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Instagram has launched a group feature – but is it too little too late?

Influencers are wanting to build deeper connections with fans. Is it the influence of Web3? Twitter’s Web2.5 community or just the changing algorithms? We can’t say for sure but we can say that while Instagram, YouTube or TikTok may be the primary way influencers reach audiences, they are choosing other apps— including Discord, Geneva, Telegram, as well as membership sites Patreon, Mighty Networks and Fanhouse—for conversations with their most dedicated followers or to provide bonus content.

To respond to these trends, Meta Platforms has launched a subscription feature on Instagram, which it has been rolling out to more creators this year and notably includes private group chats for fans.

Further community connectivity really brings us back to Meta’s roots. Facebook started as a way to connect with fellow college classmates, and Facebook Groups have become one of the most popular features on Facebook’s flagship app since it launched the feature in 2010. One big question was why Instagram hadn’t moved into community features earlier, given the popularity of Facebook Groups and the clear indication from Instagram influencers—and general users—that they wanted it.

It turns out that Instagram staff pitched a community-related feature as early as 2016, according to a person familiar with the proposal, but the idea met resistance because such a feature would compete with Facebook Groups. Over the next several years, that concern prevailed, former Instagram staffers told me. Even though community features like groups on Instagram made sense, senior leaders within Facebook, the parent of Instagram, didn’t want Instagram to cannibalise Facebook’s groups and event features—two areas that remained popular with users even as the blue app’s relevance declined.

That concern seemed to fade at the start of this decade, however, as Mark Zuckerberg increasingly focused the company on the virtual worlds known as the metaverse and focused the bigger company on features to court creators, which he and Instagram chief Adam Mosseri see as instrumental to wooing the young users who increasingly have gravitated to TikTok.

This year Instagram has been testing a new feature with similar functionalities to Facebook Groups. Entitled Group Profiles, it allows people to share Stories, Feed posts and Reels to “connect with others over their interests in a dedicated space” on Instagram.

But is this too little too late? Discord had become a utility for creators when they wanted to hang out with fans and really cemented that nice. Back in 2016, when Instagram mulled a group feature, Discord was a tiny, year-old startup. Will Instagram be prioritised this late in the game? It also doesn’t look great following the backlash against Instagram trying too hard to look like TikTok, again, several months before that bandwagon really got rolling.  

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