When Instagram was founded in 2010, the goal was simply to 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, a thriving influencer ecosystem, multiple content types beyond images (videos, Stories, etc.), a robust direct messaging service, and $20 billion in annual advertising revenue.
This immense scale and reach has drawn increased interest from marketers and led parent company Facebook to seek additional ways to monetize Instagram. At the same time, it has raised concerns over whether the platform fuels social pressures, enables online bullying, and exposes children to inappropriate content.
In order to address consumers’ worries while also providing expanded opportunities for businesses, Instagram has been remaking itself. This intentional and methodical process—which is still ongoing—has encompassed everything from looking at the minutiae of its analytics tools to rethinking the core ways users engage.
Specifically, the transformation has involved changing Instagram in these four key ways.
1. Reducing Pressures and Adding Controls
Instagram’s most noticed move has been its experiment with hiding likes on the platform. While the change is less sweeping than sometimes portrayed—the approach is still being tested and likes will continue to be shown in some situations—it is indicative of how Instagram wants to evolve.
As CEO Adam Mosseri put it last year, the platform is focused on creating a “less pressured environment.” This has entailed taking concrete steps to make the network feel less like a popularity contest, such as the de-emphasis of likes. It has also included adding features that give people more control over the experience, such as enabling users to shadow ban bullies.
2. Increasing Platform Restrictions
In addition to changing how people can engage on the platform, Instagram has been 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 and 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. As it noted in a blog post: “We will use the birthday information you share with us to create more tailored experiences, such as education around account controls and recommended privacy settings for young people.”
3. Improving Business Tools
The recent evolution of Instagram hasn’t just been user-focused: While narrowing some of its experiences for individual users, the platform has simultaneously been expanding many of its offerings for businesses.
For example, over the past few months, the platform has introduced a number of new or updated tools that make Instagram much more business-friendly, including detailed analytics showing which posts drive follower growth, a clearer view of mentions in stories, and a secondary inbox option for brands. Moreover, a number of enhancements have been made to Facebook’s ad network to improve Instagram’s campaign options for advertisers.
4. Enhancing Shopping Experiences
Last but not least, many of Instagram’s biggest business-oriented changes have been related to one specific area: shopping.
The platform has been working on improving the experience across the board, including adding a seamless checkout that lets users purchase without leaving the app, and by 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 does raise the question of what Instagram is truly trying to become.
On one hand, by ardently courting brands and advertisers, Instagram is indicating that it wants to evolve into a larger and more sprawling business in the years ahead. On the other hand, by increasing controls and restrictions, Instagram seems to be prioritizing the consumer experience over the bottom line. In fact, CEO Adam Mosseri has openly stated: “We will make decisions that hurt the business if they help people’s well-being and health.”
Essentially, right now the platform is trying to simultaneously become more user friendly and business friendly, which is a fine line to walk. Whether it will succeed on both fronts is uncertain, but what is clear is that many more changes are likely to come in the months and years ahead.