Things are changing for Instagram.
And increased competition and the need for ad revenue will likely inspire many new Instagram updates going forward.
As you probably already know, Facebook has owned Instagram since 2012. In September 2018, Instagram’s co-founders resigned due to Facebook taking more control over the platform.
In 2019, Facebook announced several significant changes to the platform, ranging from integrating the backend of Instagram, Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp to launching its own private messaging app to hiding the public like count of posts.
Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg has been hinting that Stories may one day replace the News Feed, Instagram has been trying to breathe new life into IGTV, and advertising and selling on Instagram is becoming easier and more widespread than ever.
But what do all of these Instagram updates mean for marketers? Plus, how will Instagram evolve over the next year…and beyond?
Instagram will introduce updates to its messenger
Given the news that Facebook is integrating the backend for Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp, it seems likely that Instagram messages are going to change over the next few years. The only question is how.
It remains to be seen where Instagram chooses to take this integration going forward. It looks likely that the integration will make it possible for users to communicate across apps. For brands, this could open the possibility of move customer engagement from one platform to another.
Say a user initially contacts you about a product they saw featured in your latest Instagram Story via Instagram messages. You could potentially continue to conversation with them across Messenger or WhatsApp too, making it easier to stay connected and keep the dialogue going.
Second, the integration will probably involve working Instagram and WhatsApp messages more into Facebook’s ad ecosystem. Messenger already has a variety of ad placements, while Instagram and WhatsApp have virtually none. That could change big time over the next year or two, with sponsored messages and ad placements in both messaging services becoming the norm.
For Instagram marketers, then, the integration could be a major advertising opportunity—and a major time saver. Any brand with an Instagram Business account could launch Instagram Direct ads and sponsored messages from Facebook Ads Manager at the same time as they launch Facebook Messenger ads. That means more ad space, more places to reach users and a more unified system for digital advertising.
That leads us to the next major trend for Instagram in 2019 and beyond: more monetization.
Instagram updates to monetization
Instagram is already highly attractive to advertisers. It has one of the highest engagement rates of any social platform, and it has powerful targeting options driven by Facebook and a stunning visual layout that makes it easy to create ads that pop.
Given all the potency of Instagram ads, it’s no surprise that IG already generates 10% of Facebook’s ad revenue. Instagram is the fastest growing out of Facebook’s products, and the company wants to use it as a growth engine by monetizing it at the same pace.
There’s no doubt that a lot of the growth in ad revenue has come from Stories. In fact, ad spend on Stories has grown nearly 70% each year, while Facebook’s overall ad revenue grew at a rate of 28%.
That’s probably one of the main reasons for Instagram’s founders leaving last year, as they expressed concern that scaling up Instagram’s monetization could get in the way of the user experience.
To convert Instagram into more of a money machine, Instagram can pursue several options. One would be to expand their social e-commerce functions. In-app purchases are already possible with shoppable tags in images, videos and Stories with a select group of partners. Usually, the shoppable tags direct to the brand website. In the US, however, inside-app check-out is available for a limited number of brands like H&M, Mac Cosmetics and Nike.
Another monetization option would be running ads more frequently in some parts of the platform while also expanding to new ad placements in places like Instagram Direct messages. Given that Facebook’s News Feed is running low on capacity for ads, this would relieve some of that pressure and generate more ad revenue for the company without driving up prices.
Finally, creating innovative new ad formats is part of Instagram’s DNA. It’s likely that we’ll see even more Instagram updates in the types of ads available this year, as Instagram has previously hinted at video ad placements for IGTV and continues to release fresh Stories features that could be used to make impressive Stories ads.
And speaking of the huge impact of Stories…
[Hungry for more? See how SMBs can get the most out of Instagram’s shoppable features.]
Instagram Stories will become even bigger
People love Stories—so much, in fact, that Instagram Stories have already become more important than feed posts.
Consider this: Instagram Stories boasts over 500 million active users… daily.
Facebook has taken note of how incredibly popular Stories are becoming—in 2018, Mark Zuckerberg himself said the following: “We expect Stories are on track to overtake posts in Feed as the most common way that people share across all social apps.”
There are plenty of reasons for the rise of the Stories format, from their FOMO-inducing immediacy to their mobile-friendly layout to their extremely entertaining use of augmented reality.
Their rise has created a positive feedback loop, too—Instagram is constantly releasing fun and engaging new Stories features like questions stickers and shoppable tags, which in turn make the format more popular, which motivates Instagram to keep adding even more features.
2019 saw the release of many new Stories features, such as opening up the creation of AR filters for the public with their tool Spark AR.
Facebook has made it clear that Stories are a priority for them across all their products. That’s why we’re confident in predicting that there will be plenty of Instagram updates, improvements, and attention to Stories in 2020.
If you don’t have an Instagram Stories marketing strategy in place by now, we highly recommend creating one. For inspiration, here are 5 famous brands that are crushing it with their IG Stories.
Instagram will update IGTV and it will finally take off (maybe)
It’s been 1,5 years since IGTV launched, and many industry experts are proclaiming the feature dead… but their diagnosis might be premature.
It’s true that Instagram has struggled to gain widespread adoption for IGTV. The app had disappointing download numbers after launch, and it’s also true that the majority of brands haven’t hopped on the IGTV train yet. In fact, 72% of brands have no intention to create IGTV content in 2019.
On the other hand, that also means that more than one in four brands is working on an IGTV content strategy this year. And app downloads don’t say much about user adoption of the platform, since users can also access IGTV content from Instagram’s Explore tab, share it in their Stories and as of recently, watch previews in their feeds.
Even so, IGTV seems to be at a critical point where Instagram needs to either redefine their goals for the platform or give up on it. While it was conceived as a place for exclusive, long-form video, many publishers are now just cropping their YouTube videos and reposting them on IGTV.
However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Many publishers have seen their repurposed YouTube videos get millions of views on IGTV. This hints to a possible future for the platform—instead of focusing on exclusive content, it could become one of the standard channels for video marketing.
For marketers, that presents an opportunity. Since most brands aren’t using IGTV yet, brands that do will have less competition for views. Plus, they’ll be working in a unique, mobile-friendly layout that’s perfect for experimenting with framing and perspective.
So… will IGTV take off in 2020? The jury is still deciding.
Instagram is still growing and it has a highly engaged user base, so it’s possible IGTV will find its niche with exclusive series, influencer vlogs, and other experimental video formats. For now, though, serving as an extra distribution channel for content creators, publishers and brands looks like a safe bet.
What we do know is that Instagram definitely hasn’t given up on IGTV just yet. The company has introduced several updates to IGTV recently, such as support for horizontal video and branded content tags. And according to Jane M. Wong, app reverse engineering expert, Instagram is currently testing several updates that could inspire people to engage more with IGTV content.
The first one, leaked by Jane in November, would transform the IGTV feed into a vertical infinitely scrolling list instead of its current grid layout. The feature is similar to TikTok’s current feed, and is said to be one of the factors behind the app’s meteoric rise.
The second IGTV update introduces video categories, which help users find more content that interests them. In addition, a feature called “Series” will allow creators to segment their videos into dedicated collections, similar to Snapchat’s “Snap Originals”.
— Instagram (@instagram) October 22, 2019
Instagram introduces new “Reels” mode to take on TikTok
The Chinese-owned app TikTok has become quite the sensation, even surpassing Instagram on the app store. While still mainly popular among younger users, the swift rise of the app has probably made Instagram’s execs more than a little nervous.
In the past, we’ve seen Instagram respond to competition by launching similar features in its own app. The most notable example occurred when Instagram launched its Stories feature, which was originally popularized by Snapchat.
That’s why it doesn’t come as a big surprise that Instagram is now taking on TikTok by introducing its “Reels” mode.
With this update, Instagram users can create 15-second video clips set to music and share them as Stories. Clips also have the potential to go viral on a new “Top Reels” section on the Explore page. Much like TikTok, the feature will have a vast music database and creative editing options, like varying playback speed and ‘qhosting’ (not the post-date kind), which enables users to create more seamless scene transitions.
What does this mean or marketers? If Reels takes off, brands will have the opportunity to form partnerships that leverage experience-driven engagement, creativity, and self-expression that audiences, especially gen Z, prefer.
The Instagram update is currently available only in Brazil, but you can probably expect it rolled out to new markets soon.
Instagram will hide likes, permanently
Instagram has been testing removing likes on accounts across the world for some time now. In Australia and Canada, likes have not been visible for months.
The official reason behind this momentous Instagram update is to create a less-pressurized environment where users feel free to post content without thinking about social validation. According to Instagram, this comes as a response to criticism about the negative mental health effects of social media.
Many industry professionals have theorized that there are more reasons behind the move. First of all, removing likes pretty much puts “like farms” out of business. Secondly, posting on the feed and feed engagement has been on the decline for some time now. By putting the focus back on the content itself, Instagram execs may hope to solve the problem. Additionally, removing likes could steer people towards other offerings, such as IGTV and Stories.
What does this mean for marketers? Honestly, not much.
Likes have never been a particularly valuable metric for businesses. Other KPIs, such as comments, shares, clicks, and saves are much better indicators of real engagement. When it comes to the algorithm, likes will probably still play a role in the way content is displayed and ordered in users’ feeds.
It’s impossible to know for sure when Instagram is planning to hide likes permanently, but we predict that it’s going to be sooner rather than later.
And the future of Instagram marketing?
According to a new report by eMarketer, Instagram’s US growth has begun tailing off for the first time in years.
Should marketers worry?
Probably not. Instagram is still serving an audience of over a billion users, and in case you missed it, that’s about 13% of everyone on earth. In addition, the forecast still promises growth – just slower than previously expected. This means the platform will remain a source of opportunities for marketers going forward.
And with new Instagram updates that are constantly being rolling out, the next few years look truly exciting for social media marketers working with Instagram. It also means that Instagram is well poised to tackle the increased competition coming from TikTok and the recent unexpected Snapchat resurgence.
Additionally, new ad formats are predicted to increase ad revenue by 46.6% from $9.45 in 2019 billion to $13.86 by 2020.
We can predict some aspects of how the platform will evolve in the coming years.
Instagram Stories will keep getting new features and continue as the most popular feature on the app, overtaking feed sharing. Ads will appear in more and more parts of the app, and the whole network will become increasingly integrated with the rest of Facebook’s products. Authenticity will become the new normal, as barely-edited photos, vintage camera filters that make your photos look worse, and Stories content becomes more and more popular.
Yet there’s also a lot we don’t know. Will IGTV keep getting support until it takes off, or will it become a second-rate YouTube? Will IG’s user base keep growing, or will it eventually have to give up its position to up-and-coming apps like TikTok? Finally, will Instagram keep its distinct identity, or will it be increasingly absorbed into Facebook?
Only time will tell. As marketers, all we can do is keep up with the Instagram updates and trends, and make smart decisions based on what we know right now.