Leave it to Kylie.
A few years after tanking Snap’s stock with a tweet, Kylie Jenner’s now among a growing base of Instagram users making, basically, the same complaint: “I can’t find my friends’ stuff.”
While Snap eventually coalesced and redesigned their app, Instagram, it appears, will steamroll past the complaints.
Early this week, Instagram’s head, Adam Mosseri, began to explain that—even while calling it quits on a social test. And, later this week, during Meta’s earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Reels—the new, primary driver of the non-friend stuff on Instagram—makes up 20% of a user’s time on the app. Across Instagram and Facebook, Reels usage is up 30%, he said.
In other words, the social graph is dying.
We previously explored this idea in Clout, where we wrote:
“Because new social is about the content over the creator, their algorithms are tuned to that difference.
What we’re getting fed, then, is a mixture of content types, not creator profiles. It’s as common on TikTok to see something weird from an influencer with 1M followers as it is to see something endearing from a mom with 100–yet both videos feature the same brand.”
This is notable for many reasons, but there are two that relate to the topics covered in this newsletter:
First, it’s a very public and very large reminder that what we say is different than what we do.
Mosseri, in his PR efforts, tried to explain this nicely. That Instagram’s data around usage differs from what users are saying.
Looking at the mirror on this stuff can be discomforting. As we wrote in Values:
“As consumers, we lie to ourselves. We like to think our purchase habits align to our values. We self-report that they do.
But then we walk into Target or Walmart or Kroger with our goal of keeping ourselves and families safe and we ignore the Seventh Generation products, even though 77% of us told Shopify that we care about the environmental impact of the products we buy.
Maybe we care. Maybe we value certain things and want to see those values being expressed by brands.
But, more often than not, we don’t get to make decisions in a vacuum, without weighing those values against other values. And when those values do compete, we often don’t care enough to change our behavior.”
Second, as our friend Phillip Jackson wrote in a November issue of Future Commerce, the power of the algorithm is different than the power of the social graph:
“This process, called seeding, is tested against the control, which is your normal, everyday behavior. Based on your interaction, new information can be gained. Not just about your tastes and interests, but also your ability for those tastes and interests to be manipulated…
If that's something that caught your eye [Instagram] knows contextually [that you scrolled back to it, and paused...] so they can feed more information to you and they can reinforce that over and over and over.
It's the reason why I believe I am into sneakers. It's not because... I've loved sneakers my whole life. That happened when I was 35. It's because Instagram kept shoving it down my throat.
Maybe I'm happy being a sneakerhead. Maybe. Or maybe it's the reason that I buy anything nowadays.”
Phillip’s lack of certainty here is a microcosm of the entire shift away from social graphs to algorithms.
The social graph helped accelerate connections and, therefore, word of mouth, essentially pulling forward influences at a faster rate. (Hence: Influencers.) While a shift, it was based in traditional social norms. It was just faster.
The algorithm, though, is a move away from that. In fact, it is—in many respects—a move back to Madison Avenue-type advertising, where insights you don’t catch about yourself are used to manipulate interests and desires, both in categorical form (I want this type of thing) and specific brand form (I want this specific thing).
Perhaps this is why so many are so uneasy about it. Maybe some of us—especially the influencers (like Kylie)—have a sense we’re losing control.
What’s it all mean?
Unclear. Changes like this will take time to sort out and understand as it relates to consumer behavior. But if anyone is looking for commerce’s next “arbitrage” event, we’d start by looking here.