Instagram Introduces Virtual Rewards to Boost Creator Engagement

Instagram, facing declining user engagement, is implementing a new strategy to revitalize its platform by introducing virtual rewards for creators.

by Faruk Imamovic
Instagram Introduces Virtual Rewards to Boost Creator Engagement
© Getty Images/Buda Mendes

Instagram, facing declining user engagement, is implementing a new strategy to revitalize its platform by introducing virtual rewards for creators. This move aims to encourage more frequent posting and keep the platform dynamic and engaging. Users with creator and business accounts can now earn badges for achieving certain milestones, such as posting stories for seven consecutive days or reaching specific viewer counts on their reels. This initiative is part of Instagram's broader effort to maintain its status as a significant revenue generator for Meta, especially amidst competition from platforms like TikTok and Snapchat.

The Concept of Gamification

Gamification, the use of game-design elements in non-game contexts, is a widely adopted strategy to enhance user engagement across various apps. Fitness apps reward users for consistent workouts, while language-learning platforms like Duolingo track daily lessons. These rewards can motivate users by providing a sense of accomplishment and encouraging consistent behavior. Instagram's introduction of badges is a classic example of gamification, intended to foster a sense of achievement and encourage creators to stay active on the platform.

However, the effectiveness of gamification can vary significantly depending on the context and nature of the rewards. Intrinsic rewards, such as the personal satisfaction derived from learning a new language, can have lasting motivational effects. In contrast, extrinsic rewards, such as digital badges for posting content, might not carry the same weight, particularly in the fast-paced and highly competitive social media landscape.

Potential Downsides

  1. Distorted Behavior: Gamification can sometimes lead to a shift in focus from the actual activity to the pursuit of rewards. On Instagram, this might result in creators posting content primarily to earn badges rather than to engage meaningfully with their audience. This could dilute the quality of content and undermine genuine interactions on the platform.
  2. Increased Pressure: Although Instagram's badges are private unless shared, the pressure to achieve these milestones might still negatively impact creators, particularly those already struggling with the pressures of social media. The additional stress of maintaining streaks or hitting specific targets could detract from the enjoyment of creating and sharing content.
  3. Lack of Intrinsic Value: Unlike activities such as fitness or language learning, which offer intrinsic rewards and personal satisfaction, posting on Instagram might not provide the same level of intrinsic value. The rewards for posting are external and may not sustain long-term motivation. Users might quickly lose interest once the novelty of earning badges wears off.
  4. Instagram
    Instagram © Getty Images/Justin Sullivan

Expert Opinions

Industry experts and influencers have expressed mixed feelings about Instagram's badge system. Ali Grant, CMO at the Digital Dept., is skeptical about the effectiveness of badges in increasing posting frequency. She emphasized that creators are primarily motivated by reach and engagement, not by earning digital badges. Regular posting can lead to growth, but the pressure to create high-quality, aesthetically pleasing content for Instagram can be a deterrent. Grant pointed out that the creators who post consistently are the ones who see more growth and engagement, but regularity still does not guarantee success.

"What creators want on the platform is reach and engagement," she said. "When that's lacking, the motivation to post dwindles, and they seek it elsewhere. I don't see badges being the solution to increase posting cadence."

Alixandra Barasch, a marketing professor, noted that while goal-setting can be motivating, the intrinsic value of the goal is crucial. For many, posting on Instagram lacks intrinsic value compared to other activities like exercising or learning a new language. The social dynamics and potential for judgment further complicate the motivational landscape. She suggested that while badges might help in the short term, their long-term impact is questionable unless they come with additional perks or rewards.

Instagram's Perspective

A spokesperson for Meta highlighted that the badges are intended to help creators set and achieve goals, particularly for those just starting out. The company aims to provide guidance and support to help creators succeed on the platform. However, the spokesperson acknowledged that the tools might not be beneficial for every creator and emphasized that they are optional and low stakes. Meta's goal is to offer creators the right goals and milestones to help them succeed, without adding undue pressure.

Instagram's badge system appears to be a well-intentioned but potentially flawed attempt to boost user engagement. While it might offer some short-term benefits for new creators, its long-term impact is questionable. The badges lack intrinsic value and may not significantly alter posting behavior for more established creators. Additionally, the pressure to achieve these milestones could detract from the enjoyment of creating and sharing content, potentially leading to a decrease in genuine engagement.

Ultimately, the success of this gamification strategy will depend on how well it resonates with Instagram's diverse user base and whether it can genuinely enhance the user experience without adding undue pressure. While the badges might motivate some users in the short term, Instagram will need to continue innovating to maintain long-term engagement and relevance in a rapidly evolving social media landscape.