What Instagram marketers need to know
Passing one billion active monthly users in 2018, Instagram is one of the fastest-growing social media platforms, offering increasing opportunities for businesses to connect with audiences.
2019 saw a number of significant changes to the platform and the Instagram algorithm that have impacted on marketing, for better or worse, with more in the development and testing phases hinting at what's to come.
If you use Instagram marketing for your business, or you're looking to get started, these are the key updates from 2019 that you need to know about.
1. Likes made private
The most dramatic change to Instagram in early 2019 was the removal of 'Likes' from public view. This measure of a post's popularity was a valuable metric for advertisers, influencers and general users, allowing them to compare at a glance which content on the platform was the most popular and engaging.
However, Likes also encouraged a culture of vanity, bullying and disreputable practices such as buying Likes. This informed Instagram's decision to remove the metric, saying they wanted users to judge content on its own merits, rather than for its popularity.
Content creators can still view Likes on their own posts, but not those of competitors. You can also still see which individual users liked a post. While the long-term impact of hiding Likes remains to be seen, this change has seen Instagram marketers paying more attention to interactions to get feedback on their content's success.
2. Branded Content ads
Following its success on Facebook, Branded Content ads were introduced to Instagram from June. Marketers can partner with influencers and other established content creators to share their own content to a wider audience, providing a link to their profile underneath for transparency. These ads are controlled via the Facebook ads platform and can be run as either feed or Stories ads.
3. In-app Checkout
Instagram introduced its Checkout feature in March that means users can now make purchases inside the app. Before, shoppable posts would redirect customers to external ecommerce sites. The in-app checkout breaks down the barriers to sales, improving the chance of conversions.
Instagram's Checkout can save customer information, making it quicker and more convenient to make purchases from different brands and reassuring users that their data is secure.
4. Creator Profiles and marketing tools
Many brands advertising on Instagram have found using influencers and KOLs more effective than traditional ads, as they offer a wider reach and higher engagement and conversions.
Instagram has recognized this by launching a new Creator Profile that gives influential creators access to similar analytics to business accounts. These can provide a more detailed breakdown on their audience and how well posts are performing, which can be shared with business partners.
Another feature previously exclusive to business users, influencers can now tag shoppable products from brands in their images, directing customers to Instagram Checkout if they want to make a purchase.
5. More targeted content
The 2019 algorithm update has made several significant changes to the way Instagram marketing should be done. One is a stronger emphasis on presenting users with content that matches their interests, based on analysis of posts they've liked, left comments on, shared, or viewed multiple times.
To improve your chances of appearing in users' feeds, it's now more important than ever to do your research and create content that your target audience(s) will be interested in. Investigate who your audience is following and interacting with and keep on top of the latest trends to make sure you're creating appealing and engaging content.
6. Longer engagement
By hiding Likes and providing users with more personalized recommendations, Instagram is encouraging people to spend longer using the app. This is good news for marketers, as there's more chance of people seeing your ads, but it's also suspected that Instagram gives a boost to more substantial content that keeps audiences engaged for longer.
While short content such as Stories is still valuable for targeting mobile users in a rush, this should be mixed with longer descriptions and videos.
7. Timing matters
Instagram users are always looking for the latest content, and the algorithm update has made sure they get it by prioritizing the most recent posts. To make sure your content is seen by as many people as possible, you need to post when they're online, or just before – not several hours before, or your content could quickly get buried.
Instagram analytics will give you an idea of when your audience tends to be online, in hourly intervals. You can use third party apps that give a more precise breakdown, if you want to reach your audience when they go on their breaks.
8. Build relationships
Another focus of Instagram's updates this year has been strengthening relationships, so users see more content from the creators they're most interested in. This is determined by analyzing direct messages, mutual tagging and other two-way interactions.
Getting involved with your audience will improve the chance of your content appearing in their feeds. Spending some time replying to their comments, checking out their content and interacting in other ways can help your ads to reach more people – if this level of interaction is appropriate for your brand personality.
9. Camera simplified
With Instagram being a visual platform, many businesses are concerned that they won't have enough images to post. The update to Instagram Camera has fixed that, making it easy to post alternative content such as text, stickers, doodles and quizzes, all of which are likely to be more engaging than a boring stock photo.
10. More integration with Facebook
Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp are becoming more closely knit, with admins now able to access and reply to Instagram messages through their Facebook inbox. This can save the time and hassle of having to check multiple apps if you're managing your own social media profiles. This feature is currently available on mobile only, but expected to be rolled out to desktop soon.
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