The Scary Future Of Instagram

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Growth.Design Case Study #026

Story Duration: 4 min

So I've always enjoyed spending time with real people, but...

...after months of lockdown...

I was starting to feel...

...lonely...

...So I slowly started picking up my phone out of boredom to...

...check Instagram...

...and check again...

...and again...

Internal triggers

People take action based on memories or emotions.1 

In this case, my inability to direct my energy towards my own desires 2 is driving me to "hunt" for pleasure elsewhere.

Instagram is the perfect companion when looking for desirability (with a few caveats.)

1Nir Eyal, Hooked (2014)
2Laurence Yeo, The Riddle of Boredom (2021)

And since everybody's life on Instagram is ridiculously "awesome"...

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Social Status

We constantly measure our social value relative to others. It is the most important incentive and motivating force of social behavior.1

That's why we buy things and put up our best lives on social media.

Mixed with negative emotions, it becomes an exponential driver for consumption.2

1Adam Waytz, The Psychology of Social Status (2009)
2Derek Thompson , The Loneliness Loop (2013)
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we chatted with thousands of our last 25,000 Growth.Design subscribers, and we saw a clear pattern. Most product team struggle because of one of the 5 following mistakes…

...It's hard not to compare yourself...

we chatted with thousands of our last 25,000 Growth.Design subscribers, and we saw a clear pattern. Most product team struggle because of one of the 5 following mistakes…

It's no secret... To maintain appearances people tend to shop for new things, and

 

we chatted with thousands of our last 25,000 Growth.Design subscribers, and we saw a clear pattern. Most product team struggle because of one of the 5 following mistakes…

—Instagram is fully aware of this...

 

we chatted with thousands of our last 25,000 Growth.Design subscribers, and we saw a clear pattern. Most product team struggle because of one of the 5 following mistakes…

But it's impossible to compete with Instagram's "reality"....

...especially when you're here because you're bored in the first place—

we chatted with thousands of our last 25,000 Growth.Design subscribers, and we saw a clear pattern. Most product team struggle because of one of the 5 following mistakes…

So they push ads in the feed...

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we chatted with thousands of our last 25,000 Growth.Design subscribers, and we saw a clear pattern. Most product team struggle because of one of the 5 following mistakes…

...in-between stories...

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we chatted with thousands of our last 25,000 Growth.Design subscribers, and we saw a clear pattern. Most product team struggle because of one of the 5 following mistakes…

In fact, ads are everywhere.

You scroll ONE post... Ad.

You watch ONE story... Ad again!

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Banner Blindness

Users have learned to ignore content that resembles ads, is close to ads, or appears in locations dedicated to ads.1

However, when ads blend into the content that well, our brain gets confused. We block real content and watch ads, giving us a poor experience.

1NN Group, Banner Blindness Revisited (2018)
we chatted with thousands of our last 25,000 Growth.Design subscribers, and we saw a clear pattern. Most product team struggle because of one of the 5 following mistakes…

But Instagram found new ways to bridge the gap between:

 

we chatted with thousands of our last 25,000 Growth.Design subscribers, and we saw a clear pattern. Most product team struggle because of one of the 5 following mistakes…

Now, over time your brain trains itself to block these ads

 

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we chatted with thousands of our last 25,000 Growth.Design subscribers, and we saw a clear pattern. Most product team struggle because of one of the 5 following mistakes…

"Hey look! 👀 This is the life you could have"

and—

we chatted with thousands of our last 25,000 Growth.Design subscribers, and we saw a clear pattern. Most product team struggle because of one of the 5 following mistakes…

"why not get it now!"

we chatted with thousands of our last 25,000 Growth.Design subscribers, and we saw a clear pattern. Most product team struggle because of one of the 5 following mistakes…

...with organic "in-post" purchases...

In short, you see something you want, you can:

"Buy now"

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UX Paradox: Optimizing for people who pay

There's usually a conflict of interest when revenues come from non-users.

Teams optimize for money, while the experience for real users deteriorates.

Instagram had the vision of sharing your world through beautiful photos... But it's slowly becoming a shopping mall.

This leaves a gap for other products to do the same thing in a simpler & ethical way and win users.1

1First Round Review, How to Shape Remarkable Products (2018)

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we chatted with thousands of our last 25,000 Growth.Design subscribers, and we saw a clear pattern. Most product team struggle because of one of the 5 following mistakes…

Don't want to scroll too much?

Now, there's a shopping hub directly in the menu...

we chatted with thousands of our last 25,000 Growth.Design subscribers, and we saw a clear pattern. Most product team struggle because of one of the 5 following mistakes…

...making you psychologically vulnerable, and hence the perfect target for advertisers.

Do you think that's ethical?

 

But that's not the worst...

we chatted with thousands of our last 25,000 Growth.Design subscribers, and we saw a clear pattern. Most product team struggle because of one of the 5 following mistakes…

...while your brain is unconsciously looking for that dopamine shot...

we chatted with thousands of our last 25,000 Growth.Design subscribers, and we saw a clear pattern. Most product team struggle because of one of the 5 following mistakes…

They're not even hiding anymore... So much of the platform is engineered to make you buy stuff...

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we chatted with thousands of our last 25,000 Growth.Design subscribers, and we saw a clear pattern. Most product team struggle because of one of the 5 following mistakes…

They also just released shopping in Reels...

we chatted with thousands of our last 25,000 Growth.Design subscribers, and we saw a clear pattern. Most product team struggle because of one of the 5 following mistakes…

Is it just me or...

It's getting dangerously close to this...

we chatted with thousands of our last 25,000 Growth.Design subscribers, and we saw a clear pattern. Most product team struggle because of one of the 5 following mistakes…

These days, authenticity and original content are kings. That's why the line between "real life" and "marketing" is blurring but—

we chatted with thousands of our last 25,000 Growth.Design subscribers, and we saw a clear pattern. Most product team struggle because of one of the 5 following mistakes…

Now... There's ONE thing we can do  to put an end to all this nonsense:

Limit the monetization of people's attention.

The Attention Economy

We certainly don't want our lives to be infomercials, so here are some ideas:

1. 🚧 In China, WeChat limited the number of ads one person can see: 2-3 ads/day1 compared to 10,000 ads/day for westerners. Ironically, ads are converting more...

2. 💰 Signal has an entirely different revenue stream: operating solely on donations.2 It works because they're offering the best messaging experience when others can't... due to ads, tracking, and privacy.

1Connie Chan, Outgrowing Advertising (2019)
2Signal
we chatted with thousands of our last 25,000 Growth.Design subscribers, and we saw a clear pattern. Most product team struggle because of one of the 5 following mistakes…

—if we keep optimizing products for profits over humans… your life could soon become an endless advertisement.

Psych Level

Customer Journey

Months of lockdown ended up affecting my moral...

So I started to check Instagram more often to get a small dose of dopamine!

Ads became more and more invasive. I could barely watch 1 or 2 posts before getting a sales pitch.

Finally, the new shopping features made me realize that the whole platform is squeezing maximum revenues based on negative feelings of loneliness and boredom.

But it didn't take long before I started comparing myself to the impossible reality projected on the platform.

And before I forget...

🧠 Cognitive Biases Cheat Sheet

Get the 101 psychological principles that affect your UX. Wrapped in a nice 2-pager.

Yes, I Want My Cheatsheet!

Hopefully, it'll change for the best! Here's a quick summary of my journey:

Humane Experience Score

F

⚡️ You found the secret slides!

👋 Now it's your turn

 

Q: How do you consume content on Instagram? Do you share similar conclusions?

 

We're just one reply away on Twitter.

Congrats!

You completed Growth.Design's Case Study #026:
"Instagram's shopping"