It introduced the world to the square photo format back in 2010, and the love affair with Instagram began. A photo-sharing phenom where visual mobile content – beautiful lifestyle imagery, food porn and perfectly filtered selfies – provided a respite for younger generations who preferred sharing without the watchful eyes of their parents, who had found their way to Facebook.
When the platform was purchased by Facebook six years ago, the acquisition was an assumed response to Facebook hitting its saturation point and its inability to continue growing at such high rates. And, it was assumed by many that the digital conglomerate that had been snapping up entities like the popular WhatsApp Messenger and Oculus might ignore the unique user base and identity held by Instagram, fold it into the Facebook machine, and “ruin” the app that 30 million users (the user base at the time of acquisition) had grown to love.
Besides changes in the platform’s feed ranking algorithm, which are always controversial across any social platform, the news has remained pretty positive, especially for brands. Under Facebook’s rule, Instagram’s growth has exploded, scaling much more quickly than the platform could have done without the resources provided by its new parent, landing at a billion users earlier this year. The parent’s talent, resources and infrastructure have opened the doors for monetization through display and video ads, seamless shopping through feed posts and Stories (plus a rumored stand-alone shopping app in the works) and prominent influencer integrations. All in all, Facebook has helped transform Instagram into a highly effective marketing powerhouse for brands and businesses.
When it was recently announced that Instagram’s founders had resigned and a Facebook veteran would take the reins, the conversation and questions about the future of Instagram were reignited. Will the autonomy Instagram once had disappear? Will the anticipated increase in Instagram advertising reduce the platform’s cool factor and send the younger generation seeking another social platform, like they did with Facebook? Anything is possible. There’s always a risk of platform parting, but that could happen for any number of reasons, including a shinier new platform or technology waiting in the wings.
Integration doesn’t necessarily mean cloning, so despite the likelihood that Instagram will be more closely rooted in the Facebook family, and more heavily borrow from Facebook’s functionality, tools and monetization mentality, the platform’s place within the portfolio as a conduit to younger generations and a cash cow hasn’t gone unnoticed (with Instagram expected to bring in $20 billion of Facebook’s revenue by 2020). Not to mention the glaring differences in which consumers interact and engage on the two platforms. Facebook is extremely efficient at driving users off-platform, whereas Instagram shines at keeping them put, including through new introductions like IGTV.
In the same way that Facebook continues to be a strong opportunity for many brands despite its changes, shifts and iterations – consider that last year alone, Facebook advertisers increased spend by almost 50% to nearly $40 billion – Instagram will likely continue to serve its role within the socialsphere for years to come. The demographic may shift slightly, new social platforms may emerge, but that’s the typical circle of life in the digital age. So instead of worrying that Instagram will self-implode, take solace in the fact that under Facebook’s singular rule, there will likely be more opportunities to reach audiences through increased ad placements against the platform’s already robust targeting, and a more aggressive push to grow and keep the younger user base and overall reach. So for marketers, maybe the future of Instagram shouldn’t seem so bad after all.