Among the photo captions of his 500-year-old house in Lindos, Rhodes, Jasper Conran had some advice for Instagram's chief executive.
With its ornate door knocker and mosaic floors, the house has remained in its original form for five centuries, Conran wrote. The British fashion designer had captured this stillness in photographs, for years the defining feature of Instagram that made it popular with celebrities and brought in billions of dollars in advertising revenue.
But Conran expressed a growing frustration over a redesign that millions of users feel is being forced upon them by the social media app.
"Please don't let us down in the frankly callous way that you appear to be doing. Make Instagram Instagram again; either that or create a parallel platform that doesn't wipe out the existing one," he wrote to Adam Mosseri, Instagram chief at Meta.
He warned the app threatened to "kill off the skill and hard work that so many millions" have put into photographs.
Instagram is switching tact from a traditional formula of a photo feed to vertical, full screen videos. The aim is to tackle the growth of its biggest rival: TikTok.
Since launching in 2017, TikTok has amassed more than one billion users, driven by appealing to Generation Z with a feed of short, snappy clips and music videos. These are almost entirely picked by algorithm and served to users in an endless scroll.
Instagram, which has 1.2bn users and has been the growth engine at Meta for a decade, has desperately tried to imitate that. It has invaded users' social media feeds with videos – or Reels – picked by software that it thinks users want to see.
Conran is not alone in his anger. The changes have infuriated celebrity users who wield influence over hundreds of millions of fans.
Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian, for instance, who have 354m and 328m followers respectively, shared posts begging the company to "make Instagram Instagram again".
Chrissy Teigen, the US model and TV personality, summed up the feelings of many influencers: "We don't want to make videos Adam lol."
we don't wanna make videos Adam lol
— chrissy teigen (@chrissyteigen) July 26, 2022
Matt Navara, a social media consultant, says: "Instagram is desperately trying to pivot itself towards being more like TikTok. TikTok has been wildly successful in video and the creator economy in general. It has been the de facto popular social media app of the last two years."
Its success "turned everything on its head" for Instagram, he adds, prompting it to switch from a curated feed of celebrities and friends followed by each user to a feed filled with algorithmic posts from strangers or influencers.
"Instagram tells you what you want to see. Its technology is still in its very early stages and a lot of people don't feel it's particularly great," says Navara.
Amid backlash, Mosseri last month posted a video admitting the redesign hadn't gone as planned. The company said it would wind back some of the changes being tested in its app and pause its update – but not forever.
"I want to be clear, we are going to continue to support photos, it is part of our heritage… that said I need to be honest, I do believe that more and more of Instagram is going to become video over time," Mosseri added.
He claimed that what users liked, consumed and viewed on Instagram was becoming dominated by video – despite complaints that was not what they wanted to see. How much of that was being driven by the app's own design changes remains unclear, with Mosseri insisting it was down to user behaviour. The app, he said, would "lean into that shift".
Responding to one users' complaint that people do not want to make videos, Mosseri said: "We spend a ton of time trying to understand what people prefer based on how [they] use Instagram and what they say about the app. Things can get tricky when those two are in tension."
It is unsurprising the celebrity backlash prompted a pause on Instagram's design changes. A single tweet by Kylie Jenner complaining about changes to Snapchat in 2018 wiped 7pc from its valuation .
Still, getting video right remains a high priority for Instagram despite previous failures. In February it cancelled Instagram TV which was to compete with long firm rival YouTube, as well as TikTok.
Tapping video ad spend would help revive sales at parent company Meta, which reported its first ever revenue downturn last month. Its shares have roughly halved in value this year. While Meta does not break out Instagram's revenues, analysts estimate it provides as much as half of its ad income, of which video adverts from Reels are a growing part.
Tom Johnson, chief digital officer at WPP’s Mindshare, says Instagram's Reels videos are "already a billion-dollar format for Meta". Any slowdown or changes would be a "big issue for Mark Zuckerberg if he wants to keep up the momentum".
Instagram remains competitive when it comes to ad spending on influencers by big brands. In the US, marketers have spent $2.2bn (£1.8bn) in 2022 so far on Instagram influencers, compared to $775m on TikTok.
Its rival is growing faster, however. TikTok raked in $4bn in revenues in 2021, and is due to grow to $12bn this year, according to research from eMarketer.
Boosting the consumption of its Reels could help keep users on the app for longer, making the videos more valuable to advertisers, says Sean Spooner, operations director at marketing agency Patter.
He adds: "I'm willing to bet that Instagram will bring a similar update to the table within the next year."
That makes the task of transforming Instagram to capture Gen Z users a strategic priority for Mosseri, who for years has been one of Zuckerberg's closest lieutenants . Earlier this month he was reported to be relocating to London .
Yet endless redesigns have also frustrated some marketers. Jess Bruno, founder of The Content Club, says: "The constant stream of new features overwhelms my clients, who feel like they can't keep up with all the changes."
Meanwhile, short form video has proven particularly popular among younger demographics. A quarter of TikTok users are under 25, and half under 30.
Mindshare's Johnson says an ongoing "generational shift" at Instagram could be alienating older users: "Instagram focused on photos as the format and was the platform for Millennials and Generation Y. TikTok the format for Generation Z."
The celebrity rebellion has forced Meta back to the drawing board on its rework of Instagram. But whether A-listers like it or not, it seems set on the shift to video.
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