Things are changing for Instagram.
As you probably already know, Facebook owns Instagram and has since 2012. In September 2018, IG’s co-founders resigned due to Facebook taking more control over the platform.
Then in January 2019, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would be integrating the backend for Instagram, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp.
Meanwhile, 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 does all this mean for marketers? Plus, how will Instagram evolve over the next year…and beyond?
Instagram messages will get Facebook-ified
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.
First, 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 will become more and more about monetization
Instagram is already highly attractive to advertisers. It’s experiencing exponential growth in its user base, it has one of the highest engagement rates of any social platform. Not only that, but it also 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 is projected to generate up to 20% of all Facebook ad revenue by 2020. The platform is expanding fast, and Facebook wants to use it as a growth engine by monetizing it at the same pace.
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. They’re already testing in-app purchases via shoppable tags in images, videos and Stories with a select group of partners, so expanding in-app shopping globally would be a logical next step.
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 variety 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…
Instagram Stories will become the main attraction
People love Stories—so much, in fact, that Instagram Stories will become more important than feed posts in 2019 and beyond.
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.
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 Instagram Stories will get the majority of updates, improvements, and attention in 2019.
It’s only a matter of time until they’re shared more often than feed posts too. 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 nailed their IG Stories.
IGTV will redefine its purpose
Half a year out from its June 2018 launch, many industry experts are proclaiming IGTV dead…but their diagnosis might be premature.
It’s true that the IGTV 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 vertical 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.
Instagram is still growing rapidly and it has a highly engaged user base, so it’s possible IGTV will find its niche with exclusive series, influencer vlogs, and experimental vertical videos. For now, though, serving as an extra distribution channel for content creators, publishers and brands looks like a safe bet.
And the future of Instagram marketing?
All in all, the next few years look truly exciting for social media marketers working with Instagram. Right now, it looks like an unstoppable juggernaut of growth.
We can predict some aspects of how the platform will evolve in the coming years. Instagram Stories will keep getting new features and become more and more dominant, 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.
Yet there’s also a lot we don’t know. Will IGTV keep getting support until it catches on, or will it become a second-rate YouTube? Will IG’s user base keep growing exponentially, or will it slow down? 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 trends and make smart decisions based on what we know right now.