There’s probably that frustrating “aha” moment sooner or later for anyone who posts their own pictures on Instagram: why on earth does that featureless, poorly exposed post by someone else get so much attention (aka likes) and their own picture, photographed with a lot of effort and attention to detail, doesn’t get more than a manageable amount of decent likes? And why does it feel like all other photography accounts have a follower count that’s at least in the upper four figures, if not five or six?
There are certainly a lot of things in this world to get angry about (and in some cases, maybe even should). Social media platforms are not one of them. Period.
It helps if you understand how these platforms fundamentally work. In light of the current overflow of many photography enthusiasts from Instagram to VERO, I’d like to shed some light on this topic from a more technical perspective and hopefully contribute a little to the understanding of these platforms.
Instagram – the top dog
Instagram. Everyone knows it, everyone has it, everyone needs it. Or maybe not?
The undisputed top dog has been on the market for many years and has gone through a long journey from being a standalone network designed purely for sharing photos to becoming part of the Meta Group. Over time, new features have been added, others have disappeared, some can be moved more into the gimmick category, others are useful to some degree.
Sometime in mid-2022, there was an update for some users that publicized the Meta Group’s (formerly Facebook’s) new vision of Instagram. The new focus on videos (as well as the algorithm-influenced posting of supposedly relevant posts from other users who don’t necessarily belong to one’s circle of friends) caused plenty of resentment among users. Apart from the fact that every online platform has to evolve and cannot make all users happy in the process: at this point at the latest, the question arose for photographers in particular as to how they should proceed with Instagram.
A photo is – well, obviously a photo. It’s a picture, it doesn’t move, and the photographer had a certain scene in mind when creating it, a certain mood she wanted to capture. Such scenes often can’t be captured as videos, certainly not without an immense amount of effort. So when the meta-corporation nails all photographers (and there are quite a few) in the shop window, so to speak, and considers their sometimes very elaborate images to be of little relevance, these individuals are understandably not amused.
Algorithms are not as smart as you think
In addition, there is a second topic, which I already briefly touched on in the introduction. Many social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, TikTok or LinkedIn create their feed (i.e. the endlessly scrollable area in which new content is displayed to the user) on the basis of algorithms. These algorithms “decide” how relevant your post is to other users based on a specific set of parameters. With a little common sense, one quickly asks oneself how an algorithm is supposed to “know” what kind of content the other users are interested in.
Let’s take a look at what happens on social media.
You sign up, maybe (depending on the network) enter a few areas of interest, follow the first accounts and see some of this content in your timeline. So far, so good.
Now you might start liking posts, writing comments, or re-sharing content. You share your own pictures or videos and allow the algorithm to slowly build a sort of profile of you and your (supposed) interests. Based on these areas of interest, more content will be shown to you in the Timeline in the future. This is relatively simple, easy to influence (try it out and like only pictures of cats for a week) and still makes sense in a certain way.
Now, as a photographer, you share your own images. Maybe you see Instagram for what it is: just a platform to share and make your images accessible to others. Fair enough, why not. However, Instagram itself wants you to not just sporadically share a few pictures and otherwise not spend your valuable time on the platform. Instead, they want you to be on your smartphone as much and as often as possible, and to remain captivated by one of the most terrifying design patterns ever invented on Instagram: the Infinite Scrolling Pattern. You don’t do that, of course, because maybe you’re a landscape photographer and therefore like to be out in nature a lot. Or you simply have better things to do.
The algorithm, friendly as it is, will punish you for this behavior. It will only show your posts to a few other users and thus unconsciously nudge you towards paid ads, the actual business model of Instagram. So you’re diligently paying money for Instagram to play your posts to more users, gaining a few new followers (who will then bounce back to you once you’ve stopped using paid content), and fulfilling the very purpose of social media platforms in the first place: you’re funding them. Instagram is estimated to have over 1 billion users in total – if even one percent of those users advertise for CHF 10, CHF 10 million has been flushed into Meta’s coffers. Sounds good, right?
You’re left as a frustrated user who either…
a) …pays more money and at some point registers that the bill for itself does not add up or…
b) …spends an extreme amount of time on Instagram to be “socially” active (but doesn’t get to take photos during that time) or…
c) …sooner or later resorts to purchased followers.
The latter is then pretty much the greatest act of desperation, because even these bots (no, even with as much as the respective provider asserts, purchased followers are always automatic fake profiles and bots) only cover up the significantly low number of real followers and likes per post.
A long paragraph with somewhat frustrating results. But what exactly makes the relatively new VERO network so interesting for photographers?