Over the past year, Instagram has introduced several updates that have changed it significantly. Some were more remarkable than others, but all of Instagram’s updates have served to make it better for both business-related and personal uses. Businesses now enjoy improvements in ads, customer engagement, and analytics. Users, meanwhile, can more easily keep up with their interests, including options for sharing and saving posts they like.
But perhaps the top Instagram updates are those to its Stories function. Having started the year strong—with more monthly active users than Snapchat—it has since spread to desktop, gained ad functions, and the option for permanent Archiving. Overall, it’s clear that Stories will be one of the platform’s mainstays for quite some time.
Scattered across the past year were a number of updates that has made Instagram a much better place for businesses. In-app options and third-party integration alike have given businesses and influencers options for sales, conversions, user engagement, and community management.
Early in the year, Instagram made shoppable posts accessible to the general user base. Marked by a shopping bag icon, these posts could be tapped to reveal tags bearing item names and prices; tap the tag and you’d be taken to the store. The enhanced Shopify integration, added later in the year, enables businesses to tag photos that feature their merchandise, making these gateways to their stores.
These functions let brands get creative with the way they feature their products. Beyond simple catalogs, products can be featured in lookbooks, tutorials, and other forms of content which provide value in and of themselves.
Ads, targeting, conversion
Instagram ads changed significantly over the past year, gaining crucial functions such as links and lead capture forms for conversion. These improvements streamline and encourage user engagement—brands no longer have to hope that users will look them up when the ad is done.
At the same time, an update to the custom audience options allows businesses to target ads based on user actions not just on Instagram, but on Facebook as well. This allows brands to provide an experience tailored to users’ journeys as buyers. With better targeting for brands and less intrusive ads for users, it’s a win-win situation.
Another sign that Instagram values user experience is its scaling up of comment controls. In the latter half of the year, it introduced profanity and spam filters, which businesses could implement in their default builds (available in a few languages), or could be configured to block specific, manually entered words.
On a related note, Instagram has also banned certain hashtags. Banned hashtags can still be used in captions, but tapping on one yields either no results or stringently filtered ones. The bans are a move to uphold the app’s standards of content and conduct more strictly and more broadly.
Non-business users enjoyed a series of minor updates, which added further amusement to the app: face filters, various stickers, and carousel posts (finally made widely available). A somewhat bigger impact is seen in the updates that give users more control in keeping up with their interests, as well as more options for private or one-on-one sharing.
Towards the end of 2016, Instagram introduced a feature that let users add posts to custom galleries or collections visible only to them. This lets users keep track of especially interesting or useful posts for later reference.
Over the months that followed, Instagram has been adding more functions for saving content. Bookmarking is now available on desktop. Users can save their own live streams and add them to their stories for 24 hours. They can also save Stories permanently as Highlights. These might be taken as a sign that saving other users’ stories will be possible eventually—Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, already allows it—but there’s nothing definite there.
Instagram’s recent updates indicate a focus on expanding users’ options for interacting with other users and their content. A number of minor features have been added to Instagram’s private messaging feature, including more interaction among live videos, stories, and Direct, their private messaging feature.
The bigger changes, however, are still in testing. First is the Regram button, which would allow users to directly share other users’ content. This is yet another feature available cross-platform, but absent from the app itself. Second is the possibility of Instagram Direct as a standalone app. If this pushes through, it would be following in the footsteps of Facebook and Messenger, but it’s still unclear how this would affect overall app usage. However, as statistics show that closed sharing is underserved on mobile, this may be a welcome development indeed.
A Year of Stories
It would be hard to argue, however, against calling this Instagram’s year of Stories. The feature recently hit 300 million daily active users—double the numbers of their precursor, Snapchat. It’s also gone from something of a curiosity to what is essentially a fully-functioning second feed, complete with actions, interactions, and ads.
Businesses can get more out of the feature now, thanks to Story Links as well as the options for Story Objectives. Users will likewise find it easier to access stores and information. Most of the updates, however, provide benefits across the board in ways that blur personal and professional: location and hashtag stickers, increased creative tools (filters, stickers, and more), and the easy transitions from Live to Stories to Archives.
Year in Review
Instagram is now poised to expand on multiple fronts. Its support for businesses, influencers, and hobbyists will likely continue to grow. These may well be boosted by better integration with third-party apps—or even the splitting of its features into a standalone Direct app. The potential of Stories is yet to be fully explored, too, and with Snapchat’s recent redesign, there’s lots of fuel for healthy competition to drive innovation. And just as Stories made it a leader in vanishing content, its push for direct messaging may open up new possibilities, especially in closed sharing on mobile.
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