Instagram is (still) on the rise. This is especially true in 2020 when the network is becoming an incredibly important platform for most businesses. In fact, of the top 100 brands in the world, 90% have an Instagram account.
The platform’s user base has skyrocketed in the past few years and now it has surpassed 1 billion monthly users, of which 63% log in daily. Instagram’s user base is not only huge, but it is also extremely engaged. Instagram continues to be a platform with lots of opportunity for social media with an average engagement rate of 1.6%.
However, as the platform is growing, the game is getting more complex. The shift of user trends keeps forming the platform at a quick pace, making timeliness and the ability to adapt to trends vital for businesses.
Instagram trends and the algorithm
Some of the major trends on Instagram these days are social self-care, complex narratives, and cultural globalization. With the openness around emotional wellbeing, self-care is having a moment in culture and on Instagram as well.
In terms of complex narratives, what we can see happening is that, on a platform that has historically been all about aesthetics, people have started to add depth and context to their posts with long-form captions. Micro-blogging on the platform helps users and brands create content that goes beyond aesthetics and stands out.
Also, cultural globalization and identity fluidity of younger generations are driven by digitization. As a result, diversity and authenticity are becoming the new standard on the platform.
On the other side, we’ve got the ever-changing algorithm being driven by machine learning, trying to constantly adapt and improve based on new data. In terms of ranking content, we have a little help coming from Instagram, stating that the most important metrics this algorithm is using are likes, comments, shares, views, and saves. So, the algorithm will still prioritize content that receives more engagement than others.
The algorithm not only ranks content, but also determines the relationship of users based on how often they interact with each other in terms of likes, direct messages, or search intent. This means that the algorithms won’t show your content nearly as much. if you don’t keep your audience interested and engaged.
However, Instagram will see some major changes coming this year, and the most anticipated change will be the removal of likes.
We need to think of how this will change consumer behavior. Will engagement levels drop as a result of this action? To answer this question, HypeAuditor released a study that showed an overall decrease in engagement in the countries where the removal of likes is already being tested. It is important to note that the results were not definitive.
Upcoming functional changes
Facebook is testing a theory where getting rid of likes might be an effective tactic for getting users to post more content on the newsfeed. They believe that users will feel less pressured or self-conscious when posting.
A second major shift we’ve noticed in 2020 is that the newsfeed is under pressure. In research conducted by FOHR and LATER, we can see a definitive downtrend in terms of content volumes being posted to the newsfeed on a weekly basis by influencers.
As it seems now, the newsfeed is becoming over-saturated with content and it is becoming harder and harder to stand out from the crowd. Therefore, users are saving their “best” content for the feed, this way posting less often.
The other underlying reason why the newsfeed is losing attention is due to the rise of stories.
The rise of Instagram Stories
The rise of Instagram Stories has caused a duality on the platform. While users tend to perceive feed content and stories similarly, they also associate them with very different use cases.
For instance, people are likely to visit Instagram stories to see timely and authentic content. They appreciate that it disappears after 24 hours and that it helps them feel more connected to their friends.
On the other hand, users use the feed for a broader range of reasons. A survey carried out by Facebook revealed that the most common reasons were to find information and discover new products, brands, or accounts related to their interests.
Let’s evaluate a bit. Stories are taking over and the feed is overwhelmed with content. Should you then just stop posting on your feed and go all-in on stories? Well, not quite! You should still keep creating and distributing feed content.
The reason behind this is simple: People use the feed to discover new things. This will always keep the feed relevant for businesses as it is an ideal way to reach new audiences. The Facebook survey also showed that 83% of people use the feed to search for new products or services while 81% use it to research products and services.
While Search keeps the feed relevant, stories are indeed taking over. Over half of the entire user basis uses stories on a daily basis — and the number of daily story users is at 500 million right now. This number has been continuously rising since 2016 when Instagram stories were first launched.
The popularity of stories can be explained by looking at the power of ephemeral content and the way Facebook has positioned stories.
Stories are also conversational and authentic, and they offer exactly what users crave. — a more personal way to connect.
How do stories relate to our sales cycle?
Now that we know why stories are important to consider, we have to figure out how they fit into the sales funnel. To begin with, it is important to keep in mind that stories are best used to target users who are in the middle of your sales funnel. Stories invite users who already follow your brand to view and engage with your content more consistently and therefore are ideal for nurturing consumers. You can also use stories to move consumers down your sales funnel by creating consistent and compelling story content. These should be designated to introduce followers to products or to drive them to specific landing pages.
Bonus tip: In case you want to warm up new followers, it is a good idea to group your best stories into highlights which can target specific topics of assumed interests.
Now that we have established that feed content and stories are both important for your businesses, let’s sum up how they compare and how you should use them in a tactical manner. Feed content usually lives on your profile forever (unless deleted or archived). Knowing this, most businesses keep their feed content edited and curated in order to be as aesthetic as possible.
On one hand, feed content is ideal for reaching new audiences, raising brand awareness, and attracting new followers. On the other hand, stories are short-lived and disappear after only 24 hours. Unlike the feed, stories offer many features to invite interaction, which makes them ideal for engaging users.
In terms of aesthetics, stories are less polished, usually raw creatives. They are often shared at the moment and therefore are more experimental.
When it comes to adopting to the duality of Instagram, brands often decide to keep their feed content on an editorial level, by creating raw and authentic stories that help them engage with their audience on a more personal level.
How ECU does it — the perfect example
The ECU is using the Instagram feed to build their brand and use it as a highlight reel. They try to preserve it for featuring the very best of their content. In terms of creating engaging feed content, they believe it’s very important to establish their brand voice. Besides, they actively focus on approaching users through nostalgia and showing old photos of the campus, together with newer photos of the same building or monument on their campus. Finally, they use CTA messaging in order to get engagement and often combine it with their different strategies as well.
Stories and stickers
They use stories to disseminate information to their students and save the information in the highlights for their students to revisit. Their main audience is undergrad students and their secondary audience is postgrad students, so they tailor their strategy in order to fit this younger demographic.
They utilize interactive story features such as polls and question stickers to engage their audience and get feedback. They also utilize countdown stickers to generate extra awareness around their events while using quiz stickers to engage their audience around specific topics.
ECU uses highlights to keep their messages and communication focused on news, brand initiatives, safety on campus, events, crisis communication, (this is the most important in challenging times such as the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak) and takeovers available for their audience.
Instagram is an ever-changing platform where your ability to adapt and put out timely content is key. However, Instagram stories are making a serious move to take over the feed, we are still in a phase where the feed and the stories are equally important as they both drive different kinds of engagements that are vital for your business.
The bottom line is that you should combine the feed and stories in order to reach your target audiences and engage them in an effective manner.
This article is based on our recent webinar on “When Should You Use Instagram Stories vs. Feed?” starring guest speakers from East Carolina University. In this webinar, we’ve focused on the tactics to increase Instagram engagement and answered the question of what goes where: Stories vs. Feed. We’ve also touched upon content opportunities for IGTV and Live.