Instagram is thriving as a social media platform and seems to be going from strength to strength. While the company has slowed releasing user numbers since it passed one billion monthly active users, there is little doubt that follower numbers are still increasing.
Instagram hasn’t rested on its laurels either. They are continually testing and introducing new features, in some cases, trying to replicate (or even improve) on some of the most popular features of their competing social channels. Instagram Stories is now such an essential part of the social network that it is easy to forget that when Instagram introduced them, many considered them to be just a replication of what SnapChat had to offer.
This post looks at all of the recent significant updates and changes to Instagram. We’ve gone back to Instagram updates made as early as January 2019, and we will continue to update this post regularly in the future to keep you up-to-date with this ever-changing social platform.
New Instagram Updates:
Shopping Posts Tested as Ads
Instagram is currently testing the ability for shopping businesses to run their existing shopping posts as ads. Currently, a few selected companies can test this experience in-feed. Shoppers who tap on these ads are taken to a product description page within Instagram, and they can then proceed to purchase from the business’ mobile site.
The only real difference, from a consumer’s point of view, between these ads and the original shopping posts, is the use of the “Sponsored” tag.
Instagram and IGTV Now Supported in Facebook’s Creator Studio
In some ways, Instagram and IGTV have been harder to use than many of the other social apps. Until relatively recently, there were limitations on what you could do from a Desktop computer. You had to use the mobile app for many essential activities. As we have commented in some of our reviews of the social media management platforms, it can even be harder to schedule Instagram posts on these sites because of limitations caused by Instagram’s API. Some of the platforms still just send you a reminder when it’s time to schedule a post and require you to use your Instagram mobile app to make the post physically.
Instagram is improving the situation, however. They recognize that for many marketers, it is much easier to use a desktop computer to create and schedule your content. One recent significant advancement is that Facebook’s Creator Studio now supports Instagram and IGTV.
Once you’ve linked your Instagram account to your Facebook Page, you can now create, upload, and schedule content on your desktop computer for publication on Instagram and IGTV.
You can also use Creator Studio to manage your Instagram direct messages.
Instagram Cracks Down on Meme Accounts
Instagram carried out a “meme purge” in July 2019, “permanently suspending” many accounts with large followings. These accounts had a combined reach of over 30 million followers.
Many of these accounts were part of networks of meme accounts that cross-promoted each other. According to Insider, “for around $150-$200, an Instagram user could buy a 24-hour promotional post from the network, which would then promote the user on around three different accounts.” One of the accountholders told Insider, “he was able to make anywhere between $50 and $400 a day when he partook in selling promotions through his network, and that he was on track to make $30,000 annually in 2020.”
Facebook/Instagram denied that the accounts were deleted for selling promotions, saying that they were removed for violating other unspecified terms.
Some people believe that the accounts were banned because meme accounts tend to repost other peoples’ content, without attribution.
People have observed that the accounts that were taken down promoted individual Instagram users. The accounts that survived appear to operate independently as an advertising agency.
As a result of a public outcry about Instagram’s actions, Instagram has now stated that it intends to set up a partnerships manager to focus exclusively on managing meme accounts and dealing with digital publishers.
Instagram Stories Chat Stickers
Instagram continues to roll out interesting new stickers for its Stories. The latest is the Chat sticker. This allows a person’s followers to join a group chat.
If somebody includes a Chat sticker in their Story, their friends can tap the sticker and request to join the Chat. The poster can decide who they want to be part of the Chat, and they host it in their direct messages inbox. The host can also end the Chat whenever they desire.
The Chat feature is probably more useful for people interacting with their real friends on Instagram. It has less use for marketers than many of the other recent stickers. It could be challenging for people with large followings if too many people request to join their Chat.
If you were to use this sticker for marketing, it would be best to limit its use to Stories targeted at very narrow niches; other chats could quickly become unmanageable.
Ad Placements in Explore Section
Instagram has now made it possible to include ads in the Explore section. The Explore section gives a customized curation of content to each user, based on how Instagram views that person’s interests. When a user clicks into a post, Instagram shows him or her a further feed of posts on a similar topic.
With the recent change, users will now see ads interspersed with organic posts in the feeds shown in the Explore section. This change applies to IGTV, as well as your main Instagram feed.
Stories Camera Stores Content Longer
Until recently, the in-app camera in Instagram Stories only kept images for 24 hours – much like Instagram Stories itself. This time limit was from when you took a photograph, even if you didn’t upload it into a Story until later, or indeed use it at all.
This meant that if an Instagrammer took photos for their Stories, they had to finish the process within 24 hours. It was all too easy to take pictures for a Story, get distracted, and then find that your photographs had disappeared before you could use them.
Possibly recognizing this problem, Instagram has made a change and now saves content from the Instagram Stories camera for seven days – giving ample time for creators and brands to convert the images they take into a finished Story.
Instagram Expands Like Removal
Instagram began testing removing Likes from posts. The initial trial was in Canada, but they later expanded the experiment to include Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Japan, and New Zealand. We have covered this in more detail in Instagram’s Experiments With Removing Like Counts. Is Life Over for Influencers?
The new feature hides users’ public like counts on videos and photos in the feed, on the web, and within profiles. Instagram says they are making this trial to force users to concentrate on creating better content rather than just worrying about whether the content they share generates numerous likes. They hope this will help mental health, with fewer people worrying that not enough people like their posts.
The change is potentially problematic for influencer marketing, however. It may make it more difficult for some people to find Instagram influencers. It is harder to gauge how engaged an influencer’s community is.
Updated Brand Policies and Pre-Ban Warnings
Instagram has made some changes to its Account Disable Policy. The changes also apply to big brother, Facebook. They want to ensure Instagram (and Facebook) is a supportive place for everyone. They believe the changes will make it easier for them to quickly detect and remove accounts that repeatedly violate their policies.
Until now, they have disabled accounts that had a certain percentage of violating content. With the new policy, in addition to removing accounts with a certain percentage of violating content, they are removing accounts with a certain number of violations within a window of time.
At the same time, Instagram introduced a new notification process to help people understand if their account is at risk of being disabled. It offers the opportunity to appeal content deleted. The first areas that provide for appeals are deletions made relating to nudity and pornography, bullying and harassment, hate speech, drug sales, and counter-terrorism policies. Instagram signposted that they will expand the appeals process further over time.
Instagram says that If any content is found to have been removed in error, they will restore the post and remove the violation from the account’s record.
Horizontal Video Added to IGTV
When IGTV began, one of its more unusual product “features” was a requirement that all the videos uploaded had to be in a vertical format. We’ve gone through much of history watching horizontal videos (think cinema screen, television, and YouTube videos). Still, most Instagrammers use their phones, and the bulk hold it vertically, even when filming a video.
Instagram says it has heeded the requests of its creators to be able to upload horizontal (landscape) videos. “We’ve heard from creators who want to upload landscape videos for IGTV. Similarly, we’ve heard from viewers who come across landscape videos in IGTV but want to watch them in a more natural way.”
Instagram compares the widening of IGTV to more than just vertical video as being equivalent to when they opened the Instagram main feed to more than only square photos in 2015.
Branded Content Ads
Advertisers can now promote creators’/influencers’ branded content posts in their feeds and Stories. With branded content ads, businesses have an opportunity to tell their brand stories through creators’ and influencers’ voices.
When these ads appear in-feed and in Stories, people see “Paid partnership with” along with the brand name on each post.
Branded content creators need to enable their business partners to promote their post or Story as an ad. They can do that in Advanced Settings. Once they do this, the business partner will see the post on Ads Manager under existing posts, and they can choose to run it as an ad in their feed or in the Stories format.
Instagram Stories Quiz Stickers
Instagram has added another sticker for Stories – the Quiz sticker. This lets people and brands ask their followers a multiple-choice question in their Story. As people answer the question, the Instagrammer who asked the question can see the results in real-time.
Instagram Stories Donation Stickers
Instagram has now rolled out its Donations Sticker to a broader audience. This is designed as a tool for non-profits to earn money. The Donation sticker connects to the non-profit organizations’ bank accounts.
This sticker is only available to accredited, verified non-profit organizations.
People who see this sticker in a Story can click on the sticker and donate to the charity in just a few steps.
Polling in Sponsored Stories
Instagram has continuously updated the interactive elements in its Instagram Stories – they have been one fo the app’s greatest success stories. 60% of those businesses that use Instagram Stories use some interactive elements in their Stories.
Instagram began a beta launch where advertisers could use a polling sticker in ads. The early trial advertisers saw good returns. Dunkin’ achieved a 20% lower cost-per-video-view using the polling sticker, and Next Games’ polling ad drove 40% more app installs.
Instagram users are familiar with the Polling sticker and are happy to engage with brands that use it.
Native Instagram Checkouts
Instagram made a significant usability upgrade for online commerce back in March 2019 with the introduction of checkout on Instagram. It means that users can now buy items they love directly within Instagram, without having to leave the app.
If you see a product you like within Instagram with the checkout feature, you will see a “Checkout on Instagram” button on the product page. You can tap it to select from various options such as size or color, and can then proceed to payment without leaving Instagram. You will only need to enter your name, email, billing information, and shipping address the first time you check out. Your information will be securely saved for convenience the next time you shop. You’ll also receive notifications about shipment and delivery right inside Instagram so that you can keep track of your purchase.
Checkout on Instagram began as a closed beta for selected businesses and people in the US; however, it will undoubtedly expand its availability over time.
Improved IGTV Search Functionality
Despite IGTV not yet showing evidence of being a YouTube-killer, Instagram isn’t giving up on the app, however. Indeed they are continuing to work on improving its user-friendliness, trying to make it more popular with its users.
Instagram has altered IGTV’s layout, which includes much-improved search functionality. It also includes suggested channels and a fresher profile layout.
Instagram Removes Self Harm Videos
In early 2019 Instagram took a proactive action to improve internet safety, particularly for troubled people considering self-harm and suicide. They made several changes along those lines. They no longer allow any graphic images of self-harm, such as cutting on Instagram. They also won’t show non-graphic, self-harm related content – such as healed scars – in search, hashtags, and the Explore tab, and they won’t recommend it. They now have more resources for people posting and searching for self-harm related content and directing them to organizations that can help.
IGTV Previews in Main Feed
Instagram introduced IGTV as a standalone app. There was some integration with Instagram, but initially, the only real connection was that your Instagram followers would receive a notification if you uploaded new material to IGTV.
Instagram has expanded this integration now to including previews of new IGTV videos in your Instagram main feed. You can now share a one-minute preview of your full video when you upload it. This includes a link to “Watch Full Video.” Anybody who clicks on that link is taken directly to your IGTV video.
Instagram Video Scheduling
Many social media management platforms were slow to add Instagram functionality. To a large extent, this was because of limitations to Instagram’s API. The whole Cambridge Analytica scandal had a massive effect on Facebook and Instagram, in terms of information sharing, and they now vet more closely apps that want access to your data.
Towards the end of 2018, Instagram modified its API to make it easier for “approved” social media management tools to share video content – until then, you could only schedule static image posts from within these platforms.
You Can Share Normal Instagram Posts to Multiple Accounts
In an unusual move, Instagram has made it easier to share a post via multiple Instagram accounts. The strangest part of this is that it follows closely Twitter banning precisely that kind of activity.
Of course, just because you can share the same post to multiple Instagram accounts doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. You will probably get better overall engagement if you tailor each account to suit its audience.
This effectively makes it easier for you to regram your content across other accounts you may control. We have previously written about how you can regram content on Instagram – a far rarer occurrence than retweeting on Twitter, for instance.
It may be useful if you run separate Instagram accounts for different divisions of an organization, e.g., accounts for male clothing and female clothing of one label. You could even use it for different geographical regions, e.g., you operate separate UK, and US Instagram accounts for one organization.
Instagram Stories Question Stickers
Instagram added to the capabilities of the Instagram Stories Questions sticker. People can now respond to questions with a song from the music library. Your friends can help you find the perfect music tracks, in response to your question.
You see the music icon when you use the questions sticker. When your friends respond, they can choose a song directly from the music library to share with you. Open the viewer’s list to see all their responses, and tap the play button to listen to the songs. When you share your favorites to your Story, you can capture a photo or video as the music plays in the background. You can also see new effects in the camera that react with the beats and sounds of a song.
As well as being part of an Instagram Story, you can also now use the Question Sticker on Instagram Live. To ask a question and have it answered Live, go to someone’s Story and respond to their questions sticker as you usually would. If they go Live to answer, you will see “Q&A” in your stories tray. Join the Live video, and you will see the question they are answering at that moment.
Instagram Stories Countdown Stickers
Instagram introduced a new interactive countdown sticker in Instagram Stories at the end of 2018. You can build excitement with friends while you count down to any upcoming moment. You add a Countdown Sticker to your Story by selecting it from the sticker tray after taking a photo or video. Name your countdown, add an end date or time, and customize the color before sharing to your Story. After you’ve created a countdown, it will be available in your sticker tray to reuse in new stories until the countdown ends. Anyone who follows or shares your countdown receives a notification when the countdown ends.