechanics underneath a YouTube video, proclaiming to have greater intelligence because he can understand a fucking animated TV show.
If Instagram has killed off its writing community, then at least its destroyed the less savoury elements too.
And out of the ashes, conclusion
What does these changes mean for me? I’ll still be writing, but Instagram will no longer be my preferred choice of social media. While I’ll still be posting things on Instagram, I’ll mostly be using Twitter to keep in touch with everyone.
What do you think of this poem? Let me know in the comments below, or by liking this post. Don’t be afraid of sharing your opinions!
© Thomas Gallimore Barker, 2021
1 https://www.statista.com/statistics/1207831/tiktok-usage-among-young-adults-during-covid-19-usa/ [Accessed 30/07/2021]
3https://www.statista.com/statistics/426533/instagram-us-user-growth/ [Accessed 30/07/2021]