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As Instagram celebrated its 10th birthday last week it’s astonishing to consider the extent of its impact on all our lives.Over the course of a decade, Instagram has evolved from a simple photo-sharing app to a multi-faceted social networking service – a hub of communication, self-expression and entertainment with over 1 billion active users.From its early days, Instagram has connected communities with their passions in a purely visual manner: enter the era of oversharing and an endless scroll of images. At first, with a feed of pristinely filtered main-feed visuals, then adding ephemeral Stories to rival Snap Chat for personality-driven raw and snackable content, then IGTV for long-form video content aimed at superfans and now the TikTok rival – Reels. Instagram has created a place for people to craft and command the narrative around their lives whether it be celebrities like Beyonce controlling the flow of their own news or Cara Delevingne giving her fans behind the scenes and unfiltered access, humanising the world of fashion for the everyman/average joe to see for the very first time.
This rich variety of surfaces for visual storytelling has established Instagram as probably the most significant tool in a brand’s marketing arsenal. Not only has Instagram enabled heritage fashion brands like Gucci or Burberry to develop a sense of personality and 360 lifestyle that consumers want to buy into, but it’s been the catalyst for the development of countless DTC brands that were built on the platform – from Glossier and Huda Beauty to Casper mattresses, Warby Parker eyewear, Good American denim and more. If you have a distinct visual identity and TOV, Instagram enables you to build awareness and amass a huge following of potential consumers at no cost.
In addition, the latest developments in Instagram Shopping and Facebook Shops have opened up new doors for emerging brands (and talent) to enter the world of e-commerce without investing in costly website design. With every step, Instagram is facilitating a more friction-free shopping experience – blurring the line between content and commerce.
Alongside enabling brands to build new content streams and commerce opportunities, Instagram has also birthed the era of influencers and social stars. The definition of talent is no longer restricted to the red carpets of Hollywood but to any individual with a smartphone, something to say and the commitment to producing regular content. These people of influence have grown followings into the millions and through commanding fees for sponsored content have been able to make careers out of their presence on the platform.
Alongside digitally native content creators who have found fame on the platform, more traditional talent have also used the app to further their profile and build awareness. Designer Virgil Abloh has leveraged the star-making potential of the app to become a “god-like” representation of digital-era success. Abloh encapsulates the self-made mindset of Instagram’s core Millennial audience, delivering powerful messages to the platform’s young entrepreneurs, proclaiming “you can do it too”.
Enter revolution Gen Z: the world’s teens who are commanding an audience on a global scale and driving conversations – from breaking beauty taboos to saving the environment. No longer are these conversations exclusive to the upper echelons of the business and political elite, but are being spearheaded by the likes of smart youngsters such as Greta Thunberg who in just a short period of time became the global figurehead for climate action. A year after opening her Instagram account, Greta’s influence manifested into actionable change; on Friday, March 15, 2019 more than a million students took part in 2,000 protests in 125 countries – from Albania and Kyrgyzstan to Peru, Thailand and Zambia – in the first Global Climate Strike for Future – #FridaysForFuture.
During the new-norm of 2020 lockdown while screen time was at a high, influencers and talent were seeing ever greater levels of engagement on Instagram. Whilst many users were looking for entertainment and distraction, an increasing number were looking for information. The most interesting shift in the last few months of Instagram has been this rise in infographics and carousel posts of text to share important facts. Through such content, communities are galvanized to support and take action for the causes they care about – from police brutality and racism to climate change and sustainability and much more. We are in an era of Instagram influencing voting habits and the rise of the “candidate influencer”. People feel strongly about the power and responsibility they have to influence their peers, encouraging them to change the world for the better and stand up for what they believe in. Britons took to the streets of London as part of mass protests against Trump visiting London – #DumpTrump – capturing the events and spreading their views on Instagram. The #postboxselfie campaign encouraged millions to share their views and vote and #operationblackvote sparked the third highest registration count of 2019, only a day after it launched.
In many ways, Instagram has come full circle back to its origins as a social networking platform – enabling the connection of disparate individuals from across the world into digital communities united by shared values, interests and passions.