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The Evolution of Instagram and What it Means for Brands

Social media has spurred a revolution in branding and advertising. As younger consumers have become distrustful of traditional forms of marketing, brands are engaging with them in new ways with content that is native to the social platforms users already know and love.

And no other channel has done it better than Instagram. The ever-popular, highly visual mobile app has made it easier for brands to reach audiences with relevant content in multiple formats, presenting more opportunities than ever to spread awareness, showcase products, and make sales.

This year, Instagram reached 700 million daily users and 1 million unique advertisers, and it’s become the No. 1 platform for influencer marketing. In the past year, Instagram has rolled out a series of updates that allow brands to take advantage of shifting consumer preferences to create a better experience both for users and businesses.

To help keep track of the platform’s evolution, here are some of the key updates that have made Instagram so popular with brands:

Instagram Stories

Heavily inspired by Snapchat’s rapid growth, Instagram Stories have become even more popular than the platform after which they were modeled. Currently, Stories has 250 million daily users, compared to Snapchat’s 166 million daily active users, as reported in May. Additionally, one-third of the top-viewed Stories on Instagram belong to business profiles, making Stories a viable tool for engagement. Interestingly, Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Dior, and Christian Louboutin are currently the fashion brands with the highest engagement rate on the app’s Stories feature.

Why Vertical Video?

Stories, like Snapchat, has catapulted the viability of vertical video as a content format. And while video shot vertically was taboo a few years ago, its rapid growth makes sense due to mobile proliferation. Think about it. Holding a phone vertically is far more comfortable than holding it horizontally, whether you are filming or viewing a video. In essence, short-format video is entirely native to mobile, and presents an opportunity for brands to explore new ways of communicating with their audiences. Plus, Instagram displays Stories at the top of the app as they’re posted or updated, giving better visibility to new posts. This is important to mention because organic reach on feeds for businesses is expected to dwindle on Instagram, as it has done on Facebook. Regularly posting Stories can help brands stay at top-of-mind with unpaid posts.

With Olapic’s Content in Motion technology, you can use your existing images to create dynamic animations – a perfect use case for Instagram Stories and Stories Ads (much more on ads later). This allows you to make on-brand creative at scale, without having to reinvent the wheel with your existing assets.

Once your Story is posted, you can save it to use as a regular post or an ad so that a great piece of content is never wasted.

Location and Live Stories

One of the newer features on Stories is the addition of locations, letting users tag your business in their stories and allowing viewers to tap on the location for more information. This makes user-generated content more effective for your business by spreading brand awareness and adding to your following. With the location feature, users can find you with one click instead of having to search for your profile.

Instagram is also helping brands call attention with Live Videos. If there’s an event or demonstration that you want to show your audience in real time, you can broadcast a Live Video and it will send notifications to your users. Given that no one likes getting constant notifications, brands should save this feature for only truly engaging video. But when it is appropriate, it can also be effective marketing. Additionally, as with regular Stories, your Live broadcasts can also be saved for future use.

New Ad Formats

In 2016, Instagram brought in over $1.53 billion in ad revenue worldwide, a 144 percent increase from 2015, according to the International Business Times. This year, eMarketer projects it will make $2.81 billion in advertising, with more than 70 percent of U.S. companies using the platform for marketing (though not necessarily advertising).  

Instagram’s growing popularity as an ad platform is likely to be fueled by its expansion in capabilities and formats available to brands. Moreover, users are more likely to see and engage with creative that’s dynamic, unique, and entertaining.

Instagram Stories Ads

If you want to make sure your Stories reach a certain number of people or a specific audience, and you want to see metrics on them – including views, traffic, conversions, and mobile app installs – then Stories Ads are the way to go. In June, Instagram made these metrics available for Stories Ads, allowing businesses to view performance on different creative assets – an essential feature for brands that want to measure and optimize ad performance and track their cost of acquisition.

Additionally, brands with more than 100,000 followers can now include links in their Stories Ads, which lets them send users directly to their mobile site from Instagram. The feature is expected to be rolled out for all business profiles, so keep an eye out for the hyperlink icon at the top of the page when you create your Stories.

Lead Ads and Multiple Image and Video Formats

Brands that want to collect leads now have a better way of doing so, with Instagram Lead Ads. Instead of sending users to your site, this ad format sends them to a form where they enter their name and contact info. This is a great solution for brands looking to expand their email list with targeted campaigns or contests.

E-commerce and lifestyle brands are already taking advantage of the new Carousel ad format, which lets you to post up to 10 images or videos per ad. The format is perfectly in-line with native use, and lets you easily display whole collections or lookbooks in one post. It’s the easiest way to reach a wide audience with a range of products or messages, so use it wisely and use it often. Brands also can diversify their creative approach and demonstrate the varied usages of their products through this feature.

Shoppable Instagram

Because it’s a highly visual platform, Instagram is ideal for fashion, beauty, and lifestyle companies. Now, brands can use the app as their own interactive catalog, though it is still a limited group that has access at this time. Best of all? It’s a free feature (at least for now).

Shoppable posts let brands tag specific products within posts, and when a user taps on that tag, they are shown product details. They can then click through the product description with a “Show Now” link that takes them directly to e-commerce sites.

It’s an intuitive and user-friendly way to showcase products and, when paired with Olapic’s Inspire technology, creates a seamless experience for users. Similar to Shoppable posts, Inspire creates an overlay of hotspots on top of images – whether on the homepage, product pages, or in lookbooks – that lets viewers click on individual products and view details.

Together, Shoppable posts and Inspire can ensure that your audience doesn’t have to scroll through product categories to find merch they see in your site images, creating a friction-free shopping experience.

Collections and Saved Posts

Further improving the shopping experience, your followers can easily save your posts and ads via Collections and Saved Posts, because sometimes the customer journey is much longer than two clicks. With Collections, they can organize their saved posts into categories, similar to Pinterest boards. Saved Posts is a simpler feature that allows users to tap the flag icon in the lower righthand corner to bookmark your post for later reference.

These features mean that your individual posts may see long-term conversions. As with Pinterest, it’s common for people to save a post, think about it for a while, then go back to their collections before finally making a purchase. Collections and Saved Posts give your images staying power in a world of fleeting impressions.

As a strategic Facebook partner, we can’t wait to see what else the platform rolls out to make the lives of shoppers and brands just a little bit easier. Working together, we aim to give people relevant, engaging content that inspires them to become not just shoppers, but brand evangelists.


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