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7 min read

Instagram’s new feed and what it means for advertisers

This article was updated on: 26.08.2022

Instagram is testing a new full-screen default home feed, to a very mixed response. We’ll be exploring what’s changed, what this means for advertisers and how this reflects TikTok’s growing dominance in the social media landscape.

**UPDATE** As of August 2022, ‘Instagram Backtracks on Latest ‘TikTok Style’ Updates’ following the widespread Make Instagram Instagram Again’ movement. Mosseri has revealed that Instagram will continue to focus on video to align with growing trends, but will be phasing out the full-screen feed format and reducing the number of recommended posts. Read the latest update to this story here.

What’s new with Instagram’s home feed test

It felt inevitable. Instagram’s continuing on an inexorable shift from a photo & caption sharing hub, into a more interactive TikTok-style, video-centric experience. This includes a home feed that now takes up the majority of your screen. For good or bad, this UI change is a statement about the future of Instagram and how users will interact with the app from now on. Whilst the response to the test has been quite mixed, simply put, if Instagram didn’t evolve – it would’ve been dead long ago.

There is an increased focus on integrating recommended reels into your home feed. This isn’t surprising that Instagram has taken this approach after announcing it will invest more in reels back in February. Whilst this is useful in discovering new profiles based on your recommendations – the explore and Instagram reel tabs are designed for this already. 

From a user-feel perspective, the home feed scrolling style is different, adopting a stop & start style similar to TikTok with one post taking up your entire screen. It does make it easier to watch videos rather than scroll past them – it’s just something we will have to get used to.

If you have used Facebook recently, you may have come across Facebook videos in your timeline. These are now a mix of both native Facebook videos and Instagram videos, a blend of both platforms under the Meta umbrella. The full-screen feed compliments this style that the parent brand Facebook has been moving towards also.

What does this mean for advertisers?

Photo uploads are dead, long live the reel! If the previously mentioned investment in reels didn’t convince you that Instagram is making reels the front and centre of its platform, then this UI update will. Whilst photos are still viewable in the home feed, clearly this new UI has been designed with video centricity in mind. This will not only affect how marketers approach their organic Instagram strategy, but also their paid ads strategy. 

Marketers may identify that this will make paid ads within Instagram’s new feed reel UI feel like a similar experience to how users will experience organic content. Whilst paid ads have been integrated into the organic home feed experience for years already, the full-screen will make it harder for users to avoid, or even more difficult to identify, when all video-based content is formatted into a single immersive stream. This type of immersive advertising is quite commonplace now as it shares similar ties to native advertising, product placement and influencer marketing. This differs slightly from other traditional web or app-based forms of advertising like pop-ups which are designed to catch the eye of users away from the content they were engaging with. Instead, paid ads on Instagram become a part of the immersive stream of organic content that users are interacting with.

Example – Coca-Cola in Friends (source: Product Placement blog)

However, it’s not all perfect. Instagram still has some technical issues to smooth out before officially launching the update. Some ads looked odd, including visuals that were incorrectly formatted for their usual placements, meaning marketers will have to adapt creatives to make sure ads are visually appealing and fit for purpose. 

Another issue was captions overlaid directly onto images (expandable on clicking), which was really hard to read especially on lighter, busier images – not the best usability experience. For videos and reels where captions are more of a ‘nice to have’, it’s a win. But, some amazing creators have long, descriptive captions and unfortunately, it really didn’t work for them. Once again, we hope this is merely a technical issue that is in the pipeline to be fixed.

On a more positive note, this new style of feed will undoubtedly guarantee an increase in engagement rates with your ads, as the full-screen view makes it much harder to scroll past. This is similar to how sponsored posts and videos are currently seen on Instagram stories. These are also harder to skip as it requires a tap or a swipe from the user, rather than a scroll, to move past it.

Instagram’s thought process is to develop a UI that puts content first. This is one of the many changes that will follow the ‘Visual Refresh’ of the brand’s app – along with its new font and gradient. The concept of this new feed is designed with simplicity and self-expression in mind for a better in-app user experience.

What does this test mean for the social media landscape?

TikTok has changed the social media landscape since it was first released back in 2016 – and a lot of other apps have been trying to keep up. TikTok racked up 37.3 million monthly Gen Z users in 2021, second only to Snapchat, and ahead of Instagram with 33.3 million and Facebook with 28.7 million. It was also forecasted to become the 3rd largest social network. With TikTok Ads manager and the continual rise of influencer marketing, marketers see the platform as a greater opportunity for paid media growth as well. This, as well as other factors, has forced other social media platforms like Snapchat to suffer major losses, with TikTok outgrowing both Snapchat and Twitter’s ad profits combined.

TikTok must be doing something right – but is it the full-screen feed? It surely plays a factor in its success as it uses a format that is native to vertical phone shooting which is incredibly important when it comes to usability and the full-screen feed is very addicting to scroll through too, but is it big enough of a factor? Maybe. The app certainly has its appeal from a user perspective and it was one of the first popular platforms to use this style of feed. Is it because TikTok is capturing the younger audience that Instagram may be struggling to engage? That’s not totally the case, 41% of users on TikTok are GenZ whilst 59% of other generations make up the remainder of the platform’s user base. GenZ is the biggest of the bunch, but it still provides a lot of opportunities for marketers to advertise to other demographics. However, Instagram still holds the position of being the biggest platform for influencer marketing, yet TikTok is rapidly catching up with that.

Even though TikTok is hitting a highly valuable demographic; 18 to 25 year olds, who were born into a post-internet world and have more disposable income, the biggest accomplishment is TikTok’s ability to retain these users when other platforms like Facebook are seeing their user base decline. So the full-screen feed display and easy-to-use functions do play a factor in TikTok’s success, but is it enough for users to stay loyal to the brand of TikTok? Whilst some say that the stream of recommended videos and the dopamine kick from short videos is what keeps users glued to TikTok – if a new platform comes along that is better, are people going to move away from TikTok straight away? More importantly (and in this case an older platform), will Instagram’s test potentially bring in users away from the TikTok platform or do they risk alienating their current audience? That’s the biggest risk for Instagram and at the moment the user feedback from their current audience hasn’t been so great, but we hope this is something that will continually be updated to be better in the future.

Want to learn more about the latest news in the paid social landscape? Check out our monthly industry news blog for more updates. We also have a wide range of resources available, including white papers, webinars, and scripts! If you want to talk about your business’ paid social aspirations, get in touch!