Opinion: Instagram - slowly evolving into another Facebook?

Adele Soh, senior account executive at The Hoffman Agency, examines the big changes Instagram announced to its newsfeed this week, and how brands can best take advantage.

Adele Soh

A couple of days ago, you would have heard an audible gasp across marketing and PR departments around the world. Instagram announced a major change to their newsfeed – "To improve your experience, your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most."

The day Instagram was bought over by Facebook, everyone wanted to know if and when the platform would evolve into its parent company. Since its inception in 2010, Instagram has soared in popularity, as it offers a no frills way of capturing people’s attention by placing visuals as front and centre.

It has become the platform of choice, particularly amongst millennials whose attention spans meant they often glaze over lengthy Facebook posts. 

The evolution of the platform

After its billion-dollar buyout in April 2012, users began seeing changes to Instagram that were reminiscent of Facebook. The first major change was the introduction of landscape and portrait images, diluting its association with cropped square images.

Following this was the introduction of ads on Instagram, which was met with resistance from users, but warmly welcomed by companies struggling to capture the attention of their audience.

Now with another spanner thrown into the works, Instagram again seems to be taking a leaf out of Facebook’s playbook by introducing a major shuffle to its newsfeed.

By arranging posts according to what they believe the user cares about, Instagram is attempting to ensure that 70 percent of the newsfeed does not get ignored anymore. 

What this means for brands

When Facebook first introduced a similar reorganization to its timeline, brands were scrambling to change their content strategy. The new algorithm meant that Facebook would boost posts that had more engagement, and brands were faced with the realisation that engagement only comes when the content is compelling.

With Instagram also jumping on the bandwagon, this is yet another strong signal to brands that they will need to up their content game. While there is no doubt that great storytelling and beautiful moments engage consumers, businesses should see this change as an opportunity to be brave and flex their content muscles.

Brands that played the creativity card to their benefit

Mercedes Benz in the US used Instagram to allow customers to build their dream car, specifically the snazzy GLA model.

Using a multitude of accounts on Instagram, users were brought through a series of decisions, making use of photo tagging, and were eventually presented with a final image that they could show to their local Mercedes dealership.

Another brand that executed the tagging game well was Old Spice, using the "Choose your own adventure" concept with a sci-fi storyline that had everyone following intently to discover the different endings.

Closer to our shores, beauty brand Maybelline partnered with popular Singapore indie band "The Sam Willows" to produce a short video to creatively introduce its new mascara.

While the video was hosted on YouTube, the 15-second trailer was used in Maybelline’s Instagram ads, capturing the attention of users that may not have followed them.

Perhaps, the key lies in having an all-encompassing approach 

Beyond the initial fluster surrounding Instagram’s changes, the more astute brands would realise that an effective social media strategy is one that covers all the main platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Snapchat – for the adventurous.

A case in point is Grab’s multi-pronged approach to their social media platforms. The company might push the same message across them but its approach is tailored for the way users interact on each specific platform.

In October 2015, Grab SG launched its "Spot the Sweaty Boy" Instagram campaign, cleverly stitching 9 photos together hiding a "sweaty boy" that followers have to locate to receive a discount voucher for future rides.

The campaign caught the attention of many for its creative execution, and won Grab more followers on its Instagram account.

Although the new changes on Instagram will be met with protests from users (myself included, because how are we going to stalk people on Instagram now?) – this could, in the long run, make brands work harder for likes and comments.

It seems as though likes and comments will no longer be mere vanity metrics as they become the currency for staying at the top of the newsfeed.

Now would be the best time for brands to break out of their comfort zones and think of creative ways to engage with their audiences regardless of platform.

Instead of fretting over the changes made to a singular platform, the strategic option is to look at how each platform could contribute to the overall picture.  

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