Instagram’s origins place the social platform as one that revolves around its relaxed style and less on commercial brands and advertising. Creative individuals would find ways to entertain their audiences with beautiful images that spark interest.
However, as the platform grew, so did the commercial interest in it. As The Wall Street Journal reports, there are now entire companies like 421 Media that produce memes for audiences all over Instagram.
The posts created by these companies are designed with the specific intent of gathering a significant amount of attention, providing them with revenue from these projects in the form of sponsorships.
When these posts have an authentic appeal that goes beyond obvious and over-the-top ads from magazines, there’s no problem. The issue arises when some of these companies make Instagram look like a platform that churns out mass-produced content.
According to Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram, this issue was “one of the toughest questions we had to face.”
“I guess we made the decision that we’re going to have the wait-and-see approach. The thing I’m bummed about is Instagram feels less authentic over time because of it,” he said.
At this point, Facebook’s one-billion-dollar investment into acquiring Instagram rests on the fact that it can provide something different that the company’s own platform doesn’t. If Instagram loses the very spark that made it popular, it may not deliver.
Instagram currently has some measures in place to prevent it from becoming a giant billboard. Among those are intolerance to selling and buying accounts and a requirement to disclose advertising.
However, the enforcement behind these rules has been patchy at best, according to people running large accounts on Instagram who spoke to WSJ.
At the same time, Instagram’s head of product, Vishal Shah, reveals that Instagram is attempting to allow users to have a say in what posts should go into the platform in a passive manner.
“People are the best judge of what makes sense for them at the end of the day. We try to keep a close eye on what exactly the ecosystem is trending toward without saying where it should go,” he said.
The moves that Instagram has taken sometimes led to the deletion of accounts with several million followers, including some from 421 Media.
Still, it’s probably inevitable that Instagram—like many other platforms before it—will have to compromise somewhat to allow commercial interests to have a playing field as well while at the same time giving a home to those who gave the network its authenticity in the first place.