Rethinking Instagram for the age of the influencer — a UX case study
Understanding How People Post
Like millions of other people, I use Instagram every day to share and discover the next meme, viral video or gossip leak. Instagram has played a key role in the visual identities that users have formed for themselves and has become the newfound social currency that my peers and I use to connect with each other.
Up until 3 months ago, I posted at my own discretion and it wasn’t until I landed an ambassadorship this past semester where I was tasked (among many tasks) with posting and promoting on Instagram.
Posting became a key tool for my job, in meeting deadlines and sponsoring the brand.
In doing so, I discovered the depth to which influencers made their livelihood off of Instagram and were actively engaged with the app on a scheduled everyday basis.
It was made clear to me that these posts and feed planning took a lot more work than what was perceived from the surface, all primarily through third-party channels before finally getting to Instagram.
It made me curious as to how others interacted with Instagram and what they did to plan, prepare and post their media.
Understanding How People Post
User Research and Interviews
I decided to dive into user research and interviews in order to better discover how different users plan, prepare and post to their liking. I interviewed four types of users who used Instagram on a daily basis.
- The influencer: this user is sponsored by a brand or company and posts to promote the said brand of company for monetized incentive.
- The content creator: this user is a creative who posts their work in the form of media to garner public support and sometimes in hopes of being discovered, recruited, etc.
- The organizer: this user is part of an organization or company that posts to promote values or beliefs or elicit a call to action.
- The average user: this user has no professional affiliations and uses Instagram for personal affairs and social networking.
During these interviews, I asked users to walk me through the process it takes to prepare the post and usually how long it takes to post. This is what I learned:
1. People schedule their posts and feed through third-party apps.
“I usually use an app called Later to preview and schedule my posts, sometimes it’s kind of a hassle to be between two apps to post but I don’t mind it”
2. People like to plan their posts to match their overall feed and “aesthetic”
“Since I can’t see the content as a feed, I just make sure I don’t post too many busy pictures in a row; I space out pictures with lots of words/details/colors with pictures that have less going on.”
3. People like to post at an optimal time for likes and engagement from their followers
“Given that I’m from CA and I live in NY, I try to time the post so that it works with both time zones, but sometimes forget to post at those times.”
Even for the average user, feed organization and preparation can be a key aspect of Instagram, whereas scheduling is an aspect more reserved for users on the more professional side of Instagram such as content creators and influencers.
I decided to look at the competition (the aforementioned thirty party apps) and the different ways users prepared to post.
In finding these others avenues to which people posted I discovered there was a certain balance to be kept between:
- actively being present in the app to promote post authenticity and engagement
- granting users easy access to convenient post preparation (scheduling and previewing) at the risk of the inauthenticity that comes with hyper-scheduling and post fillers.
People want to preview and queue their posts for their Instagram while still being engaged in the app but it's hard because:
- The app doesn’t permit for queued posts unless through third party scheduling.
- The only way to see what your post looks like with your feed is to post it unless you post it or view it in a third party app.
Ultimately I designed a queue and preview system that is entirely integrated within Instagram.
Integrated schedule post and a preview post when creating a new post
Different Center for editing the Queue
How I Got There + Process
I got to work by generating possible solutions that would allow for scheduled posts and feed previews that still allowed for accessibility and engagement within the app.
Nearly a hundred sticky notes later by my sister and I, the following solutions and ideas were narrowed down and prioritized:
- Scheduling: the toggle option to post media either now or later
- Management: an option to manage scheduled posts and to keep the flow of posts on or off to be as engaged as the user wants to be
- Preview: Previewing a post in the feed once it’s both in the queue and a non-scheduled post
After brainstorming and sketching I took to a non-linear process to implement the possible solutions. I first went into the direction of having an integrated queue preview within the actual real profile.
Then I iterated on that idea by having an actual queue station where everything in the queue could be previewed, operated and managed. I aimed for the queue to mimic what it would look like on a real profile with icons (the clock icons) indicating the difference between a real post and a queued post.
After the iterating on these two options I realized that while option A appealed more to the average user in framing their posts and feed, option B provided a sort of “center” to prepare posts that would otherwise replace the third-party apps used by influencers, organizers and content creators.
I decided to tests the two options and came to choose Option B for the final queue flow.
Although a noticeable change from the original menu bar as compared to the integrated queue system, Option B allowed the integrity of the established queue organization to remain as is while allowing the user to be as involved as they want by pausing/playing the queue.
Option A interrupted the flow of regular profile functions.
Option B also provided a notification system notifying the user of the status of the queue which is helpful for confirmation and organization.
Whereas in option A, the only way to get rid of the queue is to delete posts (which again may be optimal for the average user but not for all users involved).
Next, I began to look at the menu bar that leads to the queue station and how to iterate on that.
While option A provided a dynamic and comfortable structure to the new icons, I ultimately decided on option B because my main goal was not to drastically redesign Instagram but to find a convenient way to keep users engagement while not deviating too far from the original structure.
Wait, backtrack — What about scheduling a new post?
At this point, after getting ahead of myself and designing how to manage scheduled posts, I started designing for post previewing and scheduling integration once it was time to post a new media.
I aimed to integrate the post preview within the original post flow that Instagram has already established so it would be convenient for the user to do so.
Although I considered opening up the schedule option to a new page (much like the “Tag People” and “Add Location” options), during user testing it became clear to me that it was more viable and accessible for the user to actually use the scheduling tool when it was right in front of them and more convenient.
Throughout this project and in my final flow, I aimed to prioritize consistency of Instagram’s original user interface while still providing users with the ability to increase their engagement within the app by giving them the options and platforms to do so. Although not perfect, this flow aims to:
- Encourage accessibility and convenience
- Provide dynamic but simple interactions to guide users regardless of user background
- Manifest deliberate and engaged posting through crafted post decisions
Although my design process was very nonlinear and seemed to work backward, it helped me think critically about the decisions I was making from a different perspective. As I’ll state again, my final prototype was not to drastically redesign Instagram to accommodate a new feature but to create a new feature that could be integrated into the app's interface.
Most importantly I wanted to increase in-app engagement versus the string of third party apps it usually takes to post something.
This article was originally published by Nahbuma gana on medium.
Nahbuma Gana is junior studying information science at Cornell University. She is a product designer at Cornell Design and Tech Initiative and interested in exploring arguments and virtual design spaces.