Why Facebook’s Boring and Instagram Is Winning

I keep seeing stories and blogs about Facebook losing its grip on our psyches: Younger people aren’t even on Facebook anymore. Current Facebook users are more annoyed by their newsfeeds than engaged by them. And companies aren’t finding their Facebook messaging effective. There are users who are actually leaving Facebook, but even those who stay are spending more time on other platforms, the (Facebook-owned) Instagram among them. It’s like Facebook is Donnie Wahlberg and Instagram is Marky Mark — at first you laugh him off with his silly lyrics and his funny pants, but then he goes and starts a film career and Entourage and you find you actually like him better than his brother. The question, I think, is not just why is Facebook losing users, but also why is Instagram gaining? The answer is easy: Instagram’s more fun to use. But why? One reason is our Facebook feeds are clogged with junk — and it’s not the junk we want to see. Your newsfeed is really determined more by algorithm and advertising more than by your choices. As Facebook grows, what you “like” — the companies and people you follow — are a much smaller part of the equation that goes into determining what you actually see. Facebook says this is because showing you everyone and everything you follow will clog your newsfeed and make it virtually unreadable. That may be true, but a large factor (probably the bigger factor) in their choice is also that they’re choosing to prioritize advertising dollars over user satisfaction. It works like this: Facebook throttles user posts, meaning you’re not going to see a lot of what companies post. But those companies can still make sure you see those posts — by paying for it. The result is that your newsfeed is full of advertising. Sure, it’s (mostly) advertising from companies that you’ve expressed an interest in by “liking” them. But it’s still advertising, and it still sucks from a user perspective. Instagram is so much more fun to use partly because it doesn’t throttle posts — you see everything from everyone you follow in the order they post it. But I think what’s really keeping Instagram is fun is because it’s difficult to use Instagram as an advertising tool.

    • You can’t post a click-through link on an Instagram post, so it’s hard to direct users to your website, a shopping cart, or even to a blog.


    • You don’t get much time for engagement (people are scrolling quickly), so it’s hard to communicate nuanced or complicated content (including convincing a user to close Instagram and open another platform to buy your product).


    • You can’t schedule posts like you can in Twitter or Facebook (those 10 tweets you saw throughout the day today might’ve been scheduled in one batch at 3 a.m.).


    • It’s hard to run more than one Instagram account at once because you have to sign in and out every time — in Facebook (and in Twitter if you use Tweetdeck or Hootsuite), you can toggle easily between two accounts.


  This is really annoying for someone like me who uses Instagram to advertise anyway (I run social media for my bookshop, Church Street Coffee & Books, and consult to several other companies as well), but I’m not sure I want it to change. Because what makes my life a little more difficult is also what makes Instagram fun to use, and that’s making users want to stay. And when I know where the users are, it’s still possible to reach them — connecting with Instagram users is just more of a long-game, and the platform is better for brand-building and establishing user loyalty than it is at delivering quick sales numbers or spikes in Google Analytics. It’s understandable that social media channels are trying to find ways to include advertising. I hate that Facebook throttles my business’s posts, but I can’t really fault them for taking away my free advertising. But the catch 22 for these companies is that, in finding advertisers, they just might lose their audience. And for those of us who still want to use Instagram to communicate with users, Mark Wahlberg’s not such a bad inspiration: Communicate quality material. Be funny. Be smart. And learn to value long-term success over trends, a quick dollar, or being the new kid on the block. Want to talk more about using Instagram (and Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest) to build your career? Sign up for my social media class this Saturday.

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