What are the Instagram new features in Search and Explore, why is Instagram releasing them, and what do these new features mean for businesses?
Instagram as a Major Social Network
Instagram has emerged as a dominant social network over the last few years currently having more than 300 million members. It has remained a completely separately entity from its owner, Facebook, but recently has pursued a similar approach to monetizing its network: Paid advertising.
Instagram has been able to grow so quickly and gain a fanatical following because it was built for the smartphone where we are now taking a majority of our pictures (anyone use a point-and-shoot camera these days?), is extremely simple to use and create a “beautiful photo” with built-in settings and filters, and makes it easy to both follow friends and block those you don’t want to be friends with.
Instagram emerged as a simple app, and similar to the simple app we used to call Twitter, it only had a simple search functionality.
Instagram at a (Monetization) Crossroads
For Instagram to grow to the next level, just like any other social network. they needed to make their platform more “open” and make it an even stickier and more addictive “killer app” so that it will, at the end of the day, generate more advertising revenue and attract more advertisers. While this has not been announced as the reason behind the new features, its connection will be made apparent by the end of this article.
Instagram New Features
Just announced recently with the release of Instagram 7.0, Instagram’s new Search and Explore functionality does just what it is intended to do: Allow you to search and explore Instagram far better and deeper than you could before. If you haven’t checked it out yet, make sure you upgrade to the new version and simply go to the “Search” icon where you’ll see the old search bar at top, but below that and prominently you’ll see three new sections:
A Rotating Explore Bar at the top introducing “categories” of photos, which on my app currently shows Discover New People, Explore Trending Places, Extreme Athletes, Towering Rocks, and NBA Rising Stars. It will be interesting to see how these change over time and how they will be customized based on who I follow and what images I engage with and/or take.
Trending Tags, a similar concept to trending topics in Twitter.
Explore Posts, which displays posts based on photos that you already liked on Instagram.
When you select the search bar or enter a search term directly, you will now see that Instagram helps to organize your results beyond merely People and Tags by offering search results representing Places as well as organizing all of these into a Top section to help you find the best result at one glance.
How Instagram Search Evolves
The fact that there are new featured categories, trending hashtags, and similar photos that you like being introduced to you before you do any searches will make it easy for more photos to get exposed to more Instagram users. Furthermore, the addition of the Places category in search results, the sample for “disney” shown below, gives users a whole new way to search for inspiration for their future travels as if they were searching for pins on Pinterest.
As you can imagine, all of these new areas that appear give Instagram new areas in which they can monetize their platform by encouraging businesses to advertise in support of one of the following:
- Sponsored feature
- Sponsored trending hastag
- Sponsored recommendation
- Sponsored place
Of course, none of these have been announced yet, and I only conjecture, but it is a natural and seamless way to give advertisers more advertising options that will hopefully be seen from the user perspective as being of great utility, a win-win-win for all.
What Businesses Must Do to Stay Ahead
Instagram does not yet have a self-service advertising platform like Facebook has, and it has taken Facebook one or two years to make it simple enough for small businesses to use. Until that happens, those who benefit from these Instagram new features will be the big businesses, celebrities, and agencies who can afford to advertise on the platform and see engagement there as being strategic.
For the smaller business, there will still be plenty of organic opportunities to appear in more searches. Think about it: Instagram does not have a newsfeed algorithm like Facebook has, but with more users being exposed to more photos, it is only a matter of time before their news feeds get more crowded similar to what we have seen happen on Twitter.
For smaller businesses to truly stand out and take advantage of these new features, they will need to do a combination of the following:
- Maintain if not increase frequency of publishing to maintain mindshare in the newsfeed and increase chances that their photos appear in search
- Better categorize their photos for appropriate hashtags to appear in relevant searches
- Be cognizant of the trending hashtags to look for relevant “hashjacking” opportunities
- Begin to have a location-based approach to your images, ensuring that they appear in relevant local searches on places
- If you have a physical location which can be tagged on Instagram, you absolutely want to take more tagged photos as well as encourage and provide incentive for your customers to tag your location as much as possiboe as well
Should Instagram open up their advertising platform to smaller businesses as is expected, it will provide similar opportunities like Facebook does to micro-target your ideal audience. Until that happens, smaller businesses will have to work smarter organically.
At the end of the day, to succeed on Instagram or anywhere in social media marketing, you need to create deeper relationships within the community in which you wish to engage. These Instagram new features, or changes to any social network, are all the same and will require you to invest more time to better understand and engage with your community. After all, when you look at the “All” search results for “disney,” there’s probably a reason why @disney_derek, @disney_facts1257, and @disneytopsecrets appear in the first few search results. Your job now is to find out why and ensure you are doing the right things to appear top in search for keywords that are relevant to your business.
What do you think of the Instagram new features? Any other unforeseen benefits for businesses that I missed?