How to Improve Instagram in a World of TikTok

Let’s be honest. Instagram is a recreational drug. It’s something you want but don’t need. I don’t need to look at pretty pictures but I do. For hours. It’s utterly useless in the grand scheme of things and yet it siphons time from me because it is pleasurable and releases endorphins. But, there is a stronger, harder, newer drug in town called TikTok. What is Instagram supposed to do? Copy TikTok like they copied Snap? No. Don’t. Please, just innovate, Facebook. Just innovate. Stop depending solely on copying.

I remember when Instagram first arrived on the scene. It wasn’t very addictive. I thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful filters and posted a couple pictures here and there. Then, Facebook bought it and I started to notice higher usage among my friends – network effects kicked in – more people, better content, more likes. Facebook was pushing its users to integrate Instagram and Facebook usage and it worked well. Then, Snap started to take off and Instagram successfully copied disappearing short form videos into a concept called Stories.

Now, it’s TikTok’s time. A fad/temporary trend? Most definitely possible.

However, what Instagram needs now is to move swiftly beyond being just for fun and double down on pragmatic use cases. Like how Facebook is now incredibly integrated with many people’s daily lives with its Facebook Groups (e.g student groups or residential housing groups) and Facebook Events, Instagram needs to transform itself into a necessity-based usage model. As much as I want to delete Facebook, I can’t because then I’d lose out on crucial information from my classmates and neighbors. Now that Instagram is no longer the coolest kid on the block for fun, I have no issues deleting it. Why should people use Instagram for likes, social networking, and views? People are migrating off Instagram because if they want views, friends, popularity, social networking, and clout, they go to TikTok. Then, top TikTok creators go find sponsorship, start a Youtube, and just maybe an Instagram, to monetize.

Instagram needs to migrate from the “drug” category of product types and morph into a more useful, needs-based tool – maybe not into the “transactional” product type just yet but it’s a potential for the future (e-commerce websites are example “transactional” product types). Instagram can expand on some of its top categories like travel, health and fitness, and food and drink. Creators and users in these categories can be seamlessly transitioned from using the platform “for fun” into becoming dependent on needs-based feature sets. Niche groups like celebrities, musicians, designers, pet owners, meme creators, comedians, artists, and other small businesses use Instagram for different reasons. Yes, some of their use cases can be accomplished by the current feature set of Instagram of posting filtered images and stories but now, the use cases of exposure, marketing, and pleasure can be accomplished via TikTok. Instagram should now focus on providing tailored, pragmatic offerings for select user groups. By giving Instagram creators more control over profile biographies and curation and offering them more useful features specific to their business, fans and audiences of Instagram creators get inherently tied to the platform, creating a vicious feeding cycle of product usage. Below are example features to illustrate the “need-based” product type:

  • For travel, it would be great to see special features for nomads, YouTubers, wanderlust viewers, hoteliers, airlines, etc.
    • For users exploring where to go and what to do, it would be great to see where the travel picture was taken from easily and be able to save it easily according to travel plans and itineraries. So many times, I look at a picture and I have to click into the tagged location and then zoom out to figure which city and country it’s in. Show more data for the photo (city, country) by default without the user needing to click in and zooming out.
    • Some photos are unlabeled, so Instagram can offer image search suggestions and labels.
    • Some photos are old, so Instagram can provide more info on the photo’s metadata on when and where the photo was taken (which seasons should I go to see the flower fields?).
    • Instead of only having 1 feature that enables saving to a collection, offer a deeper, more organized way of gathering, sorting, and filing travel data. Expand into travel planning/travel board features.
    • Provide tourist destination-based travel information. For a specific location, are tourists even allowed? What are the hours? Isn’t this readily available on Facebook? What are the top, most Instagrammed restaurants in this city?
    • Consider expanding on maps and enabling easy access to maps and providing map-based, photo organization for other users’ travel photos.
  • For health and fitness, it would be great to see all health and fitness related users I follow in a group. I want to see all their workouts and to be able to continuously stream their content. Instagram isn’t optimized for this type of viewing right now. Perhaps a good stepping stone into YouTube/Hulu like ad revenue?
  • For food and drink, it would be great to see where the restaurant or food item is in relation to me. I see a lot of photos and I don’t know where the restaurant is. I cannot easily see which city or country the food is from. Additionally, I can’t tell if it was a special, limited edition item, or it’s a current menu item. What about some menu support?
  • For musicians, add more musical support features. Help the musician get their music to the broader audience. Offer Spotify or Apple music integrations. Maybe offer different ways to post the music instead of always having an image. Or, offer an area to show off select or top tracks. Or an ability to buy or sample the latest album from the profile or quickly see related artists.
  • For small businesses, add more support for hours, menu, contact us, and a last updated note. A lot of small businesses use Instagram as their main communication channel, updating daily for menu changes and announcements. The current method doesn’t do a good job of organizing menu data and often lacks pricing details.
  • For designers and artists, add more support for showing off their top portfolio picks and add support for contact. Artists like to show their curated works in collections and sometimes the best stuff is older stuff buried like treasure. If an author wants to announce their latest book, enable the ability to automatically link to purchase their book.

Instagram needs to go beyond “just for fun” exploration feature sets because TikTok’s “For You” page is reigning supreme. Instead, Instagram should follow Facebook’s playbook and get sticker for needs-based reasons. Perhaps less fun, but more business, useful, and sustainable.

To recap, what do I need Instagram for? All my friends are on TikTok so Instagram is a waste of my life and time. Okay, well, now let’s transform Instagram to not be a waste of time and have it help plan your vacation, figure out what to buy, or see what’s available on the daily menus or weekly workouts. Addressing large swaths of user groups and tailoring to their needs, forcing them to buy into the platform for financial and marketing reasons will eliminate Instagram from becoming the next Snapchat – irrelevant and a waste of time. Lastly, the way to prioritize will depend on what exactly the problem of each user group is, the proposed feature sets for each user group, the level of effort given potential synergies and overlaps between feature sets of each user group, the projected jump in metrics for the new features, and overall strategic goals of the company – you know, basic corporate strategy stuff.

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