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For more than two years, Instagram has been rebranding itself as a video platform, pushing short-form video format Reels in an effort to expand beyond its roots as a photo-sharing app and compete with TikTok. Creators, brands and publishers duly changed their tactics, adopting video strategies to stay relevant as their typical content no longer performed as well, even as video formats struggled to take hold.
Now, Instagram is pulling another about-face, four social strategist sources told Adweek.
In the past few weeks, Reels on brand social accounts have been performing worse, generating 20% fewer views in some cases, while photo performance has generally improved, sources said. The move has execs fighting to keep hold of precious video production budgets and shifting to focus on posting more images.
“The annoying thing for me is that the beginning of the year is when most brands have just gotten their strategy and budgets approved,” said Ashni Mehta, an independent social strategist. Mehta said that previously, Reels had a minimum of 1,000 views across the five brands she manages, but in the past two weeks, that minimum is closer to 100 views. The five brand accounts have between 5,000 and 10,000 followers, although she has seen the same dynamics with accounts with as many as 100,000 followers.
The move highlights the challenges brands and publishers face in publishing content to platforms where the algorithms are likely to change without warning.
“So many brands have set out big budgets for video,” added Mehta, who originally tweeted about the perceived strategy shift last week, spurring a popular thread.
In response to a question from a Jan. 20 Q&A, held via an Instagram Story, head of Instagram Adam Mosseri admitted that the company had overfocused on video in 2022, showing people too many videos and not enough photos, adding that the company has since balanced its algorithm such that users see equal numbers of photos and videos, as reported by The Verge.
A Meta spokesperson told Adweek that the company has not changed how they show users Reels.
The quintessential social media fight
The move has social strategists putting in additional legwork to get their content seen, as well as fighting to justify video production costs.
For an unnamed luxury hospitality brand, run by social media coordinator Lora Cate Parker, Instagram Reels across several accounts averaged more than 15,000 views before the holidays. Now they barely reach 10,000.
“I have to comment [and] reshare to Stories,” said Parker. “I’m trying to get it out there and viewed.”
Video production costs tend to be between $5,000 and $8,000 more expensive than photo production, Parker said. Justifying this expense can be tricky, especially to more senior execs who aren’t as up-to-date with the algorithm changes, she added.
“It’s the quintessential social media fight,” said Parker. “I fought for all this money to say we need more video content. I need to fight and continue to say we need this stuff, but not in the immediate future.”
Elsewhere, a brand in the professional sports industry saw a roughly 20% decline in views, likes, comments and shares on its Instagram Reels during January and February 2023, compared to November and December 2022. The exec who manages the account, and was not authorized to speak to the media, noted that likes, comments and shares on Instagram photos have increased 66% over the same period.
The shift is not so much budgetary as bureaucratic, the source said, as staff members who want videos posted of content that’s important to them are being told no as engagement decreases.
How much time do you want to put into something that’s not going to have the return you expected?
Ashni Mehta, independent social strategist
Not all brands are shifting their strategy. Amy Gilbert, head of social at social agency The Social Element, said that while her team has noticed a dip in Reels performance, production of short-form videos won’t decrease, especially given the continued importance of TikTok.
“There is a constant need for short-form video as a content type that we need for the brands,” Gilbert said.
Still, if brands are going to invest in video production, they need to be guaranteed it’s worthwhile, Mehta said.
“Creating Reels for a lot of people is very time-consuming and costly. We’re all willing to invest in that because we know there’s going to be a payout,” she said. “How much time do you want to put into something that’s not going to have the return you expected?”