Last week, Instagram marked its 10th birthday - a decade which has seen the platform transform from a humble photo-sharing app into a social networking service with over one billion active users.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the lives, habits and routines of the global population can change in a matter of days and months with little warning. It has forced us all to face the cracks in our society’s established order of business, and reassess what’s important as we grapple with an uncertain future and social has played a central role in the theatrics.
With lockdown shaping much of our experience in early 2020 at its peak, the first wave of Covid-19 saw over 3.9 billion people confined to their homes and so the role of digital tools and communications were pulled into even greater prominence.
In this landscape, Instagram has really stepped up its game. At the ripe old age of 10, the ‘image-sharing platform’ renowned for its retro logo has come a long way. In 2020, Instagram is now a hub of social commerce, an endless scroll of inspiration (if often served with a side of insecurity), and more recently, a hub of verified information, bolstered by its mobilised population of creators.
Text-based communication on Instagram is up so dramatically that not only are publishers adapting to these formats (Refinery29 went from 41% text-based posts in January to 72% in July), but Facebook is changing its advertising policies to adapt; it recently axed its ‘20% rule’, which historically penalised ads for including text that took up more than 20% of an image.
I guess my point is that a lot can change in a year, let alone 10. But the ways in which Instagram has evolved in this landscape have recently made me realise something that I’m pretty sure most people wouldn’t have thought of a platform once defined by its not-particularly-diverse suite of vintage-style filters. Instagram is adaptable.
And so over the next 10 years, Instagram will become a one-stop platform for any digital whim or need we may have. It will be to the west what WeChat is for China.
Now, I know people in my line of work are fond of making predictions of this ilk. But hear me out.
The past 10 years have seen Instagram draw an impressive breadth of creators – it doesn’t matter if you’re a fashion student seeking information, a civil rights advocate looking for education or a wired parent looking for some homeschooling advice. The creators on Instagram are sprawling and diverse.
Not only this, but the formats on Instagram give it an edge on other platforms like Twitter, WhatsApp, or even its parent platform Facebook. By bastardising the novel formats, tools and aesthetics of competitors like Snapchat and TikTok, but combining them with the reach and commercial appeal of its own platform, Instagram has managed to become a digital space that facilitates multiple consumer mindsets. People head there for information, entertainment, socialising, shopping, networking, mindless scrolling and more.
Already, we’re seeing people relearn how to use the platform in this context. People are increasingly using ’saves’, and bookmarking them in line with what mood they’re in when they revisit later. For example, my current save folders include education on human rights, beauty inspiration, and memes.
Further down the line, we could see Instagram users grow accustomed to scrolling multiple feeds or at least organising their content in more sophisticated ways. Imagine a filter or tabs to select close friends, outer circles, holiday inspiration, financial advice, and so on. More than that, we could end up engaging with Instagram the same way we used to engage with the full Sky package – content streams that are packaged up and recommended to us via algorithms that will creepier than ever in their accuracy. We’ll need guides to keep on top of the lives that are most relevant to us, like the Explore page, only more sophisticated, and for a wider range of topics and formats.
Commerce will, obviously, play a major role. Already, Instagram feels like a virtual mall. A place where teens come to socialise and fawn over brands they want to buy into; where new homeowners come to peruse bed frames and lampshades; where beauty lovers, gamers and streetwear nerds can come to pick up the latest drop.
The ways in which all of the above engages with products and brands will become even more streamlined, supported by the cross-pollination of uses and formats Instagram offers. Audiences accustomed to engaging with influencers via livestreams will have no trouble making the leap to livestreamed retail experiences. Tutorials on how to use, apply or make the most of what we buy will continue to be integrated into stores’ shop fronts – for global conglomerates and local businesses alike. It’s only a matter of time before the exchange of funds between consumers and sellers makes its way in-platform. Some brands that have yet to be born may never even bother to create a digital presence beyond Instagram’s platform.
A lot could happen between now and 2030. We could all be working from home with the aid of virtual reality. We might have discovered a way to colonise Mars, or have contacted those alien life forms on Venus. Climate change might have destroyed us all. But, if the latter isn’t the case, I bet you Instagram’s still around, for better or worse, infiltrating our everyday lives and influencing the world around us as a result.