This article was updated in July 2021.
In late 2020, Instagram rolled out Checkout to all eligible businesses to sell products directly through Instagram posts, adding one more level to Instagram’s evolving shopping experience.
When Instagram first launched in 2010, the goal was simple. Develop a tool that allowed people to share personal photos and add image filters to compensate for the limitations of that era’s smartphone cameras.
How times have changed… Over the past decade, Instagram has evolved into a massive and sophisticated social platform with more than 1 billion users. It’s home to a thriving influencer ecosystem, multiple content types (videos, Stories, etc.), and a robust direct messaging service—not to mention $20 billion in annual advertising revenue.
This immense scale and reach has drawn increased interest from marketers. It’s also led parent company Facebook to seek additional ways to monetize Instagram. However, it has raised concerns over whether the platform fuels social pressures, online bullying, and inappropriate content.
In order to address consumers’ worries while also providing expanded opportunities for businesses, Instagram has been remaking itself. This ongoing intentional and methodical process has encompassed everything from its analytics tools to rethinking the core ways users engage.
Specifically, the transformation has involved changing Instagram in these four key ways.
1. Instagram Hiding Likes
Instagram’s most noticed move has been its experiment with hiding likes on the platform, known as Project Daisy. While the change is less sweeping than sometimes portrayed, it is indicative of how Instagram wants to evolve. (For now, the approach is still being tested and likes will continue to be shown in some situations.)
According to CEO Adam Mosseri, the platform will focus on creating a “less pressured environment.” This entails concrete steps to make the network feel less like a popularity contest, such as the de-emphasis of likes. It also gives people more control over the experience; for example, enabling users to shadow ban bullies. These changes to the Instagram’s interface signify deeper changes in the platform, like increasing platform restrictions.
2. Instagram Age Limits
In addition to changing how people can engage on the platform, Instagram is changing who can engage on the platform. Specifically, Instagram recently began asking new users to put in their date of birth when signing up for the service; it has limited access in most countries for those younger than age 13.
The immediate aim was to prevent underage children from joining Instagram. However, the company has been clear that the wider goal is to develop a more gated and restricted offering. For example, Instagram can use your birthday information to create more tailored experiences. This may include education around account controls and recommended privacy settings for younger people.
3. Instagram Business Tools
The recent evolution of Instagram hasn’t been just about users. While narrowing some of its user experiences, the platform has simultaneously been expanding many of its offerings for businesses.
For example, the platform has introduced a number of new or updated tools that make Instagram’s interface much more business-friendly. This includes detailed analytics showing which posts drive follower growth and a clearer view of mentions in stories. It also offers a secondary inbox option for brands. Moreover, a number of enhancements to Facebook’s ad network will improve Instagram’s campaign options for advertisers.
4. How Instagram’s Interface is Changing How We Shop
Last, but not least, many of Instagram’s biggest business-oriented changes are related to one specific area: shopping.
The platform has been working on improving the user experience, including a seamless checkout allowing purchases without leaving the app. Additionally they’re introducing the option to run shopping posts as in-feed advertisements.
And that’s just the beginning. Instagram has made shopping a clear priority going forward, with the goal of driving purchases across many categories. As Layla Amjadi, product lead for Instagram Shopping, put it, “Our goal is to become a leading mobile e-commerce destination that helps you shop your interest.”
This enthusiastic embrace of shopping and businesses more widely makes good financial sense. But it also raises the question of what Instagram is truly trying to become.
By ardently courting brands, Instagram is indicating that it wants to evolve into a larger and more sprawling business. But by increasing controls and restrictions, Instagram seems to be prioritizing the consumer experience over the bottom line. CEO Adam Mosseri has openly stated: “We will make decisions that hurt the business if they help people’s well-being.”
Right now the platform is trying to simultaneously become more user friendly and business friendly; a fine line to walk. Whether it will succeed on both fronts is uncertain. What is clear is that many more changes are likely to come in the months and years ahead.