Why Does Instagram Keep Trying to Be TikTok?

Content creators, online shop owners, and photographers talk about how the social media shift to video is affecting them.
Social media Instagram TikTok YouTube video focus UI
The rules of social media are changing faster than creators and users can double tap. Photo for illustrative purposes only. Photo: Artem Podrez, Pexels

There are a few unwritten rules of social media: People go to Instagram for photos, TikTok for short videos, YouTube for longer videos, and Facebook to see whose birthday it is.

But those rules are changing faster than you can double tap.

“We’re moving Instagram to a place where video is a bigger part of the home experience,” said Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, in a video he posted last month


For users who knew Instagram when its logo resembled a Polaroid camera, that statement may be a bit strange. But as the picture-perfect aesthetic crumbles and the rules of social media change, it’s not really a shock. The bigger question is where these changes leave its users. Content creators, online shops, and photographers—all of whom have previously taken to Instagram for its simple photo-first features—are now scrambling to keep up with the app’s shift to video.

Instagram rose to ubiquity through its photo editing and sharing features. In recent years, however, the app has shifted its focus to videos. It introduced video posts in 2013, and has since added Stories, IGTV, Instagram Live, and Reels (which has its own separate tab on the app). In May, it began testing an “immersive” full-screen home feed, akin to that of TikTok, a move that some say is meant to bring video more front and center. All this is arguably in response to the overwhelming success of TikTok, a video-based app.


“Rather than further innovating in the image space, [Instagram] seems to have gone on the defensive to build a multimedia presence and counter the mercurial rise of TikTok and video-based content,” Kokil Jaidka, an assistant professor of communications and new media at the National University of Singapore, told VICE.

Much of this, of course, is business. In April, Meta, Instagram’s parent company, announced that Reels, Instagram’s short-form video feature and TikTok’s rival, makes up more than 20 percent of the time people spend on the app. Instagram has also offered cash bonuses to creators who make top-ranking and original Reels.

This is not the first time Instagram came for another app’s gig. In case you’ve forgotten, “Stories” started on Snapchat before Instagram copied it. Meanwhile, other social media apps have also made changes that mimic TikTok. YouTube, for example, introduced its entry to the short-form video battle royale—60-second-max vertical “Shorts.” 


But part of business is demand, or why people use social media. Jaidka said that the reasons have changed over the years. Social media used to be an arena for social networking, but is now driven by a need for entertainment and a craving for fame.

“Instagram is just responding to what is relevant and what consumers are preferring at the time,” Preeti Pooja, a social media video specialist based in London, told VICE. “A lot of users are quite unhappy with the change in their experience of what they see. But like every new generation, even the users will comfortably get used to the transition.” 

If the big shift to video is uncomfortable for users, it might be even more so for content creators, since the shift entails learning new trends and new skills. “Social media is constantly evolving, and as creators, if we want to stay in the game, we can’t be doing social media the old school way,” said Pooja.

“Honestly, I feel like I can’t catch a break,” said Czari Domingo, a Philippines-based beauty content creator and educator who posts content on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. 


Just when she felt like she was getting the hang of one thing on social media, Domingo said a new thing would come along, and that it’s all so fast-paced. Instagram’s shift to video is yet another one of these changes.

One of the ways Domingo will have to adjust is through Sound trends. Domingo explained that creators now tend to choose from a limited list of the day’s most popular songs to increase their videos’ chances of going viral.

“The trend is what dictates what you have to make,” she said. This may help some creators by letting them know exactly what content might work at any given time. But it also makes others, like Domingo, feel less creative.

 Je Villaroman, a photographer and digital PR consultant also based in the Philippines, said that Instagram is undoubtedly one of the most important tools he uses in his career. As a photographer, he takes to Instagram to showcase his work and get clients. As a PR consultant, he has hired creatives based solely on what he saw on their Instagram profiles. “I can see the importance of the platform from both ends,” said Villaroman. 

But as a long-time user, Villaroman said he wishes Instagram would stick to its fundamentals. He understands, however, the app’s need to compete, and why it’s doing this through video. 


“It will definitely affect a lot of still-image photographers, but what can we do other than adapt to the current landscape of the online world?” he said.

“Our primary platform is Instagram since, for us, it is business- and interface-friendly for beginners,” said Ced Roxas, who runs a Philippines-based online furniture store

Roxas explained that his business works for him and his partner because it doesn’t take up too much of their time. He’s also a photographer, so shooting the pieces they sell is relatively easy for him. But Instagram’s shift to video might change that. 

At first, he and his partner were in denial about videos overshadowing photos. “Editing a video is [more] time-consuming compared to photo editing,” he said. But the reality is becoming increasingly difficult to deny.

“We just noticed that Instagram ads were not that effective anymore to reach new followers or potential customers,” said Roxas. “We don’t know if it’s Instagram's way of letting us know that we need another approach to promoting our ads, or to try videos.”

The shift to video isn’t all bad for content creators. Pooja, the social media video specialist, said that the sooner people begin transitioning from photos to videos, the better. “The risks for this change will only be for creators and businesses who are hesitant to add video strategy to their marketing plan. However, the benefits are plenty as Reels will make sure your content reaches a much wider audience.”


Roxas said that Reels could be a way for his shop to reach new customers and grow the business. Domingo, the beauty educator, said videos help bring back the human element of being in an actual store and trying products to the online shopping experience. Villaroman, the photographer, said that the shift to video is an opportunity to mix both videos and photos into his creative process, and tell more stories as he does so. 

According to Jaidka, Instagram’s shift of focus to video means that regular users can access more content on the same platform, and that content creators have more ways to make that content and coin. She added that she thinks the shift will be good for Instagram, because it will enable it to become a more multidimensional platform.

But the app’s success with video is not guaranteed.

Leaning heavily on video carries some risk, Jadika said. Creators might not like making video content for Instagram, and users might not like watching it on the app, either. It might lead to a short-term spike but a long-term drop in engagement when the novelty wears off.

“I think, perhaps, if Instagram truly improves and pioneers video within its platform, it will obtain new economic leaps,” said Jaidka. “However, if it fails and appears to look like a cheap version of TikTok to users, users may view the platform as outdated and thus begin a regression in use.”

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