After backing off of polarizing Instagram changes, the Meta-owned platform is finding itself in a tough situation: Trying to appeal to a wide group of users who expect different things from their social media.
"As digital natives, we are acutely sensitive to any changes on social media platforms, more so than perhaps other generations," Aneesh Dhawan, CEO of the consumer insights company Knit, said.  "It's important for social brands to understand this generation and what their needs are. Users may be less receptive because they don't like Instagram trying to be something it's not."
Instagram has long been Meta's way to attract younger users. According to Hootsuite's Global State of Digital report, more than six out of 10 users on the platform are between the ages of 18 to 35, putting them solidly in the millennial and Gen Z demographics. But as many of them flock to other places like TikTok, the company is attempting to pivot to be more relevant to the youth, angering older users who expect something else.
"The big picture is that Meta simply can't count on Instagram to pick up Facebook's slack anymore, and it needs to get the changes to its UI right in order to stave off the competition," said Jasmine Enberg, an Insider Intelligence principal analyst. "The TikTok effect is real, and we're seeing it reflected across platforms from Facebook and Instagram to YouTube and Snapchat."
Two-thirds of Gen Zers have noticed changes on Instagram, per data from Knit pulled exclusively for Cheddar News. Around 46.2 percent are okay with the updates, and only 17 percent don't like them. Around 36.8 percent are neutral.
But while the majority may like the tweaks, not everyone is on board with Instagram becoming the new TikTok. More than three out of four surveyed by Knit feel like Instagram is becoming more like its competitor. And while a little under one-third are okay with that, 45.3 percent don't like the shift.
"My generation loves Instagram because you can follow your friends, keep up with your community, and see what people you care about are doing," Knit's Dhawan said. "If Instagram goes the way of TikTok — it's moving further away from what this next generation loves it for. Instead, the platform should lean into its strengths that made it popular in the first place."
But in order to appease its vocal critics online, Instagram announced it would pause its full-screen tests and decrease the number of recommended posts people see in their accounts that aren't from accounts they already follow. In a call with investors after its latest quarterly earnings report on Wednesday, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that more than 15 percent of what content users see on Instagram is recommended, with the percentage reaching 30 percent by 2023.
"We recognize that changes to the app can be an adjustment, and while we believe that Instagram needs to evolve as the world changes, we want to take the time to make sure we get this right," a Meta spokesperson said in a statement.
However, it is undeniable the trend of more video content is going to be the future of the company. Not only did Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri mention that video content is getting more engagement, it may not have enough friends and family photo posts to return to its original ways. And video formats tend to bring in top ad dollars, especially if coupled with younger users brands want to reach. However, that's not traditionally where Instagram has had the most success monetizing.
"At the end of the day, you'd assume that Instagram is pushing video and full-screen experience because that's where the money is," said Mike Shields, founder of Shields Strategic Consulting. "Yet Reels seems to be struggling in terms of monetization, and what has really seemed to work with Instagram ads are very data-driven, direct response ads that let you swipe up to learn more."
By becoming more like its competitors, it may not only risk alienating its existing users but lose what drew users to it in the first place.
"What is going to be the difference between IG and FB over time if they both ape TikTok?" Shields pointed out.