The response by Instagram head Adam Mosseri to criticism from some of its most-popular celebrity users is getting solid marks from crisis and digital communications pros, both for its messaging and for the timing and distribution of his video.
The kerfuffle started when the Kardashians, including Kim and Kourtney and their sister Kylie Jenner, reposted a graphic from Tati Bruening, a photographer known for her portraits of TikTok personalities.
It reads: “Make Instagram Instagram again (stop trying to be TikTok I just want to see cute photos of my friends.”) Their posts were endorsed by the likes of Chrissy Teigen and YouTuber James Charles.
Bruening also created a petition on Change.org, which has more than 221,00 signatures. It aims “to bring attention to what consumers want from Instagram,” which is to see fewer algorithm-driven videos. Instagram has been beta-testing a layout change that makes video a bigger part of the home page experience.
Less than 24 hours after the Kardashians’ post, on Tuesday, Instagram head Adam Mosseri spoke up. He said that video posts and shares are increasing on the app, regardless of what it does, and that the redesign and new algorithms are a work in progress.
“I do believe that more and more of Instagram is going to become video over time,” he said in the video. “We see this even if we change nothing.”
“It was a good message, given the call-outs,” says Laura Macdonald, co-president of Hotwire North America. “It felt like a necessary statement to get out there to talk about why Instagram is changing and how they have implemented these changes based on data from user behavior, such as trends that show users are consuming more video.”
“That transparent approach will help to reassure creators and advertisers, who ultimately drive revenue for Instagram, that these changes are going to be beneficial in the long-run for themselves and Instagram,” she adds.
Other executives echoed Macdonald’s point of view.
“Adam’s message was the best that he could provide given where he and Meta currently find themselves in the war with TikTok and the seismic changes occurring across social media,” says Justin Buchbinder, VP and global head of social media at Finn Partners. “It was smart to admit that the new TikTok-esque feed is not anywhere near where it needs to be, given the incredibly negative reception it is getting from those placed in the test group. Also, he played it safe saying that photos will continue to be important, while also admitting that video is where the platform needs to lean to keep up with competition.”
Justine Griffin, principal at Rasky Partners, also gives Mosseri points for candor. However, in the language he used, it didn’t come off as he had actually listened to some users’ concerns.
“I think it would have gone a long way if he had instead said, ‘We have been listening to your feedback, and what you love about Instagram we are going to continue to do and support. Then say, ‘But we are going to be adding some video because some users like that too.’”
“Instead, it sounded like Instagram is doing a complete 360 on the business model,” says Griffin.
Instagram’s comms strategy likely focused on maximizing the reach of the announcement. In posting his response not just to Instagram as a Reel, but also on Twitter, it’s clear that the goal of the platform’s comms team was to get as much media coverage for the video as possible.
“Twitter continues to act as a de facto town square of the Internet. In my mind, it’s the equivalent of the most far-reaching press release but much simpler in execution,” says Ben Varquez, MD of Gen Z- and millennial-focused digital and campus marketing firm Youth Marketing Connection. “By posting the announcement on Twitter, Meta’s goal was most likely to reach the largest audience possible as fast as possible.”
In addition to where media gets their stories, Twitter’s “also where the highest-followed social media-focused influencers play,” says Justin Buchbinder, VP, global head of social media at Finn Partners, citing the likes of code sleuth Jane Manchun Wong, social media consultant Matt Navarra and the author of Morning Brew’s Future Social newsletter, Jack Appleby.
“This was a message he wanted picked up by those people and then spread quickly to their followers via all their channels and newsletters,” says Buchbinder. “He also has 1.5 million followers on Instagram, and he did follow his own guidance by sharing it as a Reel. And it’s one of his highest performing posts in a long time by a wide margin.”
As of the morning of July 28, it had more than 74.1K likes and 31.8K comments.
Why else did Mosseri and Instagram’s team move so quickly?
The next day, Wednesday, parent company Meta reported its Q2 2022 earnings after the closing bell. The quarter marked the company’s first year-over-year revenue decline, with net income tumbling 36% year-over-year.
“They’ve got bigger fish to fry, which likely explains why Mosseri was quick to get that video out to address the Kardashian campaign and growing user anguish with the new IG feed,” notes Buchbinder.
No doubt it didn’t want the criticism to become part of the financial story, without having responded to the criticism.
Experts also say it was smart to resist the demands of celebrity users, despite their massive followings.
After all, they have reason to be worried not to. In 2018, Snapchat stock lost $1.3 billion after Kylie Jenner tweeted that she quit the platform. Her comments came after months of backlash over a redesign of the app.
Today, Jenner has 361 million followers on Instagram and Kim Kardashian has 326 million, but experts say they would not have the same effect if they walked away from the platform.
“I don’t doubt the power of the Kardashians to influence stock prices, but I also think that power is waning a bit,” says Varquez.
“When Kardashians speak, and a story-sharing campaign begins, it’s best to say something,” says Buchbinder. But he doesn’t think they will have an outsized effect on IG’s user base or stock price. For starters, Snapchat had 186 million users when Jenner quit. Instagram has more than 1.2 billion users.
In terms of Meta’s stock, it has already plunged 50% this year, but due to bigger issues. Buchbinder cites “the iOS update that deeply wounded their ad-targeting capabilities and products, the current economic situation leading advertisers to trim their budgets, the leaks of various internal documents, metaverse issues and the meteoric rise of TikTok.”
“Do I think the Kardashians will have an outsized effect on IG’s user base or stock? No, not really. It’ll make some news, some folks may leave, but I don’t foresee a Snapchat-like situation,” he says.
An Instagram representative was not immediately available for comment.
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