is mark zuckerberg’s meta killing instagram? too many ads and new features imitating snapchat and tiktok show a lack of innovation that’s turning gen z off the social media giant

This article is part of STYLE’s Inside Luxury column

Practically from the moment Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook decided to rebrand as Meta, its stock price plummeted. Some commentators were fast to blame the metaverse push for the loss of investor appetite. And, as The Financial Times reported, Meta just announced its first year-on-year quarterly revenue decline.

In order to excite its audience, Meta will have to innovate instead of imitate, and differentiate instead of trying to be more TikTok than the original

is mark zuckerberg’s meta killing instagram? too many ads and new features imitating snapchat and tiktok show a lack of innovation that’s turning gen z off the social media giant

On July 27, US market regulators went to court to stop Meta from buying virtual reality fitness app maker Within, a potential blow to the tech giant’s metaverse ambitions. Photo: Getty/AFP

The company blamed the overall economic headwinds, including exchange rate losses, for its disappointing performance. However, looking for external reasons has never helped any company and feels like an excuse. In my entire career, using external challenges to explain underperformance was always a major red flag.

Instagram’s new algorithms (and underlying business model) are the latest target in the marketplace of public opinion. A quick search on rival platform Twitter reveals a never-ending avalanche of posts and memes wishing the “old” Instagram back: “Instagram is so pointless now” wrote @gremilita, receiving 26,000 retweets. Other comments include, “Why are 50 per cent of the posts on my Instagram feed videos from people I don’t even follow? The other 30 per cent are ads.” The uproar has been so huge that, on July 28, Instagram announced it was rolling back some of its recent changes.

is mark zuckerberg’s meta killing instagram? too many ads and new features imitating snapchat and tiktok show a lack of innovation that’s turning gen z off the social media giant

Amid growing disaffection, will Instagram find itself on less smartphone home screens in coming months? Photo: Reuters

Instagram was acquired by (then) Facebook in April 2012, less than two years after it was launched. But instead of continuing to build Instagram as a differentiated platform with innovative features, over the years Meta has simply imitated the innovations others launched. The popular Stories video function was a reaction to Snapchat, while the newly unveiled Instagram feed feels to many like a knock-off of TikTok. However – and this becomes clear from the seemingly countless critical comments – if someone wants TikTok, they will go to TikTok. No one needs a copy.

is mark zuckerberg’s meta killing instagram? too many ads and new features imitating snapchat and tiktok show a lack of innovation that’s turning gen z off the social media giant

Facebook has been accused of imitating rival TikTok. Photo: Shutterstock

And here we are tapping into the basics of value creation of a brand. The most valuable and desired brands are those that excite, inspire and lead. More and more brands have to be not just product creators, but cultural influencers.

Instagram was such a brand in its early days when it was innovative, differentiated and provided a unique user experience. The numbers prove that TikTok is now, especially among Gen Z, with the new cultural phenomena attracting an eclectic mix of content creators, creatives, influencers and professionals across different categories to share, inspire and entertain.

is mark zuckerberg’s meta killing instagram? too many ads and new features imitating snapchat and tiktok show a lack of innovation that’s turning gen z off the social media giant

TikTok is fast becoming Gen Z’s social media platform of choice. Photo: AFP

Are you looking for travel recommendations? You find them on TikTok in a highly engaging way. You want to mix a cocktail or a mocktail, TikTok has you covered. Learning maths or a new language, ditto, you find all you need on TikTok. Bite-sized, often funny and, due to its superior algorithms, the content is more often than not relevant.

is mark zuckerberg’s meta killing instagram? too many ads and new features imitating snapchat and tiktok show a lack of innovation that’s turning gen z off the social media giant

Meta recently reported its first year-on-year quarterly revenue decline. Photo: AP

In order to excite its audience, and especially digitally native Gen Z, Meta will have to innovate instead of imitate, and differentiate instead of trying to be more TikTok than the original. Gen Z values authenticity, and to be authentic, a brand has to stand for its own values.

So maybe the biggest problem that Meta is facing is not the economic headwinds, or even the metaverse, but that it may have lost the core of what each of its (individual!) brands is, with too much focus on engagement growth and too little emphasis on the user experience. And when the experience is not creating desire, then people will move on to other platforms. That’s the fundamental lesson anyone can learn from the brands that excite most and, thus, create most value.

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