What marketers can learn from Instagram’s repositioning

27 July 2021
Katie Moon.

Katie Moon, strategist, Alpha Digital

Since going live, the head of Instagram’s video explaining that the platform will become more than a photo-sharing app, has received a whopping 2.3 million views and over 16.1 thousand comments on Insta alone.

Changes are coming to video on Instagram

At Instagram we’re always trying to build new features that help you get the most out of your experience. Right now we’re focused on four key areas: Creators, Video, Shopping and Messaging. pic.twitter.com/ezFp4hfDpf

— Adam Mosseri (@mosseri) June 30, 2021

Most of the in-comment conversation has been led by outraged and hyper-focused consumers, disgruntled at the notion that Instagram is prioritising video over static images. But an update that was an inconvenience to consumers who stubbornly stick to their habits, is in fact a lesson and opportunity for brands and marketers.

Let Me Entertain You 
Mosseri points out that in research, the “number one reason consumers use Instagram is to be entertained” and that they’re conscious that they have some “really serious competition” in TikTok, YouTube and upstarts.

Aside from keeping an eye on competitors, Instagram is proactively responding to this research by shifting focus to creators, video as well as shopping and messaging. He’s prioritising features that answer changing consumer habits and needs, including what they call Recommendations, showing “things in Feed that you may not be following yet”, Topics, where you can choose topics to see more (or less of) in Feed and experimenting with video more broadly - looking at full-screen, mobile first and immersive entertainment. Ultimately, the message Instagram is sending is clear: it wants to be a place for entertainment, driven by video, and will reward the brands and creators that embrace this new direction.

It’s true that Instagram isn’t alone in this quest, with YouTube rolling out Shorts in Australia just last week, a short-form, mobile first, video offering for creators.

Creating with Purpose
For marketers playing in the digital space, it’s been imperative to have video as part of your content strategy for some time. But changes to algorithms and the rise of consumer empowerment through Topics, rank entertainment and the creation of considered content higher than generating standardised videos.

This means creating with purpose; producing content that is audience-aligned, appropriate for the channel and high quality, with the goal of engaging the consumer to build brand affinity, convert them or simply keep them on-screen for longer.

However, what considered content looks like is different for each brand, reminding us why it’s important to: prioritise owned and competitor research, think holistically about creative by coordinating messaging across channels and focus on being creative by constantly testing, learning and iterating.
In a mobile first environment, to break through the noise, we must not only understand how people interact with content but also make it memorable.

Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket
Like Instagram is “no longer just a square photo-sharing app” and doesn’t rely on one feature to reach and entertain consumers, brands and marketers shouldn’t prioritise one channel to reach consumers.

The digital media landscape is continuously evolving. We’ve seen a leap from incremental to exponential change, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated 10 years of digital advancement in six months. As online stores rushed to open and physical stores closed, and living rooms suddenly became fitting rooms, we’ve never witnessed a more credible case for diversification in the way we reach and engage with consumers.

An old adage, but investing all your budget in one channel or tactic is a risk. An agile, cross-channel strategy is a prerequisite for marketing, whether speaking digitally or holistically. As it gets harder for brands to meet their customers where they are, especially with the looming disappearance of 3rd-party cookies, the onus is on brands and marketers to: develop a deeper understanding of the customer journey, create multiple genuine touchpoints with audiences and evolve their skill sets to continuously engage and influence the consumer.

Embrace the Winds of Change
In less than a generation, social media has become a sociological and commercial force. It’s evolved from photo-sharing apps and virtual communities, to become a vital modern marketing tool.

Yet historically, almost all major platform updates and market entrants have been met with scepticism or adverse user feedback, much like Instagram is facing this time. From Facebook’s shift to commerce and the launch of TikTok, to Twitter doubling their character limit or Instagram’s swing from Feed to Stories. Despite a string of controversies, privacy concerns and the public’s relatively negative sentiments about aspects of social media, all these platforms continue to dominate the online landscape.

Test and Learn, Always 
Mosseri finishes his video discussing the fact that Instagram has an idea of where it wants to end up in half a year or a year’s time but that “things will change many times between now and then”. This highlights the app’s willingness to use a test and learn model, from the perspective of the platform and the user.

Savvy brands and marketers should follow suit and include a test and learn budget within their marketing strategy. Specifically, an agile media strategy can be wildly beneficial, often involving a small media investment, short timeframe and real consumers. Ultimately, this approach allows data-driven marketers to trial ever-changing platform features or test the efficiency of their message or product before making major investments in a full-scale capacity.

As the landscape continues to evolve and the way people engage changes, marketers need to be flexible and consider the unique opportunities and learnings presented to them in online environments.

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