Instagram continues to push ahead with new tools and features – though this latest release is mostly just confirmation of previously announced tools.
This week, Instagram has officially made their group video calling option available, while the new Explore layout is also now present for more users – both of which were announced last month. Instagram’s also adding in some new AR filter options too – here’s a full overview of Instagram’s new tools:
Group Video Calling
First off, Instagram’s new group video calling feature, available within direct message threads, is now available to all users.
This one has been in the works for a while – TechCrunch first reported the development of Instagram group video calls back in March, while as noted, Instagram officially announced the coming feature early last month.
As shown in the video, the process for starting a group video call is fairly straightforward:
“To start a video chat, swipe into your Direct inbox and open any message thread. Tap the new camera icon in the right corner, and the video chat will ring your friends’ phones so they don’t miss it. While on the video chat, you can minimize the video and multitask on Instagram, sending messages and photos in Direct, browsing your feed, posting a story and more.”
It’s a good addition for Instagram, enhancing the more private communication elements of the app - which, like most messaging tools, have become increasingly popular over time.
While being able to broadcast yourself and your life at any time is a handy option to have, an increasing number of users have been moving away from public sharing, and towards smaller, more intimate groups.
On Instagram, more than 375 million of the app’s billion users now interact via messaging each month, while Instagram’s research shows that 85% of people’s messages within the app are shared with the same three friends – which makes sense, but it also underlines the desire for more enclosed communication options within the app.
"The use case that caught our attention was people just hanging out on live, particularly young people. After school, they jump on a live-stream and hang out. That use of live [video] is particularly interesting to us."
Sarkar was referring to the popularity of group streaming apps like Houseparty, which raced to 20 million users by facilitating this use-case, and Facebook has sought to tap into the same through several measures, including group video calls on Facebook Messenger, and even their own group streaming app, called Bonfire, which is currently only available in certain regions.
Given the indicators, you can imagine that Instagram’s group video calling option will be a hit, and will encourage more people to engage on the platform.
Top Channels in Explore
Instagram's also now rolling out its re-vamped Explore section – which is something Instagram marketers, in particular, need to take note of.
First announced last month, the new Explore layout will still be personalized for each user, but the content will be organized into ‘topic channels’ - which, as you can see, will be displayed across the top of the screen.
“With topic channels, you can be more intentional about how you navigate posts on Explore. When you open the page, you’ll see a tray at the top with personalized channels. This includes a ‘For You’ channel, which has a mix of posts tailored to your interests. You’ll also see channels on topics you might like such as Art, Sports, Beauty or Fashion – as well as a list of hashtags, giving you more ways to explore your interests. Now, when you want to get inspired by the latest fashion trends or discover a new travel destination, you can easily find posts you’re looking for and follow those accounts or hashtags.”
The new search process is similar to Pinterest’s ‘Guided Search’ which shows you related product categories based on what other people searched for. That could point to the evolving eCommerce focus within Instagram – and indeed, the mentions of both ‘fashion trends’ and ‘travel destinations’ here point to commercial opportunity.
Marketers should also take note of the new listing of related hashtags, which could make your Instagram hashtag choices even more important. This is not a lot different to what’s available now – Instagram recommends related hashtags based on your every search – but having them right there, along the top of the search screen, will no doubt get more users clicking through to see what’s available, based on their interests.
It’ll be worth conducting regular research to ensure your business is using the right tags related to your business – the results themselves are customized to your individual behavior, but hashtag searches on Instagram also include an indicator of search volume, which can help you ensure that you’re using the best ones for your content.
“We’re also giving you better ways to control what you see on Explore. You can browse through a variety of interests by swiping from grid to grid, or you can go deep into a specific interest by tapping on a channel and scrolling up. If you’d like to remove a topic channel, press and hold the channel and select ‘Mute’ from the menu. This sends the channel to the end of the tray, giving you the option to unmute it at any time.”
New search options mean new search behaviors to consider - and with 200 million people visiting Explore every day, it's definitely worth paying attention.
It'll take some time to understand how Instagram users are warming to these tools, but it may be another element to consider when looking to maximize your reach.
New Camera Effects
And the last new element Instagram has added is a batch of camera effects designed by brands and celebrities, part of Instagram’s (and by extension, Facebook’s) next push to dominate the AR arena.
“You’ll now see the first batch of new camera effects designed by Ariana Grande, Buzzfeed, Liza Koshy, Baby Ariel and NBA in the Instagram camera. Whether you want to make your friends laugh or add some glam to your selfies, you now have more ways to express yourself and feel closer to your favorite accounts.”
Rather than relying on its own creative team to come up with the next big AR trend, Facebook's looking to democratize the option, with a particular focus on popular celebrities and brand accounts creating their own. Now, rather than expecting their engineers to come up with the next ‘Dancing Hotdog’, Facebook - through Instagram in this case – can get input from popular accounts, which are already dialed into the latest audience trends.
That could prove a big winner for Facebook. Up till now, Snapchat's been able to stay ahead by leading the way on the latest trends. Facebook internal team may not have the creative nous that Snap has, but they do have more reach, and celebrity users who’ll be keen to work with them to enhance their brands.
You can imagine a filter designed by Ariana Grande is going to be popular, no matter what it is.
The new effects will be available within your Instagram camera if you follow any of the participating accounts, or you’ll be able to try them if you see them in use by tapping on the ‘Try it’ option at the top left of screen (you can see it up next to the account names in the examples above).
As noted, these new features had already been announced, but it’s interesting to see their final form, and it’ll also be interesting to see how Instagram users react to the new options. Instagram's moved far away from its original, image-sharing roots, and has become a huge platform in its own right. But its real success - thus far at least - has been in tuning into its community, and gradually layering in new tools and options, without upsetting the natural flow.
If Instagram can keep on that path, further diversifying its use case, it looks set to continue its meteoric growth.