Instagram's pivot to Reels tanked general engagement, study shows

Average Instagram engagement has decreased by about 44 percent since 2019.

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It’s not just that your content isn’t good — Instagram engagement is down across the board. Overall engagement on the app has decreased about 44 percent since 2019, according to a new study by social media company, Later, which analyzed approximately 81 million Instagram posts made between January 2019 and February 2022.

The engagement drop can be traced back to when Instagram began pushing Reels in August 2020. The short-form video feature, meant to help Meta compete with all-powerful TikTok, has become one of Mark Zuckerberg’s most prized possessions. Unfortunately for us, that hasn’t translated to a better Instagram experience.

With Zuckerberg plotting Meta’s every move based on how he might best TikTok, user experience on Facebook and Instagram has taken the back seat. And TikTok continues to dominate, Zuckerberg interference be damned.

Barely two percent — In its analysis, Later honed in on only Instagram feed posts that were not created using the Reels feature. Classic video posts took the biggest hit year-over-year, with average engagement rates dropping from about 5 percent to just under 2 percent from 2019 to 2021.

Carousel posts received the most engagement in 2019 and managed to maintain that crown through 2021, though those, too, saw a significant dip in average engagement. The average engagement rate for all feed posts in 2019 hovered around 5.16 percent — by 2021 it had dropped to 2.88 percent.

The downward trend is... noticeable.Later

In its own social strategy, Later found that engagement rates skyrocketed by nearly 500 percent after incorporating Reels. It’s obvious, through this kind of hard data, that Instagram is giving algorithmic preference to Reels over other content.

It’s TikTok vs. the world — For most of Instagram’s life, engagement has been the name of the game — not just in the number of clicks each post is getting, but also in keeping users occupied and willing to return to the app. That’s how we ended up with an algorithmic feed in the first place.

Now that TikTok has become such a global force, though, Mark Zuckerberg is scared. Facebook is losing users. Instagram is Meta’s last remaining foothold in youth culture, and Zuck isn’t willing to let that slip away.

As an almost identical TikTok clone, Reels is where Meta has decided to host its last stand. We’ll watch Zuckerberg pivot to video over and over again until the end of time, enjoyment of the process notwithstanding.