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When most people talk about getting their news from social media, they are usually talking about Facebook or Twitter. Of all the social media platforms, these are the two that are perhaps best adapted for sharing breaking news, updates, and information about timely events. But, increasingly, Instagram is entering into the mix as the primary way that people consume news, and that has some very interesting implications. After all, Instagram has historically been a lifestyle-oriented social network populated by social media influencers sharing their carefully curated photos – is it really possible that people are now turning to Instagram for breaking political news?
Instagram vs. Twitter
According to the latest Reuters Digital News Report, the answer is clearly “yes.” Nearly 12 percent of Internet users now turn to Twitter for news, closely followed by Instagram, at 11 percent. The important point to keep in mind here is the trajectory of growth – that 11 percent rate might not sound like much, but it’s nearly two times the rate in 2018. And the shift to Instagram for news is even more pronounced in the 18-to-24 age group, where more than one in four (26%) of Internet users now turn to Instagram for news.
By 2021, if the same rate of growth keeps up, it’s entirely possible that Instagram will displace Twitter as “the place” to consume news. Imagine, for a moment, following the 2020 presidential election entirely via Instagram (lots of beautiful photo ops for the candidates!) or keeping up with last night’s sports action from your favorite MLB, NBA or NHL team via Instagram Stories. Imagine learning about new tech trends, new medical advances, and new lifestyle trends entirely by Instagram.
Visual storytelling formats
The first major implication of all this is that visual storytelling formats are now much more important than text-based storytelling formats for connecting and engaging with audiences. Think of the 2020 presidential election and the impact of this summer’s social protests or the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. There is perhaps no more powerful visual image than seeing a statue of a famous American political figure being toppled to the ground or seeing beautiful urban neighborhoods turned into war zones. Even something relatively trivial – like wearing a mask in public – can be turned into a photo-op by calculating politicians determined to send signals to the electorate.
As a result, brands, small businesses and organizations of all sizes need to think about how to present themselves visually on platforms like Instagram. The days of focusing all efforts and resources on Facebook and Twitter are over. It used to be the case that only lifestyle and entertainment companies focused on Instagram. But now everybody needs to be on Instagram, telling their stories, not just beauty brands or sneaker brands or giant entertainment companies like Netflix and HBO.
No longer a carefree lifestyle and entertainment platform
The second major implication is that brands and businesses will have to be much more careful about what they post and even how they advertise on Instagram. During the social protests in America, for example, some brands sought to inject much more politically sensitive messaging into their ads and posts. The brands that did not came off as tone-deaf and politically insensitive. The Netflix Instagram page, for example, now includes the following profile description: “Black Lives Matter. Black Stories Matter. Follow @strongblacklead.” Certainly, you want to maintain authenticity in your posts, so don’t force stories if they aren’t there. But you can always participate in large-scale events like “Blackout Tuesday” social media days on Instagram as a sign of solidarity with customers, partners, fans, followers and vendors.
At the end of the day, Instagram is turning into a “must have” for bands, and not just a “nice to have.” Instagram is no longer just a potential platform for leveraging social media influencers willing to talk about your brand. It is now a platform for showing everyone – visually – what you stand for, and what your values are. Seeing is believing, the old adage goes, and it’s never been more relevant than right now.