When Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012, industry spectators were quick to weigh in on its future plans. But though the platform earned an impressive 100,000 users in its first week, no one could foresee the pace at which Instagram would evolve – or the colossal impact it would have in the years to come, both online and offline.
For Facebook, the impact of Instagram’s success has meant staying profitable and relevant even amid numerous scandals. However, the negative press surrounding Facebook and its CEO reportedly contributed to the departure of Instagram co-founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. In September 2018, the pair announced they were leaving Facebook due to increasing clashes with Mark Zuckerberg over Instagram’s future direction.
But for all of his flaws, Zuckerberg knows a viral product when he sees one. Originally sold for $1 billion, today, Instagram’s estimated worth is over $100 billion and remains a fast favourite among 18-29s, with millennials and Gen Z making up 59% of its 1 billion + users. As Instagram grows more essential to Facebook’s future plans in 2019 and beyond, we’ve begun to see a vast unbundling strategy emerge, which takes the core app’s most popular features and awards them their own standalone apps. And for brands and marketers, each development promises to present new challenges as well as massive opportunity.
1 – IGTV: the next-gen YouTube, or Instagram’s first failure?
In June, this strategy materialised in the form of IGTV – a dedicated hub for long-form, vertical video. And its surprise launch garnered plenty of hype. Our own data found that IGTV generated 188,669 mentions on Twitter between January 1st and August 1st, including 20,203 mentions on June 20 (the day of its launch) to beat fellow features Music Stickers, GIFs and Mention Stickers.
But despite initial buzz, interest has since fallen significantly. Media Chain head of innovation, George McGill, weighs in: “The fundamental reason why it hasn’t worked is that they’re trying to change user behaviour. Instagram and Facebook have spent the last 10 years destroying attention spans – literally scooping out your prefrontal cortex and throwing it on the floor. Now all of a sudden they expect people to go to IGTV and sit there for an hour.”
Ensuring IGTV’s mass adoption will be an uphill battle for the newly appointed head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri – but there is still hope. Though its view rates are modest compared to Stories, Instagram is yet to fail at anything. And if they can follow Facebook’s lead and entice celebrities with highly engaged followings, as we saw when Kim Kardashian was given her own show on Watch, they can use passion points to combat even the shortest attention spans.
Even as its fate unfolds, brands who take a chance on the new format still have little to lose and much to gain. As we saw with LIVE, those who approach the platform creatively will be rewarded by Instagram – and earn a real chance to establish themselves while competition is still relatively low. Simply settling for repurposed Stories content or forcing 16:9 video into a 9:16 frame just won’t cut it.
2 – IG Shopping: instant social commerce in the palm of your hand
Long-form video might not be where your mind goes when you think of Instagram, but the same can’t be said for commerce. In September 2018, reports emerged that Instagram was testing a standalone shopping app, named IG Shopping, following the success of Shoppable Tags in the Feed and in Stories. A dedicated commerce hub is a no-brainer for the platform; users are already content using Instagram to pick up their new pair of Steve Maddens, while more than 25 million Instagram accounts are business profiles and 2 million are advertisers.
Though its launch date is yet to be confirmed, IG Shopping has the potential to be Instagram’s most successful venture to date, not only allowing the platform to provide a home for an increasingly popular activity on Instagram but also dramatically expanding its revenue stream. And for advertisers, the potential to promote their products within a space where consumers are already in a mindset to purchase means chances of conversion will increase tenfold.
It has also been rumoured that Instagram is testing a native payments feature which would complement the shopping service, rivalling companies like Shopify and allowing Instagram to capture users’ financial data – something Facebook has long sought access to. But with Facebook’s use of our personal information still in the spotlight, Mark Zuckerberg is taking full advantage of the fact that 57% of Americans are clueless that Instagram is owned by Facebook, according to a survey by DuckDuckGo.
3 – Instagram Direct: the final nail in Snapchat’s coffin
And finally, Direct. As the first Instagram feature to be trialled as its own standalone app (tests were first announced in December 2017) we can expect that Instagram’s dedicated direct messaging app will experience a full roll-out in 2019. And, along with IGTV and IG Shopping, it will unite the holy trinity of digital: entertainment, commerce and communication.
For select users in Chile, Israel, Italy, Portugal, Turkey, and Uruguay who already have the app installed, the inbox is gone entirely from Instagram. The move is reminiscent of Facebook’s launch of Messenger in 2014, when the company shut off messaging inside the core app – forcing users to download its new product. The Facebook CEO said at the time: “On mobile, each app can only focus on doing one thing well. Asking folks to install another app is a short-term painful thing, but if we wanted to focus on serving this [use case] well, we had to build a dedicated and focused experience.”
But Direct differentiates from Messenger in one key way: it opens directly to the camera. Sound familiar? If Instagram Stories wasn’t enough, Instagram Direct will be the final nail in Snapchat’s coffin, cloning its USP as a camera-first, private communication tool. Hemal Shah, an Instagram product manager, explains: “Direct has grown within Instagram over the past four years, but we can make it even better if it stands on its own. We can push the boundaries to create the fastest and most creative space for private sharing when Direct is a camera-first, standalone app.”
The Adam Mosseri effect? Instagram’s new ‘head of’ will cement Facebook’s grip on Instagram
Facebook learned quickly from its own unbundling strategy that one app can’t do everything you need it to, or it becomes slow and bloated. By highlighting popular features and giving them their own homes in which to thrive, it creates a better experience for users, improving engagement and adding scope for monetisation. And with Systrom and Krieger out of the picture, ex-Facebook exec, Adam Mosseri and by extension, Mark Zuckerberg, now has full creative control over the platform. In 2019, Instagram will be closer to Facebook than it’s ever been. And with continued investment in artificial intelligence and augmented reality, we can expect IGTV, IG Shopping and Direct are just the beginning of Instagram’s plans for digital domination.
Our COO and co-founder Dominic McGregor concludes: “Instagram’s focus on commerce, combined with the overwhelming popularity of Stories and now vertical video in IGTV, has been crucial. When it comes to innovation and knowing what today’s users want, Instagram wins every time.”
Instagram’s monthly active users are expected to grow at 33% during the next two years, while its average revenue per user is predicted to grow by 7% per quarter in line with Facebook, as Forbes reports 98% of advertisers on Facebook also advertise on Instagram.