New Instagram Features For Brands To Love And Hate

Instagram number of users

Instagram’s brand discovery game is strong.

According to Forbes, it’s the number one social platform where consumers discover new places, products and experiences. A strong Instagram presence contributes to brand awareness and lasting relationships with customers that drive long-term organic growth.

By the numbers, 80 percent of Instagram users connect with their favorite brands on the platform and engage with them 10 times more often than on Facebook, 54 times more often than on Pinterest and 84 times more often than on Twitter. Customers who follow a brand are 75 percent more likely to take action — i.e., make purchase decisions — based on content they consume through Instagram.

The pillars of a strong social media strategy haven’t changed — voice, targeting, aesthetic, content, consistency and collaborations, according to Forbes — but the tools continue to morph as Instagram makes micro-changes that affect how users experience and interact with the platform.

Some of these changes are for the better, some may be for the worse and some may just have people up in arms because there’s nothing the internet loves more than making a big stink out of small changes.


Activity Status

This seems to be the one people are most upset about. As of Jan. 18, users can now see the last time other users were actively using the app (at least, if they’re interacting directly on the platform’s private messaging channel).

In the Direct Messages folder, the activity status appears on a line beneath the username, similar to how the same activity information began to be displayed on Instagram parent Facebook’s direct messaging platform quite some time ago.

Coverage of this update has mostly centered on the degree to which the internet hates the new feature and how users can turn it off (head to Settings, scroll down to “Show Activity Status” and toggle it off). Gizmodo called the feature “humiliating,” Mashable cited it as a “powerful new way to stalk people” and Phandroid predicted the feature would sooner or later “ruin someone’s life.”

It’s unclear exactly what Instagram hoped to achieve with this feature. Perhaps it was just trying to be more like Facebook Messenger and Snapchat. Whatever the goal, all the rollout seems to have done is make a whole lot of people disproportionately angry.


Type Feature for Stories

Speaking of Snapchat, here’s yet another feature that Instagram has borrowed from its closest rival: the new “Type” feature that allows users to share text-only posts via Instagram Stories. Users can choose a blank, gradient or photo background and apply fonts or filters to emphasize the text.

Kind of ironic that the image-based platform that disrupted all of those text-based apps is now getting back to the roots of digital communication — albeit with a visual twist that’s strongly reminiscent of Facebook’s status text effect and animations.

Other Snapchat-like features that recently rolled out include notifications to the poster when someone takes a screenshot of their story and the ability to send live videos via direct message. notes that the Instagram/Snapchat copycat saga doesn’t bode well for the mother of all instant, self-destructing digital communication. Instagram has duplicated everything people loved about Snapchat. The Stories feature, in particular, pulled a huge swath of Snapchat users to Instagram.


GIF Search Engine

Within the Stories feature, there will reportedly be access to a GIF library that will allow users to overlay the animated loops onto their own images and videos. The capability, powered by a partnership with Giphy, has rolled out to users in Indonesia, the Philippines and Brazil so far.

Facebook has been allowing GIF comments powered by Giphy since last year. Users are accustomed to sharing GIFs on that platform as well as via text messaging platforms such as iMessage and, of course, Facebook Messenger. It was probably only a matter of time before Instagram, too, jumped on the Giphy bandwagon.


Follow Hashtags

Though not a new announcement, this update may be the most useful from a business perspective: Instagram now allows users to follow not only other users, but hashtags. This creates the opportunity to discover more photos, videos and accounts — belonging to either individuals or brands — related to topics and hobbies they’re interested in.

For brands using Instagram to cement their presence in consumer minds, this makes using the appropriate hashtag an even more critical strategy for discovery. It could also be a way to reach out to potential customers with adjacent interests. Brands could even create their own hashtags to get customers buzzing about their products.

To follow a hashtag, users tap on a hashtag from a post or search for a topic of interest. From the hashtag’s page, they can simply tap the follow button to see related content in their newsfeed.



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