A Deeper Analysis Of Instagram’s New Changes. Here’s How Your Brand Can Effectively Leverage Them!
Disclaimer: This (long!) article assumes you are conversant with Instagram’s features at a basic level, i.e., where/how Instagram Stories are posted, what hashtags are, how photos are posted, how filters are applied, privacy settings, etc.
I like Instagram. We all do. After all, there are now 1 Billion users, from 300 Million in 2015, which was the last time I looked into Instagram’s vital statistics.
This can be attributed to a multitude of factors:
- Public acceptance has been gradually colossal
- Businesses of all shapes and sizes have steadily incorporated Instagram into their social media marketing arsenal,
- The platform inherently, and effectively, empowers brands to leverage visual media to communicate their ideas and thoughts, and
- Fundamentally, the characteristically human attraction towards pictures helps brands succinctly narrate more through less (compared to text).
Of course, some of these are also the hallmarks of many other platforms like Twitter, Snap, or Facebook. However, compared to all these factors, Instagram’s success can, arguably, be attributed most to its openness to change, i.e., changing itself.
It’s no secret that the creators of Instagram constantly tinker with the features of the platform and/or the way they function, be it:
- The core machine learning algorithm driving your Feed,
- More image filters,
- Video editing, text, and drawing tools,
- IGTV, and,
- Instagram Stories, amongst others.
Given such a plethora of avenues for brand marketing, it is imperative that you have an in-depth understanding of these in order to effectively (read profits!) and productively use them, and craft your marketing strategies accordingly, especially if Instagram is an impactful source, or as in some cases, your only source of your livelihood.
With that in mind, let’s take a deeper dive with me into five mission-critical Instagram features and, more importantly, understand their possible DO’s & DON’Ts, so that your brand doesn’t get trapped in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Instagram Stories Ads
1) A feature that lets users post photos and videos that vanish after 24 hours. Think of Snap, but (much more!) profitable.
2) Content shared to stories also won’t appear on your profile grid or in the main Instagram feed.
3) If you set your account to private, your story is visible only to your followers. However, you can also easily hide your entire story from anyone from whom you’d like to hide it, even if they follow you.
What’s New: Interactive ads!
When creating a Story Ad, advertisers will now be able to add a polling question to the image or video, i.e., you ask users a question, give them two choices to choose between, and can view the results of the poll at any stage.
- Qualitative Engagement: Businesses can be more engaging and playful in order to build better connections, bringing people even closer to the brand. Relationships are important!
- Reduced expenditure: Brands have reported reduced expenditure on brand campaigns or app downloads, for instance. Don’t take it from me, take it from Dunkin’ Donuts, or Burger King Spain, or India’s Swiggy.
- Singular agenda: The Stories ads are clear in their agenda, and generate more impact for your campaigns by encouraging people to watch/track longer. So, you have a clear, one-point attack.
- Merge Cleverly: You can strategically merge your ad polling question with a glimpse of behind-the-scenes action from your workplace/office/warehouse, etc.
- Invested Users: Asking users to vote makes them voters, who feel more useful, more invested in the story because of the vote given. Personalise the experience as effectively as possible, intertwining it with your brand.
- How much is too much: To a brand marketer or advertiser, this might seem counterintuitive, but it is essential to maintain a good balance between posting Stories Ads in them and posting a photo. Sure, higher frequency of Stories might mean higher user engagement, but constantly shoving Stories ads can be a deterrent to the more aesthetic aspects of a good photo.
- Social Media Deception: Speaking of good photos, don’t overdo it. An Allianz Global Assistance studied the phenomenon of social media deception and found that of all respondents, whether or not they’ve engaged in social media deception, 55 percent trust the accuracy of social media posts from brands. Keep it real. Nothing gaudy.
- Think before you post: We all play, or at least enjoy, pranks. But, be mindful of the kind of prank you’re playing. A Stories ad that is/can be perceived as culturally, racially, ethnically, ethically, or emotionally contentious is a strict no-no. Learn from language-learning app Duolingo’s brilliant April Fool’s prank that won users’ hearts and increased user traffic!
- Know Thy Audience: As with all things marketing, study and understand your audiences well. Posting a late-night Stories ad in a country which is your biggest customer base is a terribly ineffective idea. You could cleverly post a photo informing your customers of an upcoming poll that’s critical either to the brand or to the customers. That’s smart!
- Keep It Short, Silly: Brevity is the soul of wit. So, keep your Stories or Stories Ads short and concise. The agenda should be clear. Stories are designed such that a moderately long story is broken into multiple portions. So, an annoyingly long story will have too many portions.
- Colours are important: If you are using colourful text in your story, make sure it is legible. Certain color combinations can be grotesque and using such themes to communicate your campaign message might confuse, annoy, or repel some users.
- Internet In The Fast Lane: Lastly, if you don’t have a strong internet connection, your Stories might not upload or might look blurry which is more detrimental to your brand than not posting any Stories at all.
So, please pay attention to all these point, because…
Instagram’s News Feed Algorithm
- The Feed is where a user sees content your brand has posted.
- You can use your Facebook channel to connect multiple Instagram accounts and post the same content on these accounts simultaneously. NOTE: This feature might be a new feature depending on which country you’re located in.
- Interest: This is basically Instagram’s measure of how much your customer will care about your post, such that posts important to the user (based on past activity) show up higher in the Feed. Also, the machine learning algorithm has ‘content understanding’ capabilities.
- Timeliness: Very simply put, the more recent the post, the higher it shows up on your user’s Feed.
- Relationship: This is characterised by higher ranking of brands on the user’s Feed that had frequent engagement through likes, comments, or @mentions. In other words, the higher users engage with your posts, the higher your posts will rank on their Feed. Yay!
- Keep your posts interesting: this means different things on different days. Some days, you can post something funny, or use Stories Ads to launch a new product or a feature update, or make a collage of the company’s history, or let your CEO deliver a quick update. Be smart about it, though!
- Schedule Your Posts: There are tons of scheduling platforms that help you schedule your posts. Use those either a) to inform users about an upcoming poll, or b) to simply post a good (read genuine and not too perfected!) photo.
- Interest-Relations Cycle: The more interesting your posts or Stories Ads are, the higher the user engagement, which in turn means, the better or stronger the relationship between your customers and your brand. So, use good hashtags: invent some hashtags specific to your brand, like Forever 21’s #f21xme.
- Bad Hashtags: Don’t use cheesy, silly or irrelevant hashtags. Since they make your post visible to a much wider audience, your brand shouldn’t seem clueless by using irrelevant hashtags. Remember this mantra: Good hashtags: That’s almost akin to attending the wrong party!
- Pop Culture Overkill: It’s a good idea to use hashtags or @mentions when a certain popular culture trend is relevant to your brand, but don’t try and fit in your brand in every pop culture trend. Read that again, slowly. Also, the key term there is relevant.
- Excess Activity: Regular activity is good, but not excessive. While 80% users follow at least one brand, there’s no consensus on the ‘right’ number of posts. Adobe says at least one (up to 10), while social media expert Neil Patel, said in Forbes, the frequency should align with your natural consistency. That’s the key, consistency. And the other: experiment!
- One Size Never Fits All: This is a mistake a lot of brands make. Do not stick to your past success formula, keep experimenting. Try different posts, styles of posts, hashtags, @mentions, the frequency, the effectiveness, pop culture references. THEN, save those results for the future, and then compare. Or hire a data scientist! My point is, empirically find out what works for you, and then be open to change, just like, you guessed it, Instagram!
IGTV (InstaGram TeleVision)
- It allows creators to upload high quality, long-form, vertical videos that are usually between 15 seconds and 10 minutes long. Larger business accounts can upload up to 60 minutes of content. Aspect Ratio is 9:16.
- Unlike regular television, users can like, comment, and share IGTV videos, just like Instagram posts, thereby offering a compelling video-based platform for driving engagement.
- Promote: Instagram is dabbling with Promote, which allows your business accounts to automatically target users similar to their followers, or users in a particular location, and use all the targeting parameters to inject your story into queues of more users as an advertisement, which can be linked to your Instagram profile or website.
- Post A Preview: You can now post a preview of your IGTV video.
- IGTV meets Feed: You can now share your IGTV videos directly on your Feed. Earlier you could do so through Stories. Users simply have to tap on the ‘Watch Video’ option to watch the whole video on IGTV.
- Promote, as the word literally indicates, is all about promoting your brand. You can experiment with the content, frequency, and style of the post being posted and then track engagement using the parameters. Some users in a specific location might like your posts, so there’s a lot of test to do. But, overall, quite self-explanatory and profitable if done correctly!
- As I stated earlier, you can combine the Preview function with a poll or a contest, or use smart brand-specific hashtags to inform users of a new event, say, a discount sale, a give-away, which is basically a gift hamper to the winner of a poll or some sort of creative suggestion. There are lots of ways to leverage this, so use your imagination!
- IGTV on the Feed can be a strategic advantage to your brand since users don’t have to click anything, anywhere. It’s right there, so by virtue of being ‘hands-free’, you can rest assured users are likely to watch it. Of course, keep an eye on the frequency though, as too much is annoying.
- Another good revenue stream is to hold a weekly ‘show’ or ‘episode’ — build a story, maintain a sense of continuity, spread your creative ideas, and build a deeper connect with your users. IGTV can be especially helpful in doing this. Brands are still trying to wrap their heads around IGTV and how it can be leveraged. Be creative, experiment fast, optimise strategy!
- Overuse: Given the hands-free nature of IGTV videos on your Feed, you might be tempted to post often. Don’t! Most users are still reluctantly cozying up to IGTV, so go easy on them. As with most things on social media marketing, see what works for your brand, but use your brains (and your parameters!)
- More Content, Less Ads: Instagram is all about visual content, remember? I know it’s tough to forget that as an advertiser, especially when IGTV is being hailed as Instagram’s next cash cow! Also, IGTV is vertical-format by nature, which can be quite difficult to adapt into, given that square-format photos just look symmetrical and beautiful!
- Blind As Bats: Conduct some experiments on how you can leverage text, video-editing tools, colours, GIFs, stickers, and much more to see which one gets you more engagement. I’ll let you know in on a secret: don’t copy other brands — focus on the key elements of your brand! Take a cue from Bose, who are so good with their Stories, Feed, and what not, all the while integrating their brand value, style, and message.
Influencer Brand Marketing
- Influencers are users who have built trust with their user base and, often, repeatedly use/endorse a certain product. This eventually leads to collaboration with the said brand, and can further drive engagement.
- Influencers almost dominate the advertising space through unofficial brand endorsement of your brand to thousands of people organically. So, the smarter move is to shake hands and leverage this trust and further build a relationship with your influencer’s user base.
- Loyal customers can also fall into this category, even if they aren’t actively endorsing your product.
- Athletes, Celebrities, Public Figures, Artists are all influencers. Think Kendall Jenner wearing your brand’s lipstick!
- Checkout: Instagram released Checkout that lets brands include a shopping feature on the photo, such that users can pay for the product and ‘check out’ for payment, all within the app. Name, email, billing info, and shipping address are required the first time you check out.
- Collaborate: Do a quick research and contact influencers who have endorsed your products. Leverage your tracking parameters to gauge the influencer’s engagement, user trust, popularity, and above all, understanding of your brand. Then, collaborate with them!
- Show Me The Money!: Once you have decided which influencer best resonates with your tastes, collaborate with them, and increase your customer base. I think the most critical aspect would be to understand which influencer really connects with your brand and is effectively persuasive enough to galvanise users into buying your products.
- Keep It Subtle Silly: Price tags on a good photo can be annoying, so make sure the tags are aesthetically placed.
- Sale, Sale, Sale: A no-brainer that this feature can be combined with an influencer to announce and run a product sale, maybe a special ‘Instagram’ clothing line (‘InstaLine’? I apologise!) , or a discounted shoe line, end-of-season sale. Maybe use this to pull users into actual stores, or vice-versa. Sky is the limit.
- Take It Slow: Do your influencer research well. If you find multiple influencers endorsing your brand, finding out which influencer most resonates would be crucial. One strategy could be to experiment with different influencers, tally your numbers, and then renew contracts with the most effective, profitable influencer.
- Great Brand, Great Responsibility: Because influencers become the face of your brand, choosing an influencer who’s consistent is vital. Consistent could have different meanings: post frequency, style, message, tone, ‘effectiveness’, engagement, and so much more. These are some metrics. Think of more, and then decide. Don’t just pick what ‘looks’ pretty.
- Beyond Profits: Influencers are humans. Humans have flaws. Be clear with your influencer about what your brand means, and stands for. Be sure where you stand on sexist and culturally, racially, ethically, ethnically sensitive posts. And Don’t even get me started on sexual harassment and cyberbullying. On a bad day, your brand reputation will disappear faster than the influencer. And profits.
Hiding Photo ‘Likes’
- Similar to Facebook, Instagram also supports, measures, and displays ‘likes’ on a photo, video, Story, etc.
- This is a strong and definitely popular metric of “success” on Instagram.
- Hide & Seek: Instagram will now be hiding the number of “likes” a post gets from users. The company is motivated by reducing the “pressurised environment” Instagram has become, the feelings of envy, a sense of ‘shamefulness’ and competitiveness associated with posts with lesser engagement.
- Spread The Word: Currently, this hide & seek is going on in Canada, and might eventually spread elsewhere.
- Your Post, Your Like: Only the one who posts will be able to see who liked it, and the number of likes.
- Self-Expression: This update is definitely good from a user’s perspective. As a brand, you can definitely stitch your opinion on the same through a post. The idea is to understand and encourage self-expression, instead of fostering a ‘popularity contest’.
- Nothing Changes: This doesn’t really change much from a business standpoint. You still (and alone!) get to see your likes, engagement numbers, the Feed algorithm process, the whole shebang.
- Well, there honestly isn’t much to say here, except: Well Done, Instagram!
- Instagram is testing the “Away Mode” similar to our workplace platform status. Encourages users to take a temporary break from the app.
- A “Nudge” feature will now warn users just before they are about to comment something hurtful. Keeps bullying in check, and is ensured not to turn into full-blown censorship.
- “Manage Interactions” feature will give you the control to how much a certain user can interact with you. If you prefer someone not commenting on your post, without waging a war, or if you don’t want Direct Messages from someone without blocking them, this is for you!
Phew, there you have it! That was a long read with a ton of calls-to-action. So, read those again, slowly, thoroughly, and apply them as you deem appropriate for your brand.
Writing and thinking through these features has been fun. Hope you feel the same! If you do, leave a comment!