In the world of social media platforms, going toe-to- flatteringly-filtered- toe with Instagram is a bit like fishing for killer whales in a saggy dinghy. And yet a (relatively) tiny platform called Vero has done precisely that. Sort of.
Weirdly, Vero isn’t even a new thing. It’s been around for three years, attracting what you might politely describe as ‘steady’, if not a little niche, appeal.
And yet, almost overnight, Vero leapt from having a modest 150,000 downloads to nearly 3 million. A leap that caused even the most Insta-loyal brands, influencers and journalists to wonder who exactly was poking the biggest, grizzliest bear in the social forest.
Now we all know that Instagram have introduced one or two new features that not everyone is happy about. (They’ve also introduced loads of amazing features that pretty much everyone adores, but let’s leave that to one side for now.)
Chief amongst these gripes was (eye roll) changing the feed from a chronological display to one governed by an engagement-hungry algorithm. To some, it was a small niggle. But to some it was a declaration of war by Instagram, a cynical land-grab for our valuable attention.
Some of the more annoyed users then had their heads turned by another photo sharing platform that (hurrah!) retained a chronological feed. The defectors even used Instagram to spread the word, with 500,000 Insta posts using the hashtag #Vero, many of which were inviting their followers to join them on the app.
And, in fairness, there’s slightly more to Vero’s appeal than a less-annoying algorithm. For one thing, it allows you to decide whether your post can be viewed by your close friends, friends or everybody.
This ability to limit or expand your audience is at the heart of their ‘true social’ proposition, and has led to some people championing Vero as the authentic, intimate and unpressured sharing tool that Instagram used to be.
As Vero’s owner Ayman Hariri (more on this dude later) says ‘it’s very difficult for Facebook or Instagram to do this, because it’s hard to do after the fact. It’s all about being truly social – being yourself’.
If we’re being really honest, it doesn’t actually mean an awful lot. Yes, Vero does offer a few likeable features that Instagram doesn’t. But the sudden burst of downloads can partly be attributed to a noisy, but not necessarily significant, protest against Instagram.
What hasn’t helped is that, by attracting the sudden glare of the world’s social media press, Vero have been exposed in a few unfortunate ways. Firstly, they broke the golden rule of social media
growth and whispered something about a subscription fee (admittedly, as an alternative to being funded by ads) – a move that has since been delayed.
Also, there are one or two slightly uncomfortable stories about how the platform is funded, with billionaire owner Hariri alleged to have family ties to a construction firm which shut down in 2017 having been sued by thousands of workers for unpaid wages.
(And, in fairness to Hariri, he has provided documents proving that he stepped away from the company in 2014.)
What this adds up to could be described as a bubble of discontent against a huge social media company – that caused a brief boom for a much, much, much smaller one.
It would be unkind and inaccurate to dismiss Vero as nothing other than an algorithm dodge, but the reality is that Instagram – predicted to hit 1 billion users in 2018 – doesn’t really know (or care) that it’s been in a fight. In fact, the only obvious injury in this non-scuffle was that the Vero servers went down under the weight of all their new users.
And we suppose that’s the problem with poking the biggest bear. No matter how hard you jab it, the best you can hope for is to walk away with a sore finger.