Let me take you back to a simpler time, a happier time, a gentler time. Let’s head back to the Spring of 2015.
We didn’t know it at the time, but we were spoiled back in those heady days of three years ago. Think about it; Donald Trump becoming President of the United States was something that Definitely Wouldn’t Happen, if you said ‘Brexit’ someone would think you’d sneezed and some of Back to the Future was still set in, well, the future.
In the world of social media, there was still room for places that put a focus on community rather than profit. In fact, for one huge social media player, community was still its raison d’être.
That network was Instagram and, fuck, I miss it.
This pang of nostalgia was brought upon after a long-overdue spring clean of my cupboards. Among the hoards of (mainly Stephen King) books that lined my shelves, I stumbled across something I’d forgotten I even had – a little book about Instagram.
The book – which mentions the word ‘community’ on pretty much every other page – brought it all flooding back. The beautiful old logo, the chronological feed and I space I loved spending time in.
It’s a far cry from the Instagram of 2018; a space that is far less interesting and far more cluttered. Cluttered with features stolen from other networks, cluttered with ads and cluttered with more than a billion users.
Now, I’m not one to hold up progress. I’ll happily congratulate Instagram on its continued success. But, as my beard, trendy glasses and natural aversion to most mainstream things would suggest, I’m a hipster wanker. That means when it comes to Instagram, my opinions are the same as my opinions on Fall Out Boy, the Simpsons and Premier League football; I prefer their earlier stuff.
I guess it’s worth explaining why I even own this book in the first place. It’s not something I purchased. In fact, it was sent to me by Instagram themselves! A few months after receiving this book in the post, they also sent me a desk calendar for 2016, before they sold their souls to the algorithm and stopped giving a shit about their community.
Early in 2015, I’d be incredibly fortunate enough to be picked by Instagram as a ‘suggested user’ for a couple of weeks, which saw my following from from 1,000 to 68,000 in a matter of days – I’ve since lost more followers than I could have ever imagined acquiring in the first place.
I guess this turned me into something of a micro-influencer – or, it would have done, had any of my 67,000 new followers ever bothered to engage with my content. It’s bloody typical that I would amass a massive network of lurkers. This, ladies and gentleman, is why I’m still writing about social media, rather than being someone other folk write about.
Anyway, my following grew to the point where Instagram deemed me worthy of being sent a book and, at the time, it all felt warm and fuzzy.
Flicking through the pages of this page in 2018, though, is a stark reminder of how much Instagram has changed as it forged its path to global domination.
The first section, in fact, tells you almost everything you need to know. It’s the section on Instagram’s mission and values.
Here’s what Instagram’s mission was in 2015:
To capture and share the world’s moments
While it listed its values as ‘simplicity matters’, ‘inspire creativity’ and ‘community first’.
I guess you could argue that Instagram is still a place to inspire creativity, but it’s certainly no longer a simple landscape. But, it’s the one about putting the community first that really burns today.
In 2015, Instagram saw itself as a space where people came together over a love of photography. They put their community at the heart of everything they did – underlined by the fact that the bulk of the remaining pages of this little book was dedicated to profiling Instagramers and cult hashtags.
But, well, they ballsed that up, didn’t they? They changed to a minging logo despite its community hating it. They let feeds become overtaken with ads despite its community hating it. And, of course, they ditched the chronological feed despite…you guessed it.
The biggest shock I got when thumbing through these pages was in the small section dedicated to telling Instagram’s story. Back when I was sent this book, they were still making a song and dance about reaching 200 million users.
They’ve now reached 1 billion. 1 billion. That’s a 400% increase in less than three years.
No wonder it’s changed so much.
The biggest tug on my heartstrings, though, was the page of recreations of Instagram lovely old logo – you’d never get that with the hideous thing they have now (no, I’m still not over it).
So, what is the point of this rambling rant? Is there even a point? Well, yes, I think so.
The point is that social media is ever-changing, at a speed at which can still be baffling to comprehend. How people use channels evolves, as do the spaces themselves, and we as social media professionals have to stay on top of that. The sort of content that would have worked on the Instagram of 2015 is likely to be far different from what will do the business today.
Not only that, maybe this is proof that the idea of #communityfirst is just not viable on social media. Sure, it’ll work for a few years, but once the wheels get moving on something, so follows the ads, the algorithms and the focus on profits. Which is a real shame.
I still enjoy scrolling through Instagram when I have a moment, but I don’t feel the love I had for it back in 2015. Finding this book reminded me of that and made me sad, so it’s going back in my cupboard and shut away to save my feelings from being hurt any further.
So long, community-loving Instagram of 2015…come back any time.