We’re not in Artsy Selfieland anymore, Toto. This week brought some game-changing updates from Instagram, with the announcement of new real-time search functions that allow users to discover trending tags, locations, and curated photo collections. This launch confirmed the industry experts’ suspicions about Instagram’s push to establish itself as a major social network to rival the likes of Twitter or even, in some ways, its parent company, Facebook.
With 300 million monthly active users and over 70 million photos uploaded to the network each day, Instagram is a big contender for users’ mobile browsing time and attention. In fact, according to one report, most mobile users already spend most of their smartphone time to Instagram, averaging about 20 minutes a day. And if Instagram becomes the go-to source for real-time news updates, this number is likely to increase. If you remained unconvinced about the power of Instagram up to this point, these new features might just change your mind.
Instagram’s Explore function gets a makeover
Explore tab is where you would normally go to check out Instagram photos that received attention from people in your network, in form of a like or a comment. About half a year ago, this feature was customized to include a list of recommended users to follow, based on their overall popularity and similarity to the user’s own Instagram network.
With the latest changes, the Explore function becomes a hub for image content discovery. The new layout will feature real-time trends on Instagram, such as events or holidays, and show top content associated with them. This improved function also complements the Search capability by showing off top trending hashtags and places. So if you’re not sure whether to search for #bonnaroo or #bonnaroo2015 for best fest pics, don’t worry—the new Explore tab will pull up all the content associated with the festival.
For businesses on Instagram, the Explore tool presents a great opportunity to engage with users outside of their immediate Instagram following. And with this week’s update, you can browse through the most popular topics, and pick the photos relevant to your field. You can like or comment on your favorite photos to engage with the photographer, or ask for permission to repost them on your page to mix up your Instagram strategy with some user-generated content. This kind of organic audience targeting can carry your brand over while you wait for the official launch of Instagram ads in your region. Keep in mind: the update Explore and Search features are only available to users in the US for now, with a global launch expected in the near future.
Look deeper with improved Instagram Search
Finally, one of the most exciting Instagram updates in the history of the network is the new robust Search functionality. The latest update allows users to search for location tags to make it easier to explore the area without leaving your Instagram app. Whether you’re going on a trip and want to check out the top images at your destination, or plan to expand your business into a new area, Instagram Search now allows you to see all the photos that were taken at that location.
Users can also simultaneously search across hashtags, usernames, and location at once. With the rapid rise of live-streaming apps like Meerkat and Periscope, Instagram’s move towards visual real-time feeds make it an essential monitoring tool. For social media managers, this means a chance to join a real-time conversation around an event or trending topic.
Slick new look for Instagram on Web
Before Instagram announced major changes to its mobile app, they quietly updated the way profiles and the user’s feed look on desktop browser. The profile page gave up the collage of randomly chosen photos for bigger previews of the user’s images, and a more prominent bio description. User’s feed also looks a lot cleaner and browser-friendly, with larger photos and action buttons.
The new web look doesn’t just make Instagram easier to browse on your desktop computer; it also encourages Instagram users to keep a consistent presence on the network in order to put their best foot forward to new desktop audiences. This means posting high-quality content that’s consistent on several levels—in themes, filters, use of borders and Instagram collages.