With more than a billion active users, amazing engagement tools and steps towards offering fully functional eCommerce in stream, businesses simply can’t afford to ignore Instagram in 2019.
The potential for connecting with customers is huge, and ever-increasing thanks to its constant updates. But with a new announcement practically every other week, it’s not so easy to keep track of everything that's happening, and how it can be of benefit to your business.
To help, here's a listing of the most important Instagram updates and opportunities from the last 12 months to be aware of in your planning. If you're not on board yet, you definitely need to have it in mind - and keep these developments in your consideration.
Research suggests that people are watching more and more long-form videos on their smartphones, so it’s little wonder that Instagram has sought to bolster its video offering with the launch of IGTV back in June, giving users a chance to share longer vertical video on Instagram.
Adoption of the channel has been slow to start - brands appear to be playing the waiting game to see if the viewing figures warrant additional content investment. Converting a YouTube video for IGTV simply doesn’t work, it crops out half the action, as some of the clumsiest attempts will testify. Dedicated vertical video is needed.
IGTV can be used to build your brand, connect with and grow your audience - but the first step is thinking about what content will add value for your customers. Perhaps it could be extended versions of something you've already found to be popular - just remember, while your IGTV videos can be longer, that doesn’t necessarily mean they should be.
The slow adoption means that, if well executed, marketers have a good opportunity to stand out and make their mark.
Ads in Stories
With 400 million daily users, Instagram Stories has become one of Instagram's most popular updates. And now, with Stories ads, businesses are able to insert full-screen promotions, sandwiched between the Stories of the people a user follows.
The biggest challenge brands face here is capturing attention in the millisecond before people realize it’s an ad and tap past. Given this, Story ads need to be high quality, instantly engaging and in keeping with the look and feel that the audience will be expecting to see.
Instagram also answered the prayers of marketers the world over when it expanded the roll-out of its Shopping Tags back in March. With Shopping Tags, brands are able to highlight individual products within an image and link to their eCommerce page, ensuring a smooth transition to convert prospects into customers. The functionality has since been added to Stories too.
Research suggests that consumers have less time, and shorter attention spans than ever, so streamlining the shopping journey from inspiration to purchase is essential. Shopping Tags give consumers a clear gateway to shop at the moment of engagement, minimizing barriers and boosting sales.
Until this year, likes, comments and Story views were pretty much the only available measures of Instagram engagement. Then Instagram introduced interactive stickers to Stories, including the emoji slider, polls and questions, all of which provide new ways to spark engagement and gather feedback from your audience.
They offer new insights too - the emoji slider, for example, can help you determine how individual friends answered, as well as the overall average of responses.
In July, the question sticker appeared, and influencers were quick to make use of their hyper engaged audiences to trial the function, encouraging their followers to ask them anything, they then posting the replies on Stories, giving all of their followers a chance to get to know them better.
This way of connecting can easily be adopted by brands for a quick and easy way to increase engagement, gather feedback and even assist with customer service.
Formally reserved for big name celebrities, this year Instagram also made it easier for regular users to apply for the all-important blue tick of verification.
As part of a more transparent approach, Instagram made the three step process public and available in app. Users with larger following can now request verification in Settings.
The benefits of this for businesses can include increased credibility, while also helping to stop copycat accounts. At a time where Instagram is shifting more into the eCommerce space, the extra trust this could afford among your followers could prove invaluable.
@mention Sharing for Stories
Another handy Stories update is @mention sharing within Instagram Stories.
Previously if someone mentioned you in their Story and you wanted to share that update with your followers, you had to take a screenshot. In June, users were given an “Add This to Your Story” option at the same time Instagram notified you of a mention.
This provides businesses with a 'cleaner' way to repost mentions from other users, as well as an immediate way to publish user or influencer-generated content - perfect fuel for the always-on approach social media marketing demands. It also maximizes return on influencer marketing investment, especially if you choose to save the Story in your highlights, extending its life past the usual 24 hours.
Add Hashtags for your profile
In March, Instagram provided the option to add functioning, clickable hashtags and mentions to your bio. Instagram explained that this gives users a chance to express the things they care about, but it also opens up new opportunities for businesses.
Brands can now promote their UGC campaign hashtag in their bio, enabling followers to click on it and see all of the content fans or influencers have been posting. Brand ambassadors can also link to the brand in their profile, driving traffic back to your page. while employees can name the company they work for with an @mention.
Crucially, if someone mentions you in their bio, you'll get the final say as to whether the link back to your profile is live.
And these aren't even all of the new tools Instagram has added this year - there's a range of other creative options and tools you can now use to boost your brand presence, and build engagement with your audience.
If you're not active on Instagram yet, it should definitely be in consideration for your 2019 strategy, with growth and usage only set to continue from here.