‘We almost gave up on Instagram’ – yours sincerely, creatives

I read an article in the New York times a couple days a go which quoted Mx.Lee, a Korean-American artist, in saying how Instagram’s recent changes “been nothing short of harmful to artists, especially those who make still images.” It really got me thinking. 

For those unaware, these recent “changes” refer to Instagram’s visceral insistence on pushing away from photo and pushing towards video formats. It introduced Reels almost two years ago, short videos meant to compete with the video-sharing app TikTok, and has launched features to encourage people to make videos together. The algorithms appear to favour said Reels over photo dumps. Last year, Adam Mosseri, Instagram’s own head, even stated the site is “no longer a photo-sharing app.” Straight from the horse’s mouth. 

However, despite this Meta said it cared “deeply about all creators, including artists.” The Silicon Valley company, which is trying to lure content creators away from rivals YouTube and TikTok (frankly, good luck) has invited some artists to join its programs that pay influencers for using its products. The revenue promised, however, is next to nothing. Mx.Lee announced that the incentives were “even less reliable than freelance illustration.” Even if their Reels received 11 million views in one month, they said, Meta would pay them only $1,200. Might as well work an office job at that rate!

So, here’s what it got me thinking about. Many artists and clients alike rely on Instagram to showcase their portfolio, build their team and hire creatives. For makeup artists, photographers, stylists and more what on earth does that mean for getting work? Even beyond that, sharing a singular photo actually has a lot of power when strong. Say a music artist is launching a new single or album, sometimes nothing beats just sharing a singular photo of the final cover and making a concise yet poignant announcement. 

For artists who make a living through Instagram, the platform’s move toward video is more of an existential threat. Many of these artists are photographers, illustrators or graphic novelists whose work doesn’t easily translate to video. More and more, they are finding that audiences on Instagram aren’t seeing their posts, their growth on the platform is stagnating and their reach is shrinking. So where are these artists going?

Twitter is definitely back, baby! The engagement (spurred by it being the chosen home for Web3 and NFT activity) is back up. For many of us, gaining traction on Instagram is an uphill battle against the algorithm so it’s good to know that Twitter can provide a space to grow. One case study is animator and illustrator Ms. Mueller, who lives in St. Louis, who started focusing instead on Twitter, where she discovered a burgeoning community of artists. She was invited to illustrate zines, joined private Discord groups that shared professional opportunities and increased her following through hashtag events, in which artists tweeted and shared content with tags such as #PortfolioDay and #VisibleWomen. Ms. Mueller now has nearly 5,000 followers on Twitter, compared with about 1,000 on Instagram.

Another annoying factor with Instagram pushing reels is that many are forced to showcase more of the ‘behind the scenes’ content than the actual art itself. Instead of posting a gorgeous makeup look in the form of a photo, makeup artists are encouraged to post a tutorial on ‘glass skin’ and for music artists the music video itself gets less traction than a BTS struggling to put on a pair of latex suspenders.

At one point it really felt that Instagram was timeless. Do these changes show its potential to phase out? 

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