Instagram’s hottest club is “Reels,” or so Instagram really hopes. Right now, it’s more like a sparsely populated space with lame music that most people pass on by. But Instagram is betting big that moving the entryway and adding a few trimmings will bring the party.
Instagram announced that on Thursday it’s rolling out a redesigned home screen that puts tabs for Reels and Shop literally front and center. Aside from changes to icons in recent years, it’s the most significant redesign since 2016 — and it speaks volumes about Instagram’s priorities of both keeping up with TikTok, and raking in the dough.
The center button on the home navigation bar has long been a link to create a new post; it’s basically a camera button, although, in recent years, it’s taken on the shape of a little plus sign. Now, that button is getting moved upstairs to the upper right hand corner, and a button for Reels is taking its place. Ouch.
To the right, beside the center camera/new post button, was the heart button that took users to the activity feed tab. That’s also joining the create and direct messages button up top, making room for Shopping in its stead.
While Instagram has managed to retain its status as the cool younger cousin to the misinformation and older relative-clogged clunker that is Facebook, the redesign — and its announcements — shows some cracks. A strangely out-of-touch-sounding blog post written by Instagram head Adam Mosseri (“At Instagram, our focus has always been on young people and creators because they’re trendsetters”) shows that the app is trying have its cake and eat it too. It wants to be a fun and authentic content portal that can keep up with TikTok, and deliver enough financially to please Facebook board members. Mosseri even described the change as a way to stay relevant.
“How people create and enjoy culture has changed, and the biggest risk to Instagram is not that we change too fast, but that we don’t change and become irrelevant.”
Instagram launched the content type Reels, its version of the looping short-form video app TikTok, in August. The fact that this trendy content type was coming to the already user-packed Instagram, along with the fact that TikTok was facing a potential U.S. national security ban based on its ownership by a Chinese company, should have poised Reels for success. Unfortunately, the first iteration of Reels only did some of the things that TikTok does, but worse.
Reels couldn’t become a buzzy success on its own, and now Instagram is doing all it can to give it a lift. In a scathing review over the summer, The New York Times’ Taylor Lorenz called it “confusing, frustrating and impossible to navigate.”
One of the main problems is that there is no dedicated portal for Reels. Users post Reels to their feed just as they would a photo or video. Then, that Reel appears in their followers’ feeds and the Explore tab.
Probably the best thing about the redesign is that it creates an easily navigable space just for Reels. This feed will show “content you’ve liked or commented on, what’s trending and popular, and locally relevant ‘Featured’ reels that have been chosen by Instagram,” an Instagram rep said over email.
Instagram is also debuting a new camera interface that lets you select which content type you want to create in a sliding menu, including Reels.
Meanwhile, Instagram has been adding shopping and business features hand over fist in recent years (especially since Instagram’s original founders left in 2018, reportedly after clashes with Mark Zuckerberg over growth and monetization). Today, stories and videos are both shoppable, business accounts can have dedicated “stores,” and users can even buy things within Instagram. These features incentivize businesses to invest more time, resources, and advertising dollars in Instagram — and in turn, Facebook. Last year, Instagram ad sales comprised a quarter of Facebook’s sales revenue.
Putting shopping and Reels side-by-side — and very much in the spotlight — perfectly shows Instagram’s predicament. It’s attempting to increasingly monetize a platform that was once at the vanguard of cool, and whose current and best strategy is to rip off the new concepts of other apps.
Is redesigning the home screen to more prominently feature a flailing product and, basically, more ads in the form of content, really the plan to keep Instagram from becoming “irrelevant”? Welp, in that case, good luck.