Unlike many other platforms that took time to catch on, Instagram was popular from the very beginning. In Instagram’s first few hours of launching 10,000 people downloaded the app and within just two months downloads grew to 1 million. The original concept for Instagram was pretty straightforward, pictures taken on cellphones were low quality and Instagram offered a platform for users to edit pictures and post them in the same place. However, in the past ten years Instagram has gone from a photo sharing app, to a shaper of our culture and a place for B2B businesses to explore.
The Rise of Instagram Culture
It’s hard to believe but ten years ago there was no such thing as influencers, Instagram museums or making sure your dinner has the right light to take a picture before you start eating. So how did Instagram become the cultural influence it is today? The first influencers were bloggers. They came over to the platform to put pictures to their existing blog content. As early as 2011, lifestyle bloggers throughout Southeast Asia began selling ad space in the form of captions or selfies of themselves using a product. Quickly influencing caught on and became a source of income for influencers of all sizes, from celebrities of Kardashian fame to small-time local posters, otherwise known as nano-influencers. However, Instagram had one key problem. While influencers were able to cash in, Instagram itself had trouble monetizing the platform. When Facebook officially purchased Instagram in 2012 for 1 billion dollars, they began to pave the way for the app to become a more business-friendly advertising platform.
Facebook Purchases Instagram
After purchasing Instagram. Facebook quickly began making changes to more effectively monetize the platform. Unlike Instagram’s original founders, Facebook had no worries about adding new features or advertising, that would undermine the perceived authenticity of the app. In 2013 Instagram officially created sponsored posts and videos, allowing brands with Instagram accounts to push out ads to people outside of their followers. Under Facebook’s leadership, Instagram was also not shy about copying the tactics of their social media competitors. To draw users away from Snapchat, Instagram copied the Snapchat stories function, where users add a collection of pictures to a “story” that disappears in one day. With more consumers focused on creating stories, the infamous Instagram feed would now have more room for paid advertisements. Facebook also copied their own sites functionality by adding a chat feature to make the site more social and interactive.
The changes made under Facebook’s ownership cemented Instagram’s shift from a photo-sharing platform to a cultural influence and business-friendly advertising space. Initially Instagram only attracted businesses that were innately visually appealing such as coffee shops, high-end furniture stores, music festivals, etc. However, with every added feature Instagram became more appealing to businesses of all types. In 2016, Instagram officially rolled out Instagram for Business accounts, which allowed brands to access advertising friendly features such as the ability to add call to actions and hyperlink to stories and in-depth analytics. Instagram for Business accounts were a key step in helping Instagram go from C2C to B2C to B2B.
Does Instagram Have B2B Potential?
Instagram may be something many businesses are overlooking in their B2B strategy, however with over 1 billion users this can be a mistake. In Boston Digital President Peter Prodromou’s blog “Why B2C Tactics Work in a B2B World”, he points out that “regardless of profession, we all consume information the same way – through personal channels and, increasingly, in small content vignettes”. At the end of the day B2B customers are still people and we should not ignore a channel they use on a daily basis. Our recent survey data also tells us that Instagram is defying traditional age norms, with 31% of Boomers reporting using it regularly. Now that we know Instagram is worth taking a look at for your B2B business, how do you make sure it’s effective? Here are a few examples of companies who are taking an innovative approach to their Instagram accounts:
Shocked to see IBM as a trendy Instagram company? Don’t be! IBM uses this highly visual medium to make complex products more relatable. In this recent post they share a picture of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship, which once constructed will use IBM technology to travel from the UK to the US. This post shows the far reaches of IBM technology and reinforces IBM’s identity as an innovative and transformative brand.
With the rise of remote work Slack has become exponentially more relevant to our daily lives. Many companies that solely have a digital product may find Instagram to be challenging, however Slack does a great job of integrated eye-catching images of their user interface, with humanizing information about their product. Slack also posts plenty of thumb-stopping video content that keeps viewers engaged.
Shopify is an ecommerce platform for online stores and retail point-of-sale systems. Shopify does a great job taking advantage of the ability to hyperlink in a story. In this example Shopify is using their story to drive leads to a recent blog on their website.
What’s Next for Instagram?
Instagram will only continue to expand their presence as a B2B platform. In 2020 they plan to add business-friendly features including Instagram Shopping, live shopping, paid caption links, Instagram Checkout and IGTV ads. Consumers are only spending more and more time on their mobile devices and targeting audiences where they are hanging out will be key, regardless of what your business model or product is.