Yeah, I can definitely see this one going off the rails very quick.
As it continues to search for new ways to maintain relevance in the lives of its users, Instagram is experimenting with a new option that would seemingly enable people to share their latest posts with connections via DM, adding another way to boost awareness and engagement in the app.
As you can see in this example, shared by app researcher Hammod Oh, Instagram’s testing a new ‘Public’ folder in your DM inbox which, as the description explains, would enable you to:
“Message or share your favorite posts directly with your followers.”
Which, seemingly, would provide a broad-reaching DM option to blast links to posts, to everybody who follows you in the app.
That would provide an alternative way to alert users to your latest updates and projects, which leans into evolving usage trends – though it could also become very spammy very quickly, depending on how it’s applied.
Back when LinkedIn initially launched its long-form publishing platform, for example, spammers loved it because every time you saved a new post, all of your LinkedIn followers would get a specific notification in the app, providing a quick and easy way to reach a lot of people, free of charge.
Spammers caught onto this, and within a couple of months, LinkedIn had to limit the prevalence of such notifications to stop people misusing it as a blast option.
You can imagine the same happening on IG, which could make those message notifications get real old, real fast. I assume Meta has a solution in mind for this, which would restrict potential misuse – but then again, as it desperately looks for anything to keep people active in the app, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them roll it out, then deal with the consequences.
Over time, as more and more social media users have moved away from public posting – and the scrutiny that can come with such – they’ve increasingly become more reliant on private groups and DMs to share content with friends, with the News Feed becoming more of a discovery surface than an engagement platform within itself.
Meta’s top executives have reiterated this – earlier this month, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained that:
“Most people use feeds to discover content and use messaging for deeper connections.”
There are various reasons for this. Public scrutiny, as noted, is one concern, while the arrival of TikTok, which is primarily focused on entertainment, not social connection, has also shifted expectations more broadly around social posts.
These days, as you’ve likely noticed, it’s less about keeping your connections updated in each app, and more about providing entertaining, engaging posts – but then again, you could also argue that each app serves a different purpose in this respect.
Facebook, for example, still sees a heap of people logging into the app each day, maintaining its position as the top dog in the social media space. But deeper analysis also suggests that people are spending less and less time in the app.
So while Facebook still sees close to 3 billion active users per month, people aren’t spending as much time there as they are on TikTok or YouTube.
Why is that? Because Facebook is now engrained in our interactive process as the place you go to check in on the latest updates from friends and family. You log onto Facebook each day, check out if any of your connections have shared anything that you should know about, ensure that you’re across the day’s birthdays, then you log off and check out what’s happening in other apps.
Facebook’s key strength over time has been its social graph, and its unmatched capacity to highlight info and updates from the people that you know and love.
But over time, people aren’t using social apps the same way. People are now seeking entertainment, and with that, you’re getting fewer random updates from friends on Facebook, because the bar, again, has been raised in terms of entertainment value on the whole.
As such, Facebook is simply not as valuable as it once was, at least in terms of time spent in app. And subsequently, going on the data, neither is Instagram, which is why both apps are now looking to inject more and more ‘entertaining’ posts from profiles that you don’t follow into your main feed, in order to keep you in each app for longer.
Because TikTok is beating them on engagement and time spent, and Meta knows that if it can’t shift that trend, then eventually, people will simply stop logging into its apps as much, which would be a disaster for its business.
Which is why we’re seeing experiments like this – a means to lean into these shifting engagement trends and highlight updates direct to your audience, as opposed to hoping they discover it in the main feed.
Maybe, with more specific notifications, that’ll get more users tapping through, and spending more time in the app, which side-steps the need for them to scroll through the main feed, and aligns with broader usage trends.
If people aren’t using the feed for discovery, it’s time to connect in new ways.
As per Instagram chief Adam Mosseri:
Friends post a lot more to stories and send a lot more DMs than they post to Feed. If you want to make sure you never miss a feed post from a friend, add them to your favorites and they’ll show up at the top.
— Adam Mosseri (@mosseri) July 26, 2022
Friends share more in DMs. So why not lean into that?
The potential problems, as noted, could be significant. But at the same time, it makes sense that Instagram’s trying out whatever it can to keep up.