This story was co-written by Hannah Bursack

The world of social media and the role that influencers play within the space is changing constantly. Apps such as Instagram are evolving at an increasingly rapid pace, opening new doors and opportunities for both marketers and those who want to build a business.

For the first post in our three-part series on the relationship between Instagram and social media influencers, we’re doing a deep dive on Instagram’s technological advancements and the implications these changes can have for brands, influencers and agencies alike.

What started as a simple photo-sharing app has evolved into so much more: an advertising platform, a marketing tool, a place to stream live video, and the list goes on.

So, let’s take a look at some of the key developments Instagram has rolled out to completely change the game.

Business Profiles 

The introduction of business profiles on Instagram two years ago provided brands and influencers with a new kind of power and more direct access to consumers than ever before.

With a business account you can add detailed information such as store hours, business addresses, emails and phone numbers, making it as easy as one click to contact or view the business directly from Instagram. The ability to easily pay for a promoted post within Instagram also drives more eyeballs on your content rather than leaving it up to chance.

For brands, this was an important shift in bridging the gap between their business and the consumer online. For influencers, this change made it easier for brands to get in contact if interested in working together – for example, an activewear company looking to connect with a yoga influencer can now connect with them directly through their Instagram profile.

The rollout of business profiles was just the first major step in a series of advancements that would provide unprecedented opportunities for brands, influencers and consumers from the comforts of Instagram.

Insights

In the old days of Instagram, businesses deployed content strategies based on educated guesses. With the introduction of insights, however, businesses can now track behavior, post performance, impressions and engagement, audience data such as gender, age and location demographics – all the things that matter to campaign success.

How brands use this data is key. For example, if your followers are based in Miami, then posting about the Miami Heat will resonate better with them than your followers in the northeast. Timing is also key to optimizing performance, so if you see that posts are getting better engagement around lunchtime then you should plan to post at noon.

Brands can also analyze data to identify trends to inform future content; for example, if a fashion brand notices that engagement is higher on posts featuring people modeling their clothes instead of clothes hanging on racks, then they can adapt their content strategy accordingly. Once these trends are identified, brands can be more strategic about their posts.

Story Highlights

This past year, Instagram released one of its biggest updates since the platform’s inception: Users could now create permanent collections of Instagram stories that live right below their bios on their profiles.

The concept of Instagram stories was groundbreaking to begin with because it was the first feature on the app that directly challenged Snapchat since content disappeared after 24 hours; the key differentiator is that users now have the option to permanently save their content, which proves beneficial for both influencers and marketers.

This update allows brands to easily curate and showcase what they want users to see first – such as specific brand products or collections – and organize their content based on topic, audience or interest. For example – a travel blogger can now separate their topics by each trip they take, travel product recommendations and more.

Story highlights also allow for influencers to create lasting content for their affiliates and advertising partners that still have the in-the-moment aspect of stories but live permanently on their page, which is a win-win for both the influencer and the brand.

Linking in Stories

Up until May 2017, the only way users could share clickable links on Instagram was through their bios. Now, verified accounts and all business accounts with over 10,000 followers can include the option to “swipe up” to open URL links embedded in their Instagram stories.

The ability to add links within an Instagram story is a game-changer for companies trying to engage their followers while also driving ROI. For brands, linking in stories can help drive significant website traffic, promote anything the brand is trying to get its consumers to see, drive sales, and strengthen the audience’s brand journey.

For example, a jewelry brand can now link to its website from stories, giving viewers the chance to peruse their full product line, while providing a clear call to action for people to shop.

This feature creates new opportunities for brand partnerships and allows influencers to access click-through statistics from these links, which is another important metric to share with brands.

IGTV

Lastly, Instagram’s latest venture, IGTV, launched in June 2018. It challenges YouTube by allowing all types of accounts to create vertical videos going beyond 60 seconds through Instagram’s app or the web. Users can view the videos of those they already follow or visit the “Browse” tab for other recommended or popular videos.

IGTV also sends notifications when new content is uploaded, ensuring that everyone sees content without having to turn on post notifications. Our resident digital expert Abdul Muhammad II breaks it down here.

This feature provides a new avenue for content creators and brands. IGTV allows influencers to step into the longer-form content space, creating engaging, interactive content that harnesses more power than a single, static photo. It also creates a crossover for YouTube influencers to play in the Instagram space and gain a stronger following across platforms.

Some may even say IGTV is the first step towards Instagram eventually evolving into the TV of mobile. For marketers, this means unprecedented opportunities for creativity and message delivery through video content.

So, what’s next for Instagram? We’ve asked Abdul to weigh in on the next big thing:

“Instagram is going through a major content evolution and is looking to create a more e-commerce driven exchange that’s looking to pull people in and out of the app in a more streamlined way,” says Abdul Muhammad II, Chief Digital Officer & Partner at rbb. “Facebook has already started with 360 videos, but we’ll see a huge push towards integrating augmented reality and virtual reality into Instagram, so the engagement experience transcends filters on faces and becomes more real. Brands and users will now be able to create real community experiences contained inside the application. We’ll also start seeing more automated e-commerce-oriented customer support programs for businesses, and more legitimization of user profiles and metrics.”

With this knowledge of Instagram’s many applications for brands and businesses, stay tuned for our next post on tips for a successful brand partnership using Instagram!