Instagram Is No Longer Just for Sharing Photos

It’s now officially a branding and sales platform

Key Takeaways

  • Instagram is now about "creators, video, shopping, and messaging."
  • Posting from the desktop, and links in stories, make for easier branding and sales.
  • Sharing photos with friends? Start looking for an alternative service.
Someone using a smartphone in the dark with the Instagram logo on the screen.

Luke van Zyl / Unsplash

Last week, Instagram boss Adam Mosseri said that the network is no longer a photo-sharing app. So what is it? Easy—an entertainment and branding platform, just like TV used to be. 

Recent changes at Instagram show a significant shift away from a simple photo-sharing site. In reality, Instagram has been about a lot more than just duck-face selfies and breakfast photos for years now. Fashion pros use it to communicate, brands use it to sell, and influencers use it to make a living. But now, Instagram seems to be consolidating these changes and admitting the truth. 

"Thinking of Instagram as a place where you can post photos is one thing; but thinking of it as a powerful algorithm that feeds on your data and is smart and subtle enough to influence your behavior is something entirely different," Mark Coster of education tech site Stem Geek told Lifewire via email. 

No Longer for Photos

Last week, Mosseri tweeted a video, effectively saying that Instagram is going all-in against TikTok. Mosseri outlines the platform's priorities over the next year. "At Instagram, we’re always trying to build new features that help you get the most out of your experience. Right now, we’re focused on four key areas: Creators, video, shopping, and messaging."

Someone taking pictures of their food with a smartphone.

Eaters Collective / Unsplash

In short, Instagram will focus on what it was already on the way to becoming: a platform for entertainment and advertising. Users will see many more recommendations. Instead of a timeline showing photos and videos from friends interspersed with ads, you’ll now get a more TikTok-like experience.

The emphasis will be on full-screen, "immersive" videos, intended to compete with TikTok and YouTube, which Mosseri calls huge competitors.

Mosseri’s video is full of detail, and but one quote shows the change. "We are no longer a photo-sharing app," says Mosseri. 

For Marketers

People go to Instagram to be entertained, for shopping, and product research. "70% of shopping enthusiasts turn to Instagram for product discovery," says Instagram’s own spiel. For brands, it’s not a big leap to see this as broadly similar to TV, only with the targeting possibilities of Facebook’s tracking machine. 

Instagram sees it that way too. Three of the four key areas he mentioned—creators, video, shopping, and messaging—are about branding and sales. Four, if you also count messaging as a way for brands and potential buyers to communicate. 

The changes here are already happening. You’ve long been able to log in and view your Instagram feed in the browser, but now you can finally post from the browser, too. This is a minor added convenience for you and me, but for brands and businesses, using a computer instead of a phone makes managing an Instagram sales empire much easier. 

Another change is links. It has historically been difficult or impossible to add clickable links to your posts, but now users with 10,000 followers, or verified users, can insert links into Instagram Stories.

These changes make it clear that Instagram is optimizing for its heaviest creators, whether they are the big brands and advertisers themselves or the influencers that share their products. 

What Does This Mean for You?

Professional photographers can sell their work the same way that vendors can push their backyard pizza ovens and ultra-comfortable pants. 

But if you’re a photography enthusiast, or rather just a person who wants to share photos with the world, then Instagram isn’t meant for you anymore. You can still use it that way, of course, but reaching your audience—even if that audience comprises a few friends and family members—will be harder. Thanks to the new emphasis on video and recommendations, the beloved Instagram timeline will no longer be around. Not in the way we want. 

These changes make it clear that Instagram is optimizing for its heaviest creators...

There are plenty of alternate places to share and view photos. 500px and Flickr are both great examples, but the problem is, the audience is on Instagram. Even if you don’t care about getting a huge follower count, you’re going to have to convince friends and family to sign up for those services and then hope that they visit them. All while Instagram does its best to become a total entertainment destination that keeps users stuck in the app. 

We’ve arrived at an internet monoculture. We have one main app for most things. Amazon for shopping, YouTube for video, and so on. It used to be Instagram for photos. Maybe another app will arrive to fill the gap. Or maybe personal photo sharing will wither or move to Facebook. Either way, it seems that Instagram doesn’t care anymore.

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