Earlier this month, Instagram launched @shop, an account dedicated to curating products and showcasing brands across the platform. The goal, it said, is to attract women in their 20s and 30s and spotlight one brand per day along with its story. Instagram’s editorial team runs the account, and Eva Chen, who leads the fashion division, is spearheading the project. The move comes on the heels of a deeper push into commerce beyond just advertising, which includes Instagram Checkout and a feature allowing brands to promote influencer posts into anyone’s feed. Even with all of these moves, the need for an account like @shop and the role it aims to play both says a lot about the current commerce environment and the state of Instagram more broadly.

Before the internet, the press played a massive role helping people discover things, whether it was news, restaurants or products. Since the internet, press has transformed from a distribution tool into a validation tool, as social media platforms have taken over and exponentially scaled access to distribution on a global scale. Subsequently, these social media companies have hired a number of former editorial leaders, Chen included, while still calling themselves platforms—not media companies.

But as more brands gained access to distribution, it became exponentially harder for shoppers to discover them. In turn, the amount of noise that needs to be filtered has given way to a new generation of media sites like The Wirecutter, now owned by The New York Times, which focuses only on product recommendations across a wide range of categories. At the same time, services like Facebook and Instagram’s ad network have begun allowing brands to put their product in front of targeted audiences for a fee—ending the days when fully organic growth on the backs of these platforms was possible. Facebook and Instagram’s ad network became an explosive revenue stream for the platforms and a massive cost for the brands using them.  

Discovery, however, still remains an issue for brands that are not spending millions of dollars a month on advertising—and even for the ones that are. @shop is seemingly positioned to help fill this gap by featuring brands of all sizes, acting like Instagram’s version of the market section of a magazine, which would feature the latest and greatest products each month.

But there are two telling issues with @Shop’s premise:

  1. While @shop is positioned as a magazine-like discovery tool, that’s what Instagram was supposed to do in the first place. @shop would not be necessary if Instagram were truly solving discovery, but the platform has scaled so far, and its feed algorithm wields so much power, that it’s created the need for such an account.  
  2. Even more emblematic of the challenges of being heard on Instagram, @Shop has only 85,000 followers as of this writing, a minuscule amount considering Instagram’s more than 1 billion users. Even if the focus is only women in their 20s and 30s, Facebook’s Ad Manager says that includes 69 million people worldwide, meaning the account currently reaches less than 0.12% of its target audience. @shop is subject to Instagram’s algorithm just like every other brand.

This second point is quite ironic. It’s proof that Instagram’s own account is facing the same challenges as every other brand in Instagram ecosystem: cutting through the noise and being discovered. It is unexpected, however, that Instagram has not put more muscle behind the account, as it sometimes does when it releases new features and prioritizes them in the app. But it also might not want to seem like it’s pushing its own accounts over others, even though @shop would cause a greater problem if Instagram were making products itself versus curating a selection from other companies.

Just like the relationship between consumer companies and media companies today, @shop is not going to make or break a featured brand. It might help with some validation, but with each day, the account will move on to yet another brand, drawn from a practically unlimited supply. Brands seeking growth will need to look elsewhere—not only to other social platforms, but also far beyond them—as the limitations of living in someone else’s kingdom become increasingly clearer.