When it comes to social marketing, Instagram has an increasing amount to offer. This year, the photo- and video-sharing platform has made a number of big changes to the way it displays content and allows users and brands to tell stories. Those changes were all guided by the same idea: Instagram wants to turn its platform into something more than a repository for beautiful imagery. It wants to become a serious partner for brands and businesses.
While the social media giant is making it easier for marketers to run data-driven campaigns and tell stories in new and exciting ways, it’s also demanding that they work harder to earn users’ attention with engaging content. For marketers interested in visual storytelling, it’s crucial to understand the significance of Instagram’s updates and what they say about where the platform is headed.
A Place for Work and Play
Instagram for Business, a service aimed at brands looking to use the app as a marketing tool, launched in May. The new tools included with the update allow businesses to monitor posts and advertising campaigns, pull data on how their target audience is responding to their content, and draft new campaigns for future launches.
Using a tool called “Insights,” marketers can also pull a variety of data about their followers, including demographic information, activity levels throughout the day, and geographic locations, as well as analytics such as impressions and engagement metrics. As a result, brands can continuously adjust their strategy and messaging to reach increasingly specific audiences at particular times, and even add the occasional nod to consumers’ hometown cultures.
On a more practical note, the platform also added a “Contact” button for inquiring customers and a “Get Directions” feature that pulls up the location of the closest brick-and-mortar store that sells a specific advertised product. Far more than minor updates, these features allow one-stop-shopping, cutting the distance between product discovery and purchase.
New Kinds Of Content
While helping provide backstage support to its business accounts through metrics, Instagram has also added new ways for users and brands to engage with their audience. This past summer, Instagram launched a new feature called Stories that allows brands to upload a collection of images and videos that disappear in 24 hours. Drawing inspiration from Snapchat, the new feature challenges brands to expand into content that feels more spontaneous.
The original goal for Snapchat’s version was to allow brands to build a longer-lasting narrative without compromising the playful and ephemeral tone of the platform. It encouraged brands to report live from events such as the Super Bowl, using influencers and celebrities to drive eyeballs to their content.
But because Instagram makes it easier for brands to advertise and for users to find brands via search, many brands are choosing the Instagram version of the feature over Snapchat, according to AdAge. (It also helps that Instagram has 300 million daily active users to Snapchat’s 150 million.) “Instagram is a follower platform where Snapchat is more of a ‘best friend’ platform,” Dan Grossman, vice president of platform partnership at VaynerMedia, told the magazine. “Snapchat hasn’t encouraged brands to build up huge followings.”
Like many new features on platforms such as Instagram, updates on new tools to help measure their success are sure to follow later this year.
A More Intuitive Feed
This past June, Instagram updated its news feed algorithm, displaying posts based on an algorithm, rather than in chronological order. Modeling itself after parent company Facebook’s News Feed, Instagram’s posts are sorted “based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting, and the timeliness of the post,” CEO and co-founder Kevin Systrom explained.
In other words, Instagram chooses the posts users see first on their feeds based on what they have already liked. This poses an interesting creative challenge for brands, some of which had adopted a strategy of posting very frequently or at strategic times to ensure that they stayed ahead of their target audiences as much as possible—strategies that will no longer work. Brands that fail to consistently draw their followers’ attention will appear less frequently on their feeds. Brands that depend on Instagram for revenue—those with shoppable accounts—will have to think particularly hard about how to make content that engages users instead of simply flooding their feeds with content.
Ultimately, Instagram understands and embraces the fact social media that is no longer just personal—it’s commercial as well. At the same time, the company needs to stay true to its user base and ensure that users are being served up quality content that they want to see, whether it comes from brands or anyone else. If Facebook has transitioned from a friend-finder to the “world’s largest publisher,” then Instagram is elevating itself from a place for beautiful imagery to a must-have in any marketer’s toolkit.