December 31, 2018

Ok, let's just be honest here for a minute... 2018 was a BIG year for Instagram! They certainly kept me on my toes with all the updates and roll outs over the year. From big things like Nametags, IGTV, and even the original founders leaving the company to little nuances and fun new treats in new features, it was a very busy year. Additionally, in 2018, Instagram made a concerted effort to provide more tools to business accounts and we will continue to see more of this in 2019.

While there are way too many to summarize all at once, here are some of the biggest updates to Instagram that we experienced in 2018.

Instagram Story Highlights

One of the biggest new features to Instagram was announced in December 2017 but got mainstream access and use in early 2018: Instagram Story Highlights. This feature allowed Stories to be archived and placed into one or more "galleries" on users' profiles so that they would actually live on past their 24 hour expiration. When you look at someone's profile, you'll often see those circles or bubbles below their profile description and before their regular feed content - those are Story Highlights.

If you want to learn more about how Story Highlights work, how to use them creatively, or how to create fun cover images for them, check out this article on Social Media Examiner.

Instagram Story Stickers

OMG, talk about updates! We got so many new fun stickers and features within Instagram Stories this year! Here's a good listing of many of them:

  • Questions and Polls: We got both the Questions Sticker (to ask questions and get responses from your audience) and the Poll Sticker (to get specific results from one of two choices). Both of these are great for audience engagement, customer feedback, and market research.
  • Countdown sticker: Released in December, this sticker allows you to put a countdown clock on your stories and people can even subscribe to be notified when the countdown expires. And, yes, the countdown can go beyond the 24 hour window of Instagram Stories.
  • Gif stickers: These rolled out in January to the excitement of most everyone. Now, static images could be animated with gifs and have more engagement opportunities!
  • The emoji slider: I still think this one is relatively useless but I've seen some creative ways that people are using it to drive engagement on their Stories.
  • The Music sticker: This one launched and the world rejoiced. Then a whole lotta people lost the sticker and whined incessantly (oh, I'm one of those, btw). I still have the music sticker on other accounts I manage, but not my main one. Who knows! But, then the Question sticker update in late 2018 allowed the integration of music so that seems to be a bit of a workaround for some.

Instagram Story Features

In addition to all the new Stickers for Stories, we also got some new features within Stories.

  • Type Mode: Oh, long gone are the days of a single font option in Stories. Thank goodness!!! I swear I live for the Neon font on all my Stories! lol But it wasn't until early 2018 that we got the option to use more than just the "Classic" font option for our Story posts.
  • Superzoom camera features: Wanna up the ante on your Instagram Stories? Try out some of the Superzoom camera filters like Fire, Surprise, Dramatic, Paparazzi, and more.
  • Focus camera: Create more professional looking selfies and profile photos by using the Focus feature in the Stories camera to blur out the background and put clear focus on the person in the photo.
  • Bulk Story uploads: This was rolled out to Android users first and iOS users got it late in the year. But now you can select multiple photos and/or videos at once to upload to your Stories. You can edit each one for filters and stickers before doing the full upload and this allows you have the entire story sequence upload together so as to avoid delays in the story viewing in the time it takes you to load, edit, and post each consequent Story.
  • Automatic video segmentation: This may have been one of the updates I got most excited about. Again, this came out for Android users first (yes, that made it even sweeter for me ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) but this feature allows you to upload videos longer than 15 seconds and it will automatically be cropped into 15 second intervals for seamless viewing. You can also record video directly in Stories and the video continuously records, just cropping it into 15 second segments so you don't need to rush to squeeze in your 15 second monologue and then record another one to finish your thought.
  • Any size uploads: Do you remember when you could only upload 9:16 ratio images to Stories? And if your photo or video was a different size, it cropped it to fill that size... Super annoying, right?! Thankfully, in January, Instagram started us allowing to upload content of any size and dimension and to align it anywhere in the Story frame.
  • Shoppable Instagram Stories: With good success for regular feed shoppable posts, Instagram pushed that functionality to Stories too, giving us more ways to buy the things we love (and may or may not need ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) directly from our favorite social media site.
  • Close Friends Lists: This rolled out at the end of the year, allowing you to choose a single segmented list of people that you follow to share content exclusively with them. There doesn't seem to be a limit to how many people can be on the list and you can update the list as often as you want. This can be valuable for people who offer VIP or membership access to their audience or who want to offer campaigns to followers in certain geographical areas or other specific criteria. I covered this topic in great detail, including creative ways to use this feature, in this article on Social Media Examiner.
  • Instagram Live quietly introduced the option to share your camera roll (photos or videos) during live videos. This would allow you to pull up a video or a photo to discuss and review during your live broadcast. Imagine the ways you could use this for tutorial or education with your audience! I'm excited to try this out more in 2019.
  • Quick reactions: While you used to have to leave a comment or move right along when viewing a Story, now you can respond with a Quick Reaction like the heart eye emoji, the laughing emoji, the sad emoji, clapping hands, etc.

Share to Stories

In early 2018, Instagram rolled out the ability to share a regular feed post from anyone, including yourself, to your Story. It was the first ever in-app, native regram tool we've seen. While you still can't share others' content to your regular feed, you can share any post to your Stories and that Story post will link back to the original post. This has been globally rolled out, although some people, like yours truly, still don't have this feature. I actually have it on other accounts I manage, but not the main one... and, yes, I check repeatedly in hopes one of these days I'll have it! If you want to learn more about this feature and the advantages of it for businesses, check out this blog post on Social Media Examiner.

Additionally. if someone tags you in their Story and you get that notification, you can share their Story post to your own Story now. You'll see the "Share to your story" option directly above their Story thumbnail in your DM notifications.

The Instagram Algorithm

Oh, my favorite word.... algorithm! And, my least favorite word, shadow banning. Neither one of these were exempt from conversations this year! In fact, Instagram was so frustrated with the whole conversation, even *they* came out and told us how the Instagram algorithm works. I'll admit, that was actually pretty fun, because they validated what I had been telling people for months and months, and it was nice to have clarity on how they do actually rank content. If you want to get up to speed on how the Instagram algorithm works, you can read this article or watch this video.

Hashtags and Mentions in the Bio

Hashtags have always been the secret sauce on Instagram but they were useless in the bio (they weren't clickable and didn't populate searches) until early 2018. Now, yes, you can add hashtags to your bio and they are clickable so people can navigate to that content on the hashtag. But, no, they still do not show up in searches! And since your bio is your place to talk about your business, stop putting popular hashtags or hashtags that lead to other people's content in your bio! UGH!! Listen to me, you want people to find your content, not everyone else's, so put your own branded hashtag or a hashtag that your audience uses to showcase your brand. And that's it!!

And yes you can now @ mention other people in your bio and that is a hyperlink to their profile. This is great if you want to cross-promote another account you manage or give a shout out to a partner on a campaign or promotion. But, do NOT go using this to tag people for attention. That's spam and ridiculous.

I shared a bit more about this feature over on Instagram when it released earlier this year.

Nametags

Instagram teased the Nametags feature in the summer and launched them officially this fall. Nametags are essentially one more thing copied from Snapchat as they are basically Snapcodes, or the same thing as Facebook Messenger Codes. They are visual codes that can be scanned with your Instagram camera to be taken directly to or allow you to follow another Instagram account. This is meant to make it easier to connect with new people and to grow your account. And, yes, there are plenty of ways that these Nametags can be helpful with that. To learn more about how to customize them and use them strategically, read this blog post on Social Media Examiner.

Direct Messages Features

One of the fun new features rolled out to direct messages was the ability to do live video chats within Instagram. I actually really like this feature and find it better than Facebook Messenger video and Skype in terms of quality and ease of use. While this was designed more for personal use, I outlined a variety of ways businesses could capitalize on this feature in this blog post on Social Media Examiner.

To up the fun factor in Direct Messages, Instagram rolled out the integration with Giphy to allow us to add gifs to our DMs now. Let the crazy conversations continue with so much more animation!

Instagram introduced Quick Replies, a feature exclusively for business accounts on Instagram. It allows you to save canned responses within your direct messages so that you can easily answer common questions with a single access of your saved responses. There are a variety of reasons businesses will find this useful and you can find examples of these, including instructions on how to set up your Quick Responses, in this article on Social Media Examiner.

Voice messages for direct messages rolled out towards the end of 2018 and was touted by many as being like Voxer or walkie-talkie type messaging. The new feature allows you to record a voice message by tapping and holding the recording button. The message does not delete after it's listened to so it will stay in the chat thread to be listened to again.

Action Buttons on Business Profiles

We've had the four basic Action buttons on business profiles for a while (Call, Text, Email, and Directions), but earlier this year, Instagram rolled out the third party integration Action buttons for things like Buy Tickets, Reserve, Book, and Start Order. These Action buttons integrate with third party tools like Eventbrite, Resy, Fandango, Grubhub, etc. and allow you to add that additional Action button to your Instagram profile so that you can drive conversions directly from there. For way more detail on setting these up and how to use it strategically, read this post on Social Media Examiner.

IGTV

IGTV was the big announcement this summer. It opened to lots of excitement but died down considerably. The thing is, I'm pretty darn confident this feature will grow significantly in 2019. This concept changed how we view videos, by insisting that videos be vertical format, not horizontal. And they created time constraints on the videos (over 15 seconds) to ensure people don't just upload all of their Stories to IGTV. The idea is to create all new, fresh content for the platform.

Yes, some people are slow to adapt to IGTV and many are delaying creating any content for the platform. And, yes, there needs to be some better integration between IGTV and the normal Instagram app. But I'm seeing positive indications that this platform will grow and expand with users - and if it is, then we as marketers will need to be there too. Let's just not ruin it for the users, ok? ๐Ÿ˜‰

So, if you want more insights into setting up and using IGTV for your business, I wrote a highly detailed post on Social Media Examiner that you can use to get yourself up to speed so you can start crafting new content for 2019.

Adding Alt Text to Posts

One feature that rolled out and which did so to very little fanfare was the ability to add Alt Text to posts now. You can add the Alt Text during upload of after the fact. To add it during upload, tap on Advanced Settings when you are adding your caption, tags, etc. and write in your Alt Text. After a post has been uploaded, go to that post, tap on the Options button (3-dot button) and Edit the photo. Then tap the "Edit Alt Text" option to update it. Alt Text allows those who are visually impaired to understand what is in the photo by reading the description via a tool installed on their devices. Additionally, this could help you better be found in search as Google and other search engines crawl sites for Alt Text to find relevant content.

So, take the extra time to write good and descriptive Alt Text information to properly explain what is in the image and the content of the image.

API Updates

It was a very big year, and a lot of confusion, for Instagram users as API changes were plentiful. First of all, early in the year, the API changes allowed us to schedule organic posts via third party tools and not require you to authorize it via push notifications on the app. This was a BIG and happy update that so many of us celebrated. Then, recently, Instagram pushed more updates for third party tool access which allows business profiles to schedule posts without issue, but deprecated that feature for personal profiles. So, now most third party tools do not support scheduling for personal accounts (which, if you ask me, if you're scheduling posts and treating your account as a business, then you should be a business profile anyways...).

Late this year, Instagram also made changes to the API regarding hashtag queries, putting a limit on the number of searches that can be conducted and how those searches are conducted (by third party tools). This is meant to cut back on the number of bot tools and spam-type tools that troll hashtags looking for accounts to follow.

As you can see, there was a LOT of updates to Instagram in 2018. Additionally, there were a lot of updates to Instagram Stories. And I don't think that will change in 2019. Instagram is all in on Stories and we will see more new features, more stickers, more integrations, and more ways to use Stories for our businesses.

We'll also see a lot of changes to Instagram as we know it. We've already seen some people getting the new profile layout option and Instagram has been testing ways to put hashtags in the upload section rather than having to put them in the caption/comments. And then there was the "mistake" in late December that introduced all of us temporarily to a new scrolling method where posts are tapped through horizontally, not scrolled vertically. With the original founders out of the picture, you can be sure Facebook has big plans, and changes, lined up for Instagram in 2019. But I'm excited to see what is yet to come and how we'll be able to use Instagram even more effectively for our businesses. 

Did you find this helpful? Please share:
  1. Great stuff, Jenn! I love seeing all this in one place. There’s only one thing I disagree with you on: I don’t see igtv doing nearly so well. I think the long form is at odds with how we usually use most mobile first social media. Like Mike from SME said, Facebook is like a highway and you zoom past billboards, you don’t park and watch a movie. Same dynamic I think.
    Just my two cents. Don’t shadow ban me

    1. lol! You’re not shadowbanned! ๐Ÿ˜‰
      I definitely agree that FB is more like a highway, but I’ve watched long form video on FB countless times. And, IGTV was meant to rival YouTube, not FB, where it’s a destination for people to sit and watch longer form content so I think it still has plenty of potential to achieve that (though I highly doubt they’ll ever really rival YT).

  2. Good collection of the updates in 2018. I personally feel that IGTV could not get the attention of the marketers if you compare with other updates of IG. It may take one more year for marketers to learn how to leverage the IGTV.

    1. I agree. IGTV has been slow to be adopted by marketers. But I think we’ll see much more from it soon.

  3. Hi Jenn, heard about you on social media examiner and decided to check out the blog. Amazing content, will most definitely be keeping a closer eye on it throughout the year ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks for the awesome post. Crazy to think all that happened over a period of 52 weeks! Shows you how quickly things are changing. Luckily we have to help do the heavy lifting when it comes to staying ahead of the curb ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Will share the blog with my social team!

    All the best for the year head.

    1. Thanks Jandre! It is crazy to see all that happened last year but it’s fun to look back and see how it has evolved.

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