It Started Out With Lo-Fi. How Did It End Up Like This?

A Look at the Evolution of the “Instagram Aesthetic” and A Break Down of Some New Features

May 16, 2019 | Business, Marketing, Social Media

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Social Media can either seem pretty straight forward or it can feel overwhelming (depending on the day, AM I RIGHT? 😂), and Instagram may be the biggest culprit. With constant changes in things like algorithms, a need to curate the perfect feed, and a steady stream of new features, keeping up can feel like a full-time job! So we’re going to take a few minutes today to let you know about some new updates with Instagram and break down some of the most popular features.

Instagram started as a simple feed of photos with cool filters, meant for users to share their everyday adventures in real time. But it has morphed into a huge social network full of photos, stories, IGTV, GIFs, and video clips all fighting for attention. While it’s still used for personal documentation, it’s also become a huge platform for businesses, marketers, and influencers to interact with and grow their audiences.

In recent years it’s turned into probably the most “curated” part of social media, where presets, Photoshop, advertisements, and fake smiles can make a lot of people wonder if they measure up. But that could all be changing…

The Grid

If you don’t know what the grid is. It’s another way of saying your personal Instagram page, or profile. Here’s a look at our grid as of late:

When Instagram started, there really wasn’t any focus on how the grid looked. No one even thought of it, but as Instagram became a tool for marketing, whether to promote a business or to advertise as an influencer, there became this obsession with how the grid looked to potential customers. The thought was (and mostly still is) that if someone visits your profile and your grid is messy, you won’t attract them as a customer as easily as your grid is very cohesive.

The Aesthetic

Over time, a lot of people got tired of the perceived perfection from businesses, influencers, and even just personal Instagram users. And content creators got tired of spending so many hours thinking about exactly what order to put photos in to make the perfect grid. So now we’re seeing a steady change towards an “anti-Instagram aesthetic” from many popular influencers, especially younger ones. After a few years of perfect profiles with filtered presets, it looks like we may be experiencing somewhat of a shift, with an article in The Atlantic suggesting that the ‘Instagram Aesthetic’ is over.

This article in The Atlantic was really about influencers. But if you’re reading this, you’re probably not a famous influencer. You’re probably a hard-working small business owner, trying to put food on the table and grow your business. So how does all of this affect you on Instagram? The reason we’re mentioning popular influencers now, is because businesses and brands always tend to follow suit.

We found two great examples of businesses already moving away from the Instagram aesthetic.

Here’s the feed of Glossier, a beauty and skincare brand, 2 years ago:

And today:

Two years ago, their feed was only professional photos, shot in-house, all with the same color aesthetic and filter. Today, you see a mix of memes, user photos they’ve shared, and some professionally shot product photos. But why the change? I think they, as they should have, realized that users didn’t want to look at a professional catalog of their products, but they wanted to connect. People want to see themselves in what brands post.

We’ve seen a change in Nike’s feed as well. Here’s two years ago:

And today:

2 years ago, Nike’s feeds was all professional, stock-like photos with the same high-clarity edited style. Now we see a mix of videos and photos, and a more natural look on a lot of them. Especially for an athletic wear company, having everything purposefully curated is kind of a catch 22. After all, athletics are messy.

The main takeaway here is that businesses should be aiming to connect with their specific audiences, even if that means creating an “aesthetic” that goes against outdated Instagram expectations. But one thing we will note is, depending on your industry, the aesthetics of your grid may stay cohesive in some ways. And that’s okay. Obviously with creatives, designers, artists, and the like, your grid will still have one solid aesthetic because usually artists have one style, at least for seasons. So since artists have a style, the grid looks more cohesive naturally, without a ton of planning.

Alright, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about how the aesthetic of Instagram is changing, now let’s hit some of their ever-changing features. Shall we?

Stories

According to recent statistics, Instagram Stories have about 250 million daily users, and 33% of the most popular stories are posted by businesses. So stories are a great way to get engagement from your audience as a business owner. The statistics also show that 20% of stories posted by businesses result in direct messages.

Ever feel like your business is competing with a million stories to get seen by your audience? You’re not *entirely* wrong. So here are a few ways to get your story more viewership!

1. Use a geotag for your location. Geotags have been shown to get 79% more engagement.
2. Use a hashtag for a 12% increase in engagement.
3. Get a friend, an influencer, or one of your employees to “takeover” the Instagram account. These stories get a lot of engagement and are a great opportunity to be more personal and add a face to a name.
4. Use a poll. Asking followers to help you make decisions here and there can give your engagement a boost as well as make them feel like an important part of the online community.
5. Offer them a sale exclusive to Instagram Story viewers.
6. Post Stories Monday & Thursday 7-9pm, and avoid 3-4pm.

Videos & IGTV

For a while, video was the new “it girl” in the social media world. And Instagram even prioritized video over photos in the feed. They got higher priority in the algorithm. Meaning, if you posted a video, your users were more likely to see it than if you posted a photo. Well, that is no longer true. Videos and photos now get the same authority. But recently, Instagram has introduced IGTV to the mix. IGTV is a great tool, allowing videos up to 10 minutes long. If you’re a business that sometimes utilizes YouTube, but haven’t seen high return there, this could be a way to reduce your workload and consolidate your content into one place!

Since IGTV’s release, it’s been common to see IGTV videos in the Explore tab, but recently Instagram also added the ability for users to add IGTV previews to their own Stories AND allowing users to post previews directly into the main feed. It’s a great way to share how-tos or any important stories behind your business!

The Explore Tab

The Explore Tab is a great way to grow your following. It’s a way for Instagram to suggest new accounts to people that they think they’ll like. Just like the feed, the Explore Tab has an algorithm that makes this all happen. And we’re going to break it down for you. There are 3 main factors to how your posts can show up on someone’s Explore Tab: Interest, Timeliness, and Relationship.

1. Interest: Instagram tracks what people like and comment on, which stories they watch, and they use that information via their algorithm to keep showing what they think you’ll like based on that information. So, if you want people to see your business’s posts more often, give them incentive to like or comment on the post!

2. Relationship: Instagram has an algorithm to understand your relationship with others. It’s mostly like interest but a bit different. Rather than liking and commenting, it has to do with tagging. If someone tags you in things, the algorithm thinks they might be your friend or family, so they’ll show you that person in Explore Tab, and vice versa. They’ll also show people or businesses also connected to those people. So, think about creative ways you can get your users to tag your business in their photos!

3. Timeliness: For example, newer posts get more authority on the Explore Tab rather than posts that are a week old. So post regularly!

Conclusion

According to digital strategist Taylor Cohen, the Instagram aesthetic hit its climax sometime in mid-2018, and since then, it’s slowly been changing. But again, what does this mean for your business? This means you can share what you want in the moment, what you think your audience and potential clients would like, without having to spend hours getting your photos in an order that will look a certain way when someone visits your profile. So you get some of your precious time back. (Yay!)

With all of these new features, the important thing is to not get bogged down in feeling like you have to do them all. Plus, things are always changing, so don’t put all your eggs in one basket, only to have the feature you’re using filter out after some time (pun intended). Figure out which features boost engagement and add value to your business. Don’t just use tons of your time with no return on investment. For example, if you don’t have any big stories to tell, or need to do how-to videos, IGTV may not be for you. And that’s okay! Stick to photos and Stories.

Alright that’s it for this breakdown on the ole Instagram. We hope this helped! Happy ‘gramming, y’all.