IGTV has been makings headlines, and many of them have been less than favorable.
It’s worth pointing out that Instagram’s approach had some things going for it.
For example, when IGTV came onto the radar in June, it appeared as though Instagram was officially taking on video behemoth YouTube. It seemed like a bold move, made more remarkable by the fact that IGTV content would be vertical only.
YouTube, however, is already in the business of vertical video. In 2017, it updated its mobile application to accommodate a vertical video format. (And, to no one’s surprise, YouTube hasn’t gone out of its way to emphasize this update.)
But here’s the thing: Instagram is very good at successfully launching new features by emulating or improving what has worked for other platforms. Stories, after all, was originally panned and called a replica of Snapchat. Nonetheless, Instagram recently shared that Stories had over 400 million daily users, more than double that of Snapchat.
So, the question we really need to ask is: Can Instagram still get IGTV right?
Clearly, Instagram isn’t planning to give up anytime soon. “We have to wait for people to adopt it, and that takes time,” outgoing Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom said in a recent interview with TechCrunch.
If adoption “takes time,” then, for the time being, it seems imperative to understand what some of the major missteps were, and if they’ll continue to matter. And, following that, we can start to determine if brands should look for ways to use IGTV or just look away altogether.
In the blink of an eye, IGTV was accessible to every user. Piloting IGTV to a group of niche brands, influencers and content creators for a longer period of time would have been ideal—the average user would have better understood how to use this fresh update, and there would be more original content for them to engage with.
Without such guidance, many people have resorted to using IGTV as if it were Stories or Live.
And now that YouTube is reportedly offering six-figure checks to its most popular creators, IGTV has yet another hurdle to clear if Instagram wants premium talent sharing original goods.
Ads aren’t currently running, but, at the least, having premium content in the short term could have heightened an advertiser’s desire to appear within IGTV once the opportunity presented itself.
By becoming available to everyone so soon, IGTV has run the risk of burning out before it can really take off.
Searching within IGTV doesn’t provide the best user experience and often yields rudimentary results. If a user wants to find fashion content, they’re currently only going to see channels that have the word “fashion” represented in the handle or account name.
The recent update to Instagram’s Explore section could be of great benefit to IGTV. It would be smart for the photo- and video-sharing network to use its algorithm to populate a list of relevant topics or categories for each user. This could increase a user’s ability to discover new content.
Making IGTV a legitimate destination within the application, rather than a passive destination, would also optimize the user’s experience. Right now, one wrong tap or swipe takes you back to your main Instagram feed, which doesn’t provide a positive interaction and is just plain annoying.
Do people actually want this format?
Viewing video in a horizontal format is, without question, the standard. This is not to say that horizontal video will always be the standard, but it’s a gamble for anyone to think that they can thwart such an ingrained behavior.
Also, this format isn’t attention-span-friendly (not in an Instagram context, at least). The rampant success of Stories stems largely from its ephemeral nature and interactive features like stickers and questions. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole in Stories because they’re over in a flash and the user can jump to the next thing. That’s very different from devoting a chunk of time to digesting a story if, of course, that’s where IGTV is heading.
Granted, many thought that YouTube was only good for watching videos of cats or babies doing the darnedest things. Now, popular content creators like Jackie Aina and Casey Neistat can pull in hundreds-of-thousands to 1 million views on videos up to 10+ minutes long.
The bottom line?
Brands should still think long-term with IGTV. Now is not a good time to rush in and try to force IGTV to work. After all, it’s OK not to be everywhere on social media. It’s even more important to speak to an audience where a brand sees the most beneficial interactions.
If that kind of thinking leads a brand to IGTV, it would do well to take this time to observe the landscape, take note of what competitors might be doing and craft a real strategy that enables it to make a splash in the best way possible. Being first-to-market is exciting, but crushing it is even better.
One more important fact: IGTV may seem like the wild west right now, but video content has become an indisputably powerful tool for brands and influencers alike. Instagram has always had a knack for being a successfully disruptive brand. And if history repeats itself, then IGTV may yet turn out to be a true game changer in video consumption.
Calvin Walker is senior social strategist at digital agency Critical Mass.