Eight trends shaping the future of Instagram marketing

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(This article was originally published by Later)

By Monique Thomas

Wondering what the future of Instagram marketing looks like? Between the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase in social activism and Instagram introducing new features, to call “unprecedented” the buzzword of 2020 is an understatement.

With so much change, it can be hard to predict social media trends for 2021. However, Later, a leading visual marketing platform for Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, has focused on one specific powerhouse social media platform—Instagram—and come up with some ideas.

From a focus on e-commerce tools to more short-form video, it shared eight trends shaping the future of Instagram marketing:

#1: A focus on Instagram e-commerce tools

2020 was the year Instagram furthered its foray into becoming a digital storefront for brands and creators. With the introduction of Instagram Shop, it created a more streamlined way to discover shoppable products, giving users the ability to “Browse Shops,” see “Editors’ Picks” and more.

And this isn’t the only e-commerce feature in Instagram’s tool belt. Over the years, Instagram’s released e-commerce tools like:

With many of these features expanding globally in recent months, why the increased focus on e-commerce tools? According to Facebook (the parent company of Instagram), it was a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Right now, many small businesses are struggling, and with stores closing, more are looking to bring their business online,” the company said in a press release. “Our goal is to make shopping seamless and empower anyone from a small business owner to a global brand to use our apps to connect with customers.”

Later predicts more features rolling out in 2021 that’ll turn Instagram into a one-stop shop for everything—from advertising and selling your products to connecting with your community.

What was once an app for sharing pretty photos is becoming a full-scale e-commerce platform for brands and creators to monetize their content. Later said it doesn’t think Instagram will slow down anytime soon.

#2: Short-form video content takes the lead 

TikTok took the world by storm in 2020 with its quirky, random and creative videos. It was the perfect escape during quarantine and lockdowns, and became extremely popular with a younger audience: Gen Z.

But they’re not the only ones who love TikTok. Millennials and older generations flocked to the app too, and Instagram took notice. Its response? Instagram Reels. While Instagram Reels is a new feature, Instagram users have already shown that they enjoy bite-sized content: there are over 500 million daily Instagram Stories users.

The shift to short-form video content could be an effect of shorter attention spans, the ease of shareability or the ability to go viral. With Instagram Reels, brands and creators can create educational content, showcase their products or services and have fun in a creative way.

3: Instagram carousel posts and memes will (continue to) go viral 

Instagram carousel posts and memes are definitely not going anywhere in 2021, according to Later. They’re the perfect growth hack on Instagram, as they are easily shareable. And with likes disappearing, Later predicts shareable and saveable content will become even more important in 2021.

You could take the educational route and create carousel posts full of tips and tricks. Or, you could raise awareness about social causes and include “how to’s” and next steps.

Another way to use carousel posts? Include different backgrounds with identical messages so your audience can share the aesthetic they like most. Creating educational carousel posts can increase engagement and reach, as your community is likely to save them (and come back to them later) or share them with their own followers.

And the same can be said for memes. When done right, memes provide comic relief and entice users to share with their friends and family. Before you incorporate memes into your social media strategy, it’s important to consider if they’re on-brand. Does it make sense for your brand to communicate this way? If not, carousel posts are your friend.

#4: An increase in diversity and inclusion

2020’s increase in social activism spotlighted a lack of diversity within influencer marketing, social media marketing and the internal cultures of major brands. 2020 has also seen a rise in brands publicly take accountability with promises to do better. Diversity and inclusion is an overdue conversation in social media marketing and we predict it’ll be a priority for many brands in 2021 (and beyond).

The goal should be to incorporate diversity and inclusion into all aspects of your business—from corporate HQ to accessible social posts to the influencers you collaborate with.

#5: Influencer marketing in 2021 will get a serious boost 

Influencer marketing is on track to become a $15 billion dollar industry by 2022, which means one thing: influencers are here to stay. In fact, Later predicts influencer marketing will see a huge boost in 2021. With Instagram’s new e-commerce features, including creator-specific tools, influencers will be able to expand their network and create long-term partnerships with brands.

One important factor to consider when predicting the future of influencer marketing? The long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the advertising industry. With a decrease in ad spend for traditional formats like out-of-home campaigns and an increase in screen time on social media, we think brands will shift their dollars to online marketing.

And this is where influencers step in. According to research by Fohr, nearly 80% of influencers reported an increase in engagement from their audience in March 2020, and we don’t see this number dropping anytime soon.

With brands allocating more funds to influencer marketing and influencers experimenting with new creator tools, the influencer marketing industry will be an exciting space next year.

#6: More authenticity in Instagram captions and posts 

Authenticity on Instagram has been a growing trend, and Later predicts it’ll blossom even further in 2021. This year saw more and more influencers use their platforms to share less curated and filtered content and speak about topics such as loneliness and self-esteem.

The shift away from “perfection” and towards transparency can be powerful. And authenticity isn’t just for influencers—brands have hopped on the trend too.

Being open and honest about the struggles of running a business (especially during a global pandemic) can build a stronger, more supportive community and drive traffic to your site.

We’ve noticed growing trends in conversations surrounding mental health, body positivity, entrepreneurship and more in 2020—and predict even more “open book” content in 2021.

#7: The rise of Instagram as a microblogging platform

Speaking of authenticity, Later said microblogging is going to blow up on Instagram in 2021. We already know long captions are all the rage—Fohr reported in 2019 that the average caption length has more than doubled since 2016. And many creators use Instagram as a place for longer content.

Another reason Later predicts microblogging will blossom in 2021? The introduction of Instagram Guides. It’s still a new feature, but if Instagram adds more features like “saves,” there could be a strong use case for Guides becoming the go-to tool for educating your community, sharing recommendations and using it as a mini-blog. And, if Instagram decides to monetize it, Guides could become a new revenue stream with the introduction of sponsored guides.

#8: A shift to virtual brand activations and events

2020 was the year of virtual events, virtual conferences and Instagram Lives. Brands who are known for their in-person activations to support product launches or hosting lavish influencer events had to pivot during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With in-store events on hold for the time being, Instagram is the new place to bring your community together. And even as the world opens up again, we predict virtual events and brand activations are here to stay. Why? Physical location won’t be an issue, giving you the ability to bring everyone from your community together—wherever they are in the world.  Another added benefit is that virtual activations can be more cost-efficient, especially for small businesses.

2021 is just around the corner, and with so much change occurring, it can be hard to plan ahead. But with these eight trends, you’ll be better prepared for the future of Instagram marketing—and can start allocating the resources needed for your 2021 Instagram strategy.

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