Keeping up with Instagram

Tribe CEO, Anthony Svirskis
By Tribe CEO, Anthony Svirskis | 27 February 2017
Anthony Svirskis

Instagram’s developers are surely the most sleep deprived in Silicon Valley. Averaging nearly one app update a week for the last six months, the recent features rolled out deliver significant user advantages, but importantly transition the platform from a consumer pastime into a business tool. Here’s what you need to know.

Why now?

It’s hard to imagine that the steady deployment of recent updates doesn’t have anything to do with Snap’s pending IPO. Snapchat invented Stories – meshing sequences of disposable pieces of content without the manicured filtering of Instagram. In August last year, Instagram boldly copied them and within six months have the same amount of daily users it took Snapchat six years to earn. Result, Snapchat wiped 10% of their own valuation and lost a huge amount of momentum in their public offering.

Not the same old Stories

For brands the Instagram Stories function is just the beginning. It means less demands on crafting the perfect shot, and more transparency into your brand. Stories is about the insight into your business your customers never see – behind the scenes at photo shoots before the models have their makeup on, or team lunches when no one is eating super-food salads placed between designer handbags and marble décor. The opportunity to show the less than perfect moments for your brands creates credibility and authenticity that your audience will value. Finding the time to produce the disposable content to fill your Stories is another issue altogether; my advice – give a phone to your intern and let them play Creative Director.

Importantly, Stories on Instagram is more than just content. It contains a distinct feature that brands should already be tapping into – clickable links. This is one function Snapchat couldn’t develop in time that speaks directly to brands and attracts the type of users who will eventually flow onto advertising revenue. Clickable links means that behind the scenes photo shoot can now be tagged with a handle or external URL to your website. With external links, Instagram houses the browsing session so users don’t leave their platform, but this still holds significant value for individuals and brands who no longer have to caption ‘link in bio’ whenever they want to point their audience to their latest blog or online sale.

The vertical camera

Snapchat and now Insta Stories have popularised the vertical video camera. The shift in camera orientation is logical given the rapid advancement in phone camera technology and the fact that unplanned snaps really only require a single hand for operation. Those versed in the art of a good selfie may still chose a landscape frame, but any video or pic that’s point and shoot for Snap or Stories is better suited to portrait as they are viewed upright in the palms of audiences’ hands.

Vertical video naturally lends itself to more temporary footage with your thumb on the trigger and your arm the extension. Phones now have built in image stabilisers, second lenses and light sensors, so just like the perfect Insta filter, the final product will look better than you think. Once brands can embrace vertical, then the creation of instant content becomes second nature.

Less is more

The most recent release from Instagram now allows users to collate up to 10 images with a carousel horizontal scroll. In one sense this potentially cannibalises the photo album function of Facebook but the underlying user experience strategy and ultimately benefit to brands is strong. Simply, it now allows brands to showcase multiple pics from the same sequence without sporadically clogging your feed. Data collated on a user’s carousel scrolling will signify interest and engagement beyond a like or comment and this will form a new data point for brands. The need for the perfect single shot is also reduced heavily as marketers now have a vehicle to showcase a series of images and not stress over content choice decisions. This means more content on the platform, but less clutter on your feed; win for audience, win for brands, win for Instagram.

Random engagement

If you’re an avid Instagram user, you may have recently noticed on your brand or even personal pages some peculiar audience behavior. This usually comes in the form of a random follow, a series of likes on two-three images from an unknown user, and generic comments like ‘great pic’ or ‘love your work’ on your last three posts. Ego boost aside, these are result of bots. Third party tools which mimic engagement to attract followers to their own pages. The tools trawl through hashtags, similar pages and popular influencers and generate inauthentic engagement with the expectation that you’ll give them a follow in return. Admittedly they’re quite clever systems, however advanced users of Instagram will know that fake or inauthentic followers are a false economy so it’s certainly not a strategy that should be considered in earnest.

Anything else?

Yep. The algorithmic feed is nearly a year old and zooming on pics seems like it has been around forever but it has only been a feature for six months. Brands now get analytics and the ability to moderate comments. Oh, and disappearing photos and videos sent via direct messages; although I’m not sure where they pinched that idea from.

So what’s next?

Instagram’s ultimate objective is user experience, with ad revenue and user adoption a byproduct of the UI; this focus will continually drive new features through innovation or imitation. For brands, the pipeline includes shoppable links, as the name suggests the ability for brands to create product links on images directing audiences to online shops. It’s already being trialed in the US although the mindset shift from browse to purchase is not necessarily a logical step that ensures this will be a success. If recent tactics are anything to go by, a 140-character text feature might not be too far away either.

By Tribe CEO, Anthony Svirskis

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