Have you noticed that Instagram has looked a little different in recent months? The platform’s latest updates have prioritised ‘suggested’ short-form video content over the ‘followed’ photo-sharing approach that has built a billion-strong monthly audience. This has left users across the globe voicing concerns that Instagram is straying away from what makes it unique in an effort to mirror its rivals, with even the Kardashians calling for a return to the old photo-first ways.

But are these criticisms fair? We take a deep dive into how the ‘copycat effect’ is impacting Instagram and whether this is a positive or negative for marketers.

What is the ‘copycat’ effect?

Each new iteration of social media brings with it increased competition. To combat this, stay relevant, and retain market share, older social media platforms have started to copy the successful features of newer mediums, known as the ‘copycat effect’. 

Snapchat was one of the first and most successful social media apps that introduced a feature that spurred on the ‘copycat effect’. Its offering of ‘stories’ that disappeared in 24 hours quickly became a global sensation. Sensing the threat, Meta attempted to purchase Snapchat on numerous occasions. When that failed, they decided to replicate the stories feature on their own platforms, Facebook and Instagram.

While some may argue this is Meta stealing ideas and not showing originality, we’ve seen many examples of social media channels not keeping up with the demands set by competitors and falling into obscurity, such as Myspace, Google+ and Bebo. In a way, the social media channel landscape is fuelled by modern day natural selection – if you don’t evolve and adapt, then you don’t survive.

What Instagram features have been borrowed from other platforms? 

Instagram has an established reputation of ‘adopting’ innovative features from its competitors. This includes the failed long-form video feature ‘IGTV’, to compete with YouTube, and newer short-form video ‘Reels’, designed to directly rival TikTok. There’s even speculation that they are looking to copy BeReal’s dual camera feature. 

Meta is clearly seeing how other social media channels, such as TikTok, Reddit and BeReal, are threatening to steal users screen time and therefore impact ad revenue. Adopting the features that are drawing users to these platforms is a way to combat this and minimise any potential monetary impacts. This is beneficial for marketers because Meta has been the established go-to social platform for media planners for years, particularly when planning direct response and brand awareness campaigns. Increased competition like this could reduce Meta’s bargaining position and lead to a reduction in supply for inventory, further reducing Meta’s cost-effective position on media plans, and losing revenue.

However, the increasing competition from other channels, coupled with more challenges in place combating effective tracking, have put Meta in a more precarious position over the last two years. Whilst these changes do not help marketers with their tracking and reporting woes, they will ensure users continue to use the platform, allowing us to confidently plan delivery on a trusted channel.

Is the petition to ‘Make Instagram Instagram Again’ fair? 

The petition to ‘Make Instagram Instagram Again’ has reached over 300,000 signatures. In my opinion, however, it’s a slightly cynical and unfair position to brand Instagram as not ‘Instagram’ anymore. The core functionality of seeing and sharing pictures and videos of your friends is still there, just with a few more additions that ensures the platform stays relevant. After all, with Instagram displaying one ad in every four posts on average, the incentive to keep users scrolling through their feed was going to prove unsustainable without expanding on the content users are served.

Instagram has a long history of adapting the platform to better serve marketers. What started in 2010 as a creative space, with a focus on photography and easy to apply filters, has morphed into one of the biggest and most-used marketing tools on the planet, generating $47.6B in advertising revenue in 2021. However, Instagram continues to amass more revenue for advertisers year-on-year, through sponsored posts, the ‘Instagram Shop’, and influencer marketing.

While some users may see Instagram’s last few updates as annoying and accuse them of ‘copying TikTok’, marketers should be happy with the amendments to the platform. It is just the latest in the long stream of updates that Meta has made to keep its platforms relevant. The more relevant and innovative, the greater the user retention and engagement, which is only beneficial for advertisers. 

For more information on why Instagram is an important part of any media plan contact our expert team today.

Ben Rooke - Biddable Performance Director

Author: Ben Rooke - Biddable Performance Director

Ben works in the biddable team. Outside of planning all things paid search and social, you can find him at gigs or watching his beloved Arsenal