Is Instagram still worth your time?
Breaking news: an app with 1.22 billion active users ... is apparently dead.
Okay, technically Instagram is still up and running. But there are many who don’t see Instagram as the app of the future. As The Atlantic notes, “everyone’s over Instagram.”
The Atlantic quotes a recent Piper Sandler survey, which found that of 14,500 teens asked, only 20% named Instagram their favorite social media app. (TikTok was first, while Snapchat took second).
Despite its 1.22 billion active users, those kinds of young-people numbers are enough to make creators wonder if it’s still possible to grow an audience on Instagram. Like Facebook before it, many see Instagram as a place to make big personal announcements like engagements and baby updates.
As Lee Tilghman, a one-time Instagram influencer who used the platform full-time, told The Atlantic: “People who aren’t influencers only use [Instagram] to watch other people make big announcements.
But there’s the rub. Facebook, like Instagram, is not dead. Plenty of influencers are still using both platforms.
According to creator coach Jade Beason, “as long as people are still using [Instagram], the platform is not dead. People are growing their businesses on Instagram every day. Myself included.”
So what is the difference between the people thriving on Instagram—like Beason—and those who’ve burned out because their user base is turning to TikTok and Snapchat to discover influencers?
According to Beason, it all depends on what you want to accomplish.“You just have to think about what your true reason for using Instagram is this year.”
Ultimately, that will determine whether the platform is still worth your time.
Reasons to stick with Instagram in 2023
It would be bad form to toss away an entire potential audience simply because it’s not as trendy as TikTok. But what are the specific benefits for creators who stick it out with Instagram?
Instagram was always a “closed app,” but with an “explore” feature
Open apps, or apps that promote discovering new accounts and trends, are all the rage. Think TikTok, for example—it’s all about seeing new stuff from accounts you haven’t seen before.
The problem with comparing it to Instagram? Instagram has never been that open, nor was it intended that way.
“Instagram was inherently built as an app that was really great for people who want to see content from people who they already follow,” says Beason. “So I like to see it as a closed app.”
Instagram recalls the first wave of social media: only unlocking content from the people you follow. Log in these days, and it still works that way. The top of your feed will include posts from the people you follow. You’ll only see Instagram stories from accounts you connect with.
Over time, Instagram tried to expand the possibilities of getting discovered. The “explore” page, for example, has always been around.
If even a fraction of Instagram’s billion-plus users check out the explore page, it’s still a significant tool for growth. That means hundreds of millions of people still use Instagram Explore every day.
Instagram is still growing
The “explore” page has been around for a while. But Instagram is still making efforts to become more of an open app. Like YouTube or TikTok, Instagram now adds new, recommended posts below your feed.
In that way, Instagram is echoing YouTube’s playbook. “The same [feature] is on YouTube,” Beason says. “When you go on YouTube as a user, you see videos from people you subscribe to, but also people you don’t subscribe to who youTube thinks you might like.”
If the past is any indicator, Instagram will likely have success with mimicking what’s working on other apps. Says The Atlantic: “The Instagram Stories feature, a direct rip-off of Snapchat, was introduced in August 2016 and outpaced the original just one year later.”
Now Instagram Stories is one of the defining features of Instagram.
The challenge, Beason says, is resistance from Instagram’s users. They’re not used to Instagram looking like TikTok and YouTube. “Until people change their mind on it and actually want to see suggested posts and content from people they don’t follow yet, our job as creators on Instagram will remain difficult,” says Beason.
Beason says she has creator clients who see “incredible growth” with today’s social media platforms—”but it’s more likely to happen on another platform like TikTok.” But Beason says if Instagram can overcome the user resistance hurdle, there are still opportunities for growth.
Instagram creators should watch how users react to this challenge in 2023. As The Atlantic notes, “a series of algorithm changes—and some questionable attempts to copy features from other apps—have disenchanted many of the users who are sticking around.” But if users adapt, and grow to like a new “open” Instagram, the opportunities for growth will be there.
What growth strategies are working on Instagram?
Instagram might not be the creator’s ideal flagship platform. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it as a potential source of traction with your audience. Influencers can still use Instagram as a launch point, but not the center, of their growth.
Enter the “link in bio” generation.
Using an Instagram audience to benefit other projects
Lee Tilghman, for example, once worked more intently on growing her Instagram audience. Now she writes a Substack newsletter, Pet Hair on Everything.
Her main goal is to divert attention to her Substack newsletter. But rather than give up on Instagram, she still posts there. She uses it to direct her quarter million followers to other links via LinkTree.
“One of the biggest mistakes I see creators making is not having a really good link-in-bio,” says Jessica Stansberry. “On Instagram or TikTok, [your bio] literally sits on the top of your profile.”
Stansberry notes that in times past, marketers would frown on link-in-bio strategies, as these might eat into conversion rates. But there are a few reasons this isn’t as big a concern with modern creators:
- Modern link in bio tools. It only takes one link to send users to all of your creator platforms. But one visit to LinkTr.ee or Lnk.Bio can send your audience to whichever platform you like. You don’t even need a website as a home base anymore.
- Community building is the new “conversion.” If you have a sizeable Instagram audience—as Tilghman does—left over from days past, there’s no reason to abandon that kind of leverage.
- Modern creators need a wider audience. “As a creator, you need multiple things in your Link In Bio to actually convert to affiliate sales, to sales of your own stuff, to follows on other platforms,” says Stansberry.
Yes, Instagram still remains more of a “closed” platform than the TikToks and YouTubes of the world. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use Instagram to send your audience to other growing platforms.
Using Instagram’s full features to build a community
The temptation is to see Instagram as the old fuddy-duddy in a room of hot platforms like TikTok and Snapchat. But feature-for-feature, Instagram stacks up with any of them.
- Reels: Instagram’s Reels feature is an antidote to TikTok, encouraging both the creation and discovery of short, up-to-15-second videos.
- Carousels: Similar to LinkedIn Carousels, Instagram lets you post up to 10 photos or videos at a time. All the user has to do is give your photos a quick swipe to find more. Ostensibly, this is great for uploading photo albums, but creators use it to create helpful presentations and grow their audience.
- Stories: These short videos are most noteworthy for all the other features they allow, like polls, Q & As for interacting with your audience, and even shoppable items.
- Stickers: You can add stickers to Stories as well, opening up all sorts of features like donations, countdowns, gifs, links, hashtags, quizzes, and more.
- Instagram Live: Instagram doubles as a live video platform, making it an alternative for people who want to create webinars or conference calls.
- DMs. “Sliding into someone’s DMs” isn’t a popular phrase for no reason. “The direct messaging feature is one of the best direct messaging features across any social media platform,’ says Beason.” “Don’t even fight me on it.” It allows video chat, selfie stickers, and customizable chats with unique colors and themes.
These features help highlight Instagram’s strengths, since they’re great for engaging with an established community.
“My answer to the question—is Instagram still worth the time and effort in 2023 if you’re trying to build a community and deepen engagement with your audience? The answer is yes,” says Beason. “It is still worth your time. In fact, that is my strategy for 2023. I’m using Instagram for community development and engagement.”
Making full use of Instagram video
But what if you’re after growth and not just community engagement? Then the answer is simple. “Video is the queen right now,” says Monica Ghrone.
According to Ghrone, her Instagram followers went from 3,000 to 32,000 within a period of just two weeks. Her trick? Video instructions, with the explicit promise that her videos were part of a series that users could follow.
Ghrone recommended building a series with a definite beginning and end. Her example—for the next 30 days you and I are going to implement local SEO strategies on our websites—highlights how to attract a following that sticks. This even works with Instagram’s typically close-ended growth platform.
Ghrone says that the great part about this type of growth is that it’s organic. It engages the right people—the kind looking for exactly what you have to offer. “It may not be as viral [as TikTok], but you’ll attract the right people,” says Ghrone.
Reports of Instagram’s death have been greatly exaggerated
In May of 1897, there was a rumor flying around the journalists of the day: author Mark Twain was either dead, or about to die from an illness. One enterprising journalist, Frank Marshall White, got in touch with Twain to see if there was any truth ot it.
“The report of my death,” came the reply, “was an exaggeration.”
Instagram is in the same place. Yes, there are still ways to use Instagram—not only for community engagement, but for growth.
Instagram is more close-ended than TikTok and YouTube, true. But it’s also working on that. Its Explore feature remains a highlight. And if users can accept recent platform changes that highlight unfamiliar accounts, Instagram could potentially catch a new wave of enthusiasm.
As it stands, Instagram’s current features are great for community engagement. A simple link in your bio can redirect that engagement to another growth-oriented platform if you want. But as people like Monica Ghrone show, there is always room for growth for people who are enterprising enough to make it happen. After all, 1.22 billion users can’t be completely wrong.