Opinion: 2015 - A year of big leaps for Instagram

In a remarkable year of change for the photo-based social network, Samson Lam, digital strategist at The Hoffman Agency Singapore, goes through how each major change through 2015 has affected the way we share on Instagram, and discusses the ripple effect it has for brands.

Samson Lam

1) No more squared posts

The app’s founder, Kevin Systrom, famously developed Instagram because he wanted to pay homage to the squared, vintage look of the Polaroid.

Now, close to five years and even more fan pleas later, the app has finally allowed for native non-squares imagery.

This was a huge deal when it went live. And yet, it happened, which some might argue is an indication of Instagram’s willingness to listen to their burgeoning community.

What this means for brands

Instagram has been smart about this - users and brands who wish to upload squared pictures can continue doing so. They don’t need to upload landscape pictures if they decide not to. But those that do can employ a bigger canvas to tell their stories.

Videos now look way better when uploading the natively in a landscape format, because, well, no one can convincingly say they prefer watching videos in a square format. 

2) Instagram Direct 2.0

Instagram Direct was a big step forward when it was first introduced two years ago. It allowed users to send posts to one another or to a group. Despite its semi clunky interface and single simple function, Instagram revealed that 85 million users out of 300 million active users use Direct monthly.

However, a few months back, they "2.0-ed" Direct and users can now not just send Instagram posts to one another, but also regular texts. And just like any texting app out there, messages are also now threaded, instead of being a disembodied post.

What this means for brands  

While users can continue sharing Instagram posts with others, brands stand to gain the most from this improvement, especially on the engagement front. With Instagram Direct 2.0, they can communicate directly to the user with specific content.

Another example on the other end of the scale is when dealing with a complaint. As any brand can testify, giving brands an accessible way to engage someone privately on one-on-one basis is immensely helpful in maintaining brand reputation.

3) Improved Explore Tab and Search

Like the previous point, Explore is a reimagined feature that now feeds you with great organic content in real time, based on your interests, popular topics, and hashtags.

Instagram’s Search has also been improved drastically, most notably with a supercharged "Top" and "Places" functionality, adding to "People" and "Tags".

What this means for brands

Because Explore picks out trending tags, brands can easily identify popular topics that their community is engaged with and get involved with these conversations. It also allows brands to discover what the audience is sharing about, so they can create similar content that resonates with them, and increase their following.

If brands were not geo-tagging their posts before, then there’s no excuse now with this new and improved search function that willl improve your brand’s discoverability.

4) Redesigned Instagram Web Profiles

Call it the flat design revolution, but Instagram’s web profiles received a makeover in June this year to align it better with its mobile counterpart. Profiles and feed also now scroll infinitely too, so that’s fun.

What this means for brands:

You must be thinking - showing fewer posts in the same space does not sound like a step forward. But it most definitely is. The redesign has made the posts larger and helps each one stand out more. It also allows for brands to think outside the box with the layout.

5) You got a sec? Here’s a GIF

While uploading a video on Instagram isn’t new, putting up a GIF is.

Instagram recently released a new companion app, Boomerang, which allows users to shoot and upload one-second GIFs.

What this means for brands

Social media evangelists are very aware of the value of short form content. Consumers today are craving for shorter and shorter types of content, and this has made it even harder to seize their attention. Which is why this twist on a GIF is delightful for brands. 

6) Sponsored Posts

Since it was first revealed in 2013, sponsored posts were strictly either a US-only feature or limited to selected big brands like Adidas or Michael Kors. But it was announced back in September that global brands, including those in Singapore, would be getting this long awaited functionality. 

What this means for brands

Advertisers, large and small, all rejoiced when this was finally made official. Not only can brands now get the word out on the leading engagement platform of choice, but brands can effectively run campaigns, especially when combined with Instagram Direct to manage it.

However, Instagram is toeing a very fine line, because a big part of its appeal is its distinct lack of ads. And this change means that users would inevitably see a whole lot more brand messaging now.

I am optimistic though, seeing how they experimented with this function for about half its lifetime, AND have the wunderkinds of the Facebook machine guiding Instagram to ensure the core user experience remains unchanged. 

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