Over the past two years, Instagram has been transforming itself into a video platform, promoting its short-form video feature, Reels, as a means of diversifying from its original focus on photo-sharing and competing with TikTok.
As a result, content creators, brands, and publishers altered their strategies, pivoting toward video content to remain relevant and compensate for underperforming photo content. Despite these efforts, video formats faced difficulties gaining traction on the platform.
However, in a recent turn of events, Instagram has shifted course yet again. As of late, Reels on brand social accounts have seen reduced performance, generating 20% fewer views in some cases, while photo content has generally shown improvement.
This shift has left executives struggling to maintain their video production budgets, and refocusing on sharing more images instead. Ashni Mehta, an independent social strategist, expressed frustration over the timing of the shift, saying that Reels, which previously garnered a minimum of 1,000 views across the five brands she manages, now only achieves a minimum of 100 views in the past two weeks.
These five brand accounts have follower counts ranging between 5,000 to 10,000, although the same pattern has been observed across accounts with as many as 100,000 followers.
The recent shift in Instagram's algorithm, which has resulted in a decline in Reels engagement and an increase in photo content performance, highlights the challenges faced by brands and publishers when publishing content on platforms whose algorithms are subject to change without prior notice.
This sudden shift has caught many brands off guard, as they had previously invested significant budgets into video content. Independent social strategist Ashni Mehta expressed frustration over the timing of the change, and her tweets on the matter sparked a popular thread.
During a Jan. 20 Q&A session, head of Instagram Adam Mosseri acknowledged that the platform had placed too much emphasis on video content in 2022, leading to an overabundance of videos and not enough photos in users' feeds. He went on to say that the company had since adjusted its algorithm to achieve a balance between photo and video content, as reported by The Verge.
The recent change in Instagram's algorithm has social media strategists putting in extra effort to ensure their content is seen, as well as having to justify video production costs.
For a luxury hospitality brand managed by social media coordinator Lora Cate Parker, Instagram Reels across several accounts had an average of over 15,000 views before the holidays, but now barely reach 10,000 views.
Parker has been commenting and resharing content to Stories in an attempt to get it seen. Video production costs tend to be $5,000 to $8,000 more expensive than photo production, making it difficult to justify these expenses, especially to more senior executives who may not be as up-to-date with algorithm changes.
"It's the quintessential social media fight," Parker said, noting that she had previously fought for more money for video content, but now has to argue for a more balanced approach. In the professional sports industry, another brand saw a roughly 20% decline in Reels views, likes, comments, and shares during January and February 2023 compared to November and December 2022.
Conversely, likes, comments, and shares on Instagram photos increased by 66% over the same period. The shift is not so much budgetary as it is bureaucratic, according to an executive who manages the account and was not authorized to speak to the media, as staff members who want videos posted of content that's important to them are being told no as engagement decreases.
“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?”