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The Curious Case Of The Instagram Private Memes

Disclaimer: I am not in any way affiliated to Instagram or any other companies/individuals mentioned in this article. All sketches and views expressed below are my own.

Since 2016, the internet has cared more about memes than about Jesus. According to Google Trends, memes have surpassed Christ himself in online popularity, and the meme’s cultural relevance doesn’t look to be waning anytime soon.

Meme creators have a had a field day during quarantine

Most of us who are on Instagram would know that not a single day goes by without coming across a meme. The best memes are simple and funny, the ones that can make you laugh after after a hectic day. But..there is a problem when it comes to memes.

Memes are often hidden as they are posted in private pages. And this is….annoying.

A few day backs, as I was scrolling through Instagram, only to discover yet another celebrity’s workout post, one of my college buddies dropped a message on our Instagram group. Now, I’m pretty sure you will relate with what happened next.

I opened the chat only to discover that the meme my friend had sent is hidden.

Now maybe that’s not a big deal for many people but believe me, meme lovers would agree with me that this is quite annoying.

The feeling of receiving a meme that is hidden is plain frustrating. Maybe the best way to sum up this feeling is a meme itself.

I was feeling guilty about my lack of productivity during this lockdown for many days now and additionally I’ve wanted to start reading and writing more around the different products out there. So I thought why not spend some time thinking about how to solve this problem? Here’s a crack at it. Hope you find this interesting.

The Problem

Okay so someone shares a meme but it ends up being from a private account. Now depending on what kind of person you are (or maybe depending on how much faith you have in your friend’s meme game) you either ignore the message or else maybe you diligently send a follow request to the private account. Then, you…err… move on and forget all about it because we are all busy with our lives. Worse still, your friend who took the time out to share the meme with you never heard back from you on it.

Key Points Around This Problem

I jotted down some of the key points to keep in mind while attempting a solution:

  • People are busy — Users need to be able to see the post instantly and get that instant gratification. Else, they will just end up moving on to other things in daily life. People are busy.
  • What’s in it for me and what about my privacy? — The reward for a private page owner to expose their page’s content needs to be lucrative enough for them to consider the possibility. Plus there’s a reason the page owner marked their page as private in the first place — Privacy!

This got me thinking.

Why are meme pages private in the first place?

A Bit About Private Meme Pages & The Ongoing Trends

Yes, a lot of meme pages are in-fact private. No, these are not your lesser known meme pages with a few thousand followers. These are globally famous meme pages with over ten million followers that are partnered with brands like Gucci and H&M, and which help sell millions of products across the world. I did a little reading and here’s what I found.

Of the top 25 meme pages on Instagram, which have over 200 million followers combined, over 30% of the pages are private.

Check it out for yourself.

Private pages with millions of followers

Over the past few years, the memes category on Instagram has became increasingly crowded and competitive. As a result, it has become really tough to create original content that goes viral on a constant basis and continue gaining thousands of followers every day. The popular meme pages are no longer someone’s side hustle or passion project, but rather most of these accounts are run by professional marketing agencies and these pages end up contributing to sales worth millions of dollars each year.

The Trend of Going Private

Faced with growing competition, many memes pages started following the “hack” of changing privacy settings from public to private thereby forcing people to follow them in order to engage with their content. This has mixed opinions on both sides of the fence.

While, social media users find it increasingly frustrating to encounter hidden post messages and wait for the page admin to accept their follow request repeatedly, for many meme creators on the other hands this has worked like a charm. Many marketing agencies have have claimed that this practice has help them gain as many as 10,000 followers in a single day for their top accounts.

So, it might be working for the some meme pages. However, all of this does raise a few important questions around the consequences of this “hack”.

What about the drop in engagement and the frustration of social media users due to private meme pages?
Is the current way truly the most optimal way for meme pages to gain followers?

Below are some of my sketches and thoughts around how Instagram can introduce a new feature to solve for these challenges keeping in mind the limited audience of meme producers and consumers.

I would like to call up-front that this is not a one size fits all solution which will work for all Instagram users and business accounts and so this would be a feature users can opt-in for.

Introducing Preview Mode

Keeping in mind the two major aspects of the problem detailed above, I realised the need of a solution which achieves two objectives:

1. Provide instant gratification for a a user who receives a hidden/private meme.
2. Help the private meme page gain more followers, while ensuring that privacy policies are not violated.

Here’s the proposed user flow:

Interested meme page owners enable Preview Mode when sharing their new post.

Doing this, would allow viewers to preview the content being shared.

Now, the next time you see that annoying messaging saying the post is hidden, you can simply tap on Preview to get a sneak peak.

Tap Preview and get a sneak peek
Preview mode gives you a one-time sneak peak of the post. Once the preview is over, the post once again becomes hidden.

Should the page owner allow it, you can even view the other Preview enabled posts that are a part of the page which will help you make a well-informed decision around following the page.

Entice the user enough to follow the page

Once the preview ends, the user will have the option to quickly follow the page. The page owner can keep their most captivating content Preview enabled in order to entice viewers to follow their page.

Not too much….but just enough to entice the user to follow the page.

Keeping in mind privacy concerns, any page owner who wants this provision would have to opt-in and provide consent so that the privacy promise for non-interested page owners is not violated.

Who this feature is NOT for

It’s an opt-in feature because there is a substantial cohort of users for whom this feature is not valuable. Here are some of those cohorts:

  • The average Instagram user who’s not an influencer. Unless of course, there are standalone posts which they don’t mind giving the public access to.
  • Private accounts with high following who have an increased focus on privacy and exclusivity e.g alumni groups, filtered fan communities and the likes.

Closing Thoughts

I believe that private meme pages are detrimental to user engagement and simply put annoy users. Though, the “hack” of turning pages which were public originally into private pages maybe working for many businesses, it is not something that helps build engagement for the platform in the long run.

A feature like Preview Mode would solve for the user engagement and user experience problem while bringing in quality following for the meme pages and thereby reducing the chance of people unfollowing the page after some time. The opt-in nature of the feature would ensure that private accounts who value privacy and exclusivity above following do not get affected by this.

Instagram frequently ranks amongst the top 5 social media networks in the world. That kind of scale brings it with it, it’s own set of challenges. Where, Facebook has become more cluttered and less engaging over the past few years, Instagram has thrived. Now, it has the challenge to maintain that level of quality engagement and user experience it has become revered for, even as hundreds of millions if not billions of more people join the network.

Thank you for reading. I will really appreciate you sharing your feedbacks and views on this subject and on this case study.

The Curious Case Of The Instagram Private Memes was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.