POV: Why the rush for a new creative social media is leading us nowhere

Malcontent has been growing on Instagram for aeons, but the alternatives come with their own problems. We talk to creatives to understand the conundrum behind apps like Cara.

13 June 2024


Last week, artists “fled” Instagram, so said reports in The Washington Post and Business Insider. While it’s hard to track how many artists actually deleted their Instagram handles for good, it’s true, a brand new social media platform for creatives, Cara, had seen a staggering uptick in sign-ups. At the beginning of the month, Cara’s users sat closer to the 40,000 mark; by 6 June, that number looked more like 650,000 users. Even on Instagram, a groundswell felt like it was brewing, with designers and illustrators like Bráulio Amado, Joe Meluish and Laurie Avon discussing the pros and cons of jumping ship.

One of the big perks of Cara was its stance on AI. In antithesis to Meta, which just announced it will be actively training AI models on user posts, Cara is anti-AI. Not only does it actively protect users from theft, via Glaze, it has a blanket rule against generative art, full stop; it won’t allow it on the platform until regulation improves. With the extra creative credential of being founded by a photographer – whose clients include well-known names like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar – Cara looks like something of a haven for creatives looking for relevancy and respite.

Turbo Island, the bootleg illustrator and cult merch creative, is one of the now 800,000 users on Cara. “My decision to get the app wasn’t very calculated,” Turbo Island tells us. “I saw a few people I've always admired get on board (Bráulio Amado, Adam Higton, Jiro Bevis). And I went full sheep mode and did the same. I don’t think they know why they are there either.”

We have, sadly, seen this pattern before. Over the past few years, there has been a rush to find ‘the next social media for visual creatives’. There are, of course, highly popular options like Behance on the table, but discourse is focused on finding an option that will house the creative content Instagram usually would, without the downsides. Most memorably, in 2022, creatives threatened to move to Vero in protest of Instagram’s decision to prioritise Reels over feed posts, and yet, we never seem to get closer to a viable alternative. Despite users joining Vero in their droves – back in 2018, 500,000 users even joined Vero within 24 hours in the US alone – it never broke into the mainstream. So why is it so hard to pull off?

When talking to Turbo, it becomes clear you need to strike gold to gain enough users quickly to reach a critical mass. “Lots of people have gone to Cara as an AI safe space. [But] by looking at Cara’s own Instagram account, it’s very clear they like totally different art to me anyway,” Turbo says. “Lots of ethereal digital fantasy stuff done on iPads. So maybe I’ll feel like I don’t belong and leave next week.”

Thousands of the people signing up to sites like Cara are testing the waters, and if nothing hooks them on those first few visits, or worse, puts them off, your chances of survival are slim.

Cara’s biggest weakness though, is the challenge facing all social platforms for creatives. “It becomes the age-old ‘same five pound note being exchanged around the art fair’,” says illustrator Molly Fairhurst. “Cara will be cool as a nice collective space but it’s not super helpful if you want social media to help your career. I’m not sure if art directors will use Cara, and I don’t think many non-artists (potential consumers and customers) will either.” Herein lies the social-creative conundrum: if you want artwork to be seen by diverse audiences – clients and audiences as well as peers – you need significant reach.

Instagram used to be great for this. While speaking to creatives for this piece, it seemed as though there was a creative heyday on Instagram, at least in the design and illustration space. “I graduated in 2017 when the illustration and comics community on Instagram was busy and full, and I got work through it, undoubtedly,” says Molly. This rings true for Turbo too: “Instagram saved my illustration career. I’ve never had an agent. Instagram is my agent.” But Instagram was only a perfect agent for creatives by accident, when its specialism (static imagery) just so happened to align with most artists’ output.

Many creatives partially build their practices around the platform they’ll be sharing it to. Just like Instagram helped shape the direction of creatives in 2017, many young artists today create work inside the confines of TikTok – think of some of the excellent artists finding success with video Blender experiments.

The problem is that social media platforms change specialisms and different creative disciplines fall out of favour, fast. Sedge Beswick recently called this “peak social media sameification” in The Drum. Where YouTube was once for long-form video, and Instagram was for perfectly curated images, now, if a platform sees potential in a competitor’s features (like Instagram did for Reels), you can bet the platform will cast aside its old specialism and adapt to change. Arguably the real challenge for any hot new creative app is creating a platform that will house enough modes of making, and balance this with mass user appeal. No small feat.

At It’s Nice That, we’re often asked whether Instagram is important for creatives. For the team here, who spend a lot of time researching and commissioning, it is an invaluable tool for finding people we might not ordinarily run into. However, a clean portfolio site or PDF sent by email works just as nicely; it’s just about finding the work in the first place.

Perhaps the ideal approach for those looking to build ‘the next Instagram for creatives’ isn’t focusing on how creatives share work, but how we look for it. By building a site that compels audiences to keep digging for more and more artwork, we answer two problems in one: prioritising the artwork and the audience.

Bespoke Insights from It’s Nice That

POV is a column written by It’s Nice That’s in-house Insights department. Published fortnightly, it shares perspectives currently stirring conversation across the creative industry.

As a column, POV is an editorial reflection of our wider work on Insights, digging deeper into industry discussions and visual trends, informed and inspired by creatives we write about. To learn more about visual trends and insights from within the global creative community through our Insights department, click below.

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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