An Aging Instagram Tries To Win Us Back With Email “Highlights”

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Four and a half years is a lot of pretty pictures. Instagram isn’t as young as it used to be, and it doesn’t want long-time users to slip away from its app.

Luckily, it can still email them. Email isn’t dead, no matter how much we wish it was. High open-rates mean it still matters. Twitter bought a whole startup to power re-engagement emails touting the best tweets you might have missed.

Now Instagram has started sending its own email digest called “Highlights” featuring a few of the best posts from people you follow. It could rope back in users who’ve strayed from the photo network.

Instagram Email Highlights

After spotting Highlights, Instagram confirmed to me that this is the first time it’s sent any type of promotional or re-engagement email. It’s so fresh there’s not even a setting to control it. When I tried hitting Unsubscribe to see where it took me, I discovered there was no email settings menu and no way to re-subscribe.

Some people will surely bristle at the idea of receiving more email, especially one’s they didn’t explicitly sign up for. However, Highlights could solve an issue common amongst maturing social networks that show a live, reverse chronological feed of posts. It impacts networks like Instagram and Twitter, but not relevancy-sorted streams like Facebook’s.

Instagram Explore May 2015This “Unfiltered Feed Problem” happens when people follow too many oversharers that drown out their real friends who don’t post as often. That leads to a noisy feed full of content people don’t care about, which can decrease their usage. It can also cause them to be stingy with following more accounts, making it tough for new users to gain an audience and want to stick around.

But those effects can be offset, to a degree, with ways to surface the most popular content in your network. Twitter is addressing this with its revamped Discover page…also named Highlights, after already running email campaigns for a few years following its acquisition of RestEngine. Facebook has tested a variety of re-engagement tools, including email and text messages. Most recently, I’ve heard of Facebook sending people push notifications about two of their friends getting married.

Now Instagram is maturing to the phase where it’s trying to wake up lapsing members. It has “300 million monthly users”, but that’s an imprecise statistic encompassing some who hardly check it. To accomplish its mission of sharing moments and fuel its ad-based business model, it needs us to voraciously browse its feed.

Instagram’s strategy for that has been to avoid letting photos slip outside its walls. It decided not to let Twitter render its photos in-line so people would have to use Instagram. But now its reaching out, hoping to meet users half way. Highlights could remind people what they’re missing when they don’t open Instagram.

And I wouldn’t be surprised to see the app build a better “best of” feature into its Explore tab, which felt deeply outdated and forgettable until Instagram started personalizing it a year ago. Rather than the world’s most popular photos, which can feel distant, Explore could surface the top photos from your network and nearby. That way Instagram could entertain you best, even if your life doesn’t revolve around the perfectly chosen filter.