Instagram has had quite an evolution. Just two short years after launching in 2010, the photo-sharing app was acquired by Facebook for a sum of money that shocked the then-burgeoning social media industry—$1 billion. While the price tag seemed jaw-droppingly high at the time, Mark Zuckerberg had no choice but to make Instagram’s founder, Kevin Systrom, an offer he couldn’t refuse or else Facebook would’ve seen a nosedive in users, engagement, and revenue. Yes, Instagram was that big of a threat.
The acquisition occurred right around the time that other social media platforms were launching and rising in popularity. Platforms such as Vine, Snapchat, and Periscope each brought unique features to the market, which pushed Instagram to update and enhance its photo capturing features as well as add additional features that diversified its engagement capabilities.
“We’re no longer a photo-sharing app. The number one reason people say that they use Instagram, in research, is to be entertained.” —Adam Moserri, CEO of Instagram
In a lot of ways, Instagram has not stopped evolving since it was launched over a decade ago. Today, Instagram users can shop, video chat, watch IGTV channels, and engage with other users on the platform in countless ways. Businesses can advertise and interact with potential customers, all while building their brand and social media presence.
Instagram has launched many improvements throughout the first half of 2021, and more features are yet to arrive as summer turns to autumn later this year. Here are the new Instagram features and how you can make them work for you.
There are upwards of twenty Instagram updates, upgrades, improvements, and new feature launches to watch out for in 2021—far too many to cover in one article. So, we decided to focus this section on five new Instagram features that are most relevant to your business account.
Since its inception, Instagram has been an in-app platform, exclusively. Unlike Facebook, which allows users full access to their platform via desktop and laptop computers, Instagram made it virtually impossible to comfortably navigate, upload posts, comment, and DM via computer. Though users could sign in to Instagram on their computers to search hashtags and view profiles, the platform intentionally disincentivized this option. Well, all that has changed. As of the middle of last year, Instagram has upgraded its desktop features so that users can DM. The messenger API update that Instagram used to accomplish this also allows users to DM multimedia files such as photos, images, gifs, pictures, and other kinds of media, as well as start group chats. Even more exciting is the DM messenger interface, which offers better organization and an ability to access and manage your DM conversations across account profiles so long as they’re integrated. There are a few caveats, however. Messenger API for Instagram will have a staggered rollout as follows:
● Starting June, only IG business accounts that have between 10,000 and 100,000 followers will have access to this new Messenger API.
● Starting July, this new Messenger API will be available for business accounts with between 1,000 and 100,000 followers.
● Finally, by the end of the third quarter, 2021, all business IG accounts will have access to Messenger API.
Though Instagram has offered business accounts for years, only at the beginning of 2021 did they launch their Professional Dashboard, a new organizational tab for Instagram’s business account users. The purpose of Professional Dashboard is to consolidate other business account features in one place—features such as Badges, Instagram Shop, Checkout, and Branded Content. By consolidating these tools and resources into one central hub, Instagram hopes to better assist businesses to reach their marketing goals. There are three key features of Professional Dashboard that will help you stay organized and productive:
● Performance Tracking: this feature allows business account users the ability to analyze trends and study engagement insights, among other critical metrics.
● Business Growth: this feature helps business account users discover new marketing tools that will help them run their accounts more efficiently to build up their businesses. Most importantly, this feature allows users to check the monetization status of their ad campaigns.
● Stay Informed: this feature shows business account users personalized, curated, educational resources that will help them promote their businesses on Instagram. These resources include tips, tricks, guidance, and inspiration.
Shocker of all shockers—recently, Instagram initiated the option to hide “likes” so that they aren’t displayed! Why would a user want to hide the number of likes their post has? The answer is complicated. Psychologically, social media has done a number on all of us, especially young people. Research has proven that these platforms are physiologically addictive and impact the mental health of users. Users often experience a “high” when their posts receive a ton of engagement such as likes, comments, and shares. That’s all fine and dandy, but unfortunately, when users experience low engagement with their posts, it actually affects their mood, making them feel low, disappointed, and dejected. Instagram, and its parent company, Facebook, have decided to give users the option to hide the number of likes their posts have so that other users can’t see. Time will tell if this new feature positively improves user experience.
This feature isn’t too new. Suggested Posts actually launched in the middle of last year, but it’s still catching on, so we wanted to mention it. The purpose of Suggested Posts is to expose Instagram users to other user accounts, both business and personal, that they might enjoy. Suggested Posts only appear once a user has finished scrolling through the most recent posts of the accounts they follow in their feed. The actual posts of other users that are suggested will be relevant to the user’s personal preferences and interests. Instagram’s machine learning A.I. uses an algorithm to determine what a user likes based on the other accounts they follow and posts they “like.” At the moment, Instagram is still playing around with this feature and compiling user feedback. Due to the fact that there is no current way to turn this feature off, many users have complained that Suggested Posts are intrusive and at times infuriating. Have you encountered Suggested Posts? What do you think? The general consensus at FTx 360 is that they seem to be the “personal account” version of straightforward Instagram advertising. Meaning that we’re keeping our eye on them.
Interactive stickers for Instagram stories is easily our favorite new feature! The concept of story stickers emerged a few years ago, but in the last few months, Instagram has really leveled up its sticker game by adding brand new story stickers that provide far better interactive user experiences. If you’re unfamiliar, the purpose of story stickers is to add clickable links to your posts. In essence, these stickers serve as in-app CTAs, which can be a powerful marketing tool for businesses. Right now, the most popular stickers available on Instagram are Location, @Mention, #Hashtag, Donation, Music, Poll, Questions, Challenge, DM Me, Countdown, Quiz, Stay Home, Food Orders, Gift Cards, and Support Small Business. Let’s look at the story stickers that can best support your business’s Instagram marketing efforts:
● DM Me sticker: Instagram launched this new story sticker to help users DM business accounts easily and promote messaging interaction. By altering the DM Me text to state “Get More Info,” this particular sticker can become a powerful CTA that drives private discussions about products and services that could lead to sales.
● Food Orders sticker: if you own a restaurant, coffee shop, or quick-serve business, this story sticker is for you. The Food Orders sticker enables users to tap the sticker and get redirected immediately to your business’s online ordering platform. Connecting with popular food delivery service platforms such as GrubHub, Uber Eats, or DoorDash is possible with this sticker.
● Support Small Business sticker: this story sticker is excellent for businesses that want to partner with other non-competing businesses and cross-promote each other’s products and services. With the Support Small Business sticker, you can tag the business you’ve partnered with, which will introduce your visitors to the other business, and vice versa. By tapping the sticker, visitors will be redirected to your partner’s IG account or website, depending.
In addition to the Big Five that we covered in our last section, there are thirteen additional features to be aware of, which will be the focus of this section. These features affect both business and personal accounts.
At long last, Instagram offers in-app eCommerce solutions for business accounts. This Shop feature has to be accessed through your Facebook business account, however, since the platforms are married.
Depending on the nature of your business, you may have several Instagram accounts that appear under a larger umbrella company. Previously, there was no way to post the same content across multiple accounts, but now there is. This feature is a bona fide time saver.
Featuring user-generated content has become a highly effective social media marketing strategy, but efficiently “sharing” and “reposting” user-generated content hasn’t always been so easy on Instagram when it comes to stories. Instagram improved this by creating notifications for business account handles that users “tag” in their stories. If you’re tagged in a story, a notification will appear in your account.
In their effort to save businesses even more time, Instagram now offers Create Mode—a way to create, save, and reuse story templates. If you’re in the habit of including stickers, text, and a lot of bells and whistles in your story posts, this Create Mode template feature will save you a ton of time in the long run.
“Have you ever wanted to turn off your video or audio when you’re Live? Now you can. Hopefully, this gives you more flexibility and lessens any pressure to look or sound a certain way during a Live.” —Adam Moserri, CEO of Instagram
Have you ever hosted an Instagram Live only to have your child, dog, or neighbor make an unwelcomed, albeit unintentional, intrusion? Even Live videos you record at the office can be suddenly sabotaged by the unexpected. There’s nothing worse than scrambling to quiet a mysterious noise or correct a visual issue while your entire virtual audience looks on. That’s why Instagram now offers an “Off” option, allowing users to easily and quickly turn off their video, audio, or both.
Instagram TV, or IGTV for short, offers long form video content (longer than 60 seconds). This content format has grown in popularity, which is why Instagram is now working to promote IGTV channels and episodes. Using organic reach, Instagram will include IGTV Previews as though they are regular posts. The only downside is that you will have no control over the preview content. Instead, Instagram will automatically play a 15-second clip from your IGTV episode as a preview.
Using the Instagram app can be a huge drain on cell phone battery life, which is why Instagram launched Dark Mode, a “dim” version of its content. The main difference is that Dark Mode features a black background, as opposed to the traditional white background.
Taking a cue from Google, Instagram now divides its Inbox into three tabs—Primary, General, and Requests. Messages from users you follow or who follow you will show up in the Primary tab, and the rest will appear in the Requests tab, which you can then manually move to either Primary or General.
We’re not sure how we feel about Instagram’s new “Suggested Unfollow” feature… Instagram will now suggest to users, not accounts they should follow, but rather current accounts that they should unfollow due to the fact that they haven’t been engaging with those accounts anyway. Generally speaking, the accounts that Instagram will suggest you “unfollow” will be the accounts in your “Least Interacted With” list.
Sometimes, it’s necessary to block a follower. Sad, but true. But what if you don’t want to completely cut your profile off from a follower? That’s where Remove Followers comes in handy, Instagram’s “soft block” feature. In your Followers list, you’ll now see Remove buttons next to each account name. Simply tap “remove” and the follower won’t be blocked from finding your account in the future, they just won’t see your posts anymore since they’re no longer following you.
Instagram Alt Text is a great new feature for business accounts that want to cater to their followers who are visually impaired. With Instagram Alt Text, you can compose shorter captions that will appear in large print font. As an added bonus, using Alt Text is another opportunity to plug in SEO keywords and hashtags that Instagram will pick up.
As an alternative to Remove Followers, Instagram now offers the new Restrict Accounts feature that enables users to disable a follower’s ability to comment on their posts. Originally, this feature was designed to fight online bullying, but it’s helpful for businesses, as well.
Depending on the nature of your business and the content of your social media account, it might be appropriate to prevent users who are under a certain age from accessing your posts. For example, vape retailers and CBD shops might want to restrict underage users from viewing their content. With the Age Limit feature, you can “hide” your profile from younger audiences by defining the “minimum age” setting within your account. Once a minimum age has been set, only users who meet the age minimum will have access to your profile, posts, and stories.
Instagram remains the most popular photo-sharing app, and yet this social media platform has evolved to become so much more. Instagram’s success and continued popularity are due in large part to its ability to adopt and mimic the successful features that competing social platforms offer.
At the moment, the social platform that’s giving Instagram the biggest run for its money is TikTok. TikTok is young, fun, and growing at a rate that has been making other social media platforms very nervous. Currently, TikTok has over 1 billion active users across the world, but why? What makes TikTok so appealing?
What makes TikTok unique is the app’s discovery feed, known as the “For You” page. This view serves as the user’s primary timeline, or feed, and it uses a special algorithm to populate the most optimal and personalized content for the user. The algorithm’s artificial intelligence uses machine learning to record, analyze, and leverage the specific posts that a user interacts with in order to show them highly relevant content that they’re likely to enjoy.
Unlike competing social media platforms that foster social networks and connections with people you know in real life, TikTok actually does the opposite by connecting users with content that’s generated outside of their social circles.
Why mention this?
TikTok is a bigger threat to Instagram right now than any other social media platform, and Instagram knows it. Over the course of the past year, Instagram users have begun to split their social media time between Instagram and TikTok, which has affected Instagram’s user engagement as well as its ad revenue.
What’s Instagram doing about it?
Instagram plans to study TikTok and adopt as many popular TikTok features as it can.
“The important thing is that people are seeing stories that resonate with them and are meaningful to them.” —Adam Moserri, CEO of Instagram
Truth be told, Instagram isn’t suffering due to TikTok… yet. Instagram is still the #1 platform in conjunction with Facebook for effective advertising. In fact, posting regularly on Instagram for marketing purposes will gain you more followers and daily interactions than posting on TikTok at the moment… But we’re definitely watching both platforms closely.
As of writing this article, TikTok has upgraded its ads, making them personalized and also unavoidable. Meaning, users can no longer opt-out of seeing ads on the platform. This upgrade took place in April earlier this year, and the marketing specialists at FTx 360 are still tracking ad performance metrics to determine if advertising on TikTok will at some point rival placing targeted ads on Instagram.
If the scales tip in TikTok’s favor, we’ll let you know! In the meantime, Instagram is where it’s at for social media marketing if your content contains highly visual photos and videos.
FTx 360 provides social media marketing services that can help you get the most out of your social media presence, increase social engagement, build followers, and convert users and followers into website visitors and loyal customers. No matter how big or small your business is today, or what industry you’re in, our team of experienced digital marketers can increase social engagement for your brand on Instagram, Facebook, and other social platforms. Using paid advertisements, PPC Marketing, and social media marketing strategies, our marketers combine the power of hashtags, SEO, and geo-targeting to deliver results. Contact us to discover what FTx 360 can do for your brand.