Instagram for Entrepreneurs & Creators

Franco Varriano
February 22, 2021
 min read

Remember when Instagram was really only used for its photo filters?

The photo-sharing platform has come along way, and as of October 2020 has nearly 1.2 billion monthly active users.

Instagram has become one of the primary hubs of modern-day life for many—and it is an increasingly important tool for small businesses, creators, and entrepreneurs.

We recently wrote a brief timeline of the Creator Economy, which showcased how and why creators are emerging from the internet and existing social platforms.

As we mentioned in that article, early 2020 saw a rush towards empowering creators. They were becoming recognized as a new form of small business, and many companies stepped up, designing tools and enabling varied monetization options.

Instagram was just one of the platforms that released new features for this growing cohort of creators and entrepreneurs. Here’s our deep dive into that world!

Key features of Instagram for entrepreneurs and creators

Let's start with an Instagram-specific timeline to review when key features were launched and why they could be relevant to your current or future business:

November 2017 - Instagram launches Stories

Pioneered by Snapchat, Instagram Stories is the first time another platform introduces a similar offering.

June 2018 - Shopping in Stories

Instagram adds the ability for brands to attach special shopping stickers to their Stories. These are effectively links to products on the brand’s website (off Instagram).

September 2018 - Expanded shopping in Stories

Instagram expands this feature by adding a native version of a product page. This page comes up before users can leave the app to purchase from the brand.

Instagram also starts interspersing product posts with other content in the Explore tab as a way to promote views and organic discovery.

November 2018 - Shop on Instagram

Instagram releases yet another commerce-related update, just in time for the holiday shopping season.

This update allows brands to add a "shop"tab on their profiles and easily create a gallery of products they've made available on Instagram. This promotes a better browsing experience for users and potential customers.

March 2019 - Checkout on Instagram

Instagram enables brands to make sales directly on Instagram! No more leaving the app and hoping the order gets placed on the brand's website.

This first version of the feature works for credit card payments.

May 2020 - Support for creators and guides

Instagram rolls out more features and monetization options for creators. One release is a feature called Guides. Guides makes it easier for select creators and expert organizations to share mixed media resources on content related to well-being.

These releases are timely. The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting people around the world and there is the need for platforms to respond to several shifts in the market.

Creator platforms like Patreon, Twitch, etc. begin to see a rapid increase in fans who are hungry for more content. Both new and established creators need new tools to enable them to meet these growing demands—while also earning more.

July 2020 - Instagram Shop

A dedicated tab in the Explore section of the app further simplifies product discovery, personalized product recommendations, and more.

Instagram also expands its Checkout payment options, thanks to the introduction of Facebook Pay, its own cross-platform payment service (remember, Instagram has been owned by Facebook since 2012).

November 2020 - Unified messaging

Facebook’s platforms begin unifying their messaging experience.

This means you can easily reach people almost anywhere in the Facebook ecosystem. This includes businesses who use Messenger for chat or individual creators who connect with fans via their DMs.

Summer of 2020 - Reels and Shop tabs (and a new home screen)

The summer of 2020 continues to see a rapid push towards the growing potential of the Creator and Passion Economy.

Every platform is either thinking about or trying to compete for creators and the wave of followers and dollars they bring with them.

TikTok in particular sees explosive growth. Owned by Chinese company ByteDance, in August 2020, President Trump signs an executive order to start the process of banning the app in their market unless it is sold to and controlled by an American company.

With what seems like an inevitable repeat of the Vine days less than a decade earlier, (link: The Brief Timeline of theCreator Economy), non-TikTok platforms scramble to attract creators and their audiences.

As part of its own creator and commerce push, Instagram releases Reels, the first iteration of a feature that attempts to offer formats and engagement similar to TikTok.

But for most Instagram users, the biggest adjustment is a new home screen and remembering the "likes” tab has been moved to a new spot!

November 2020 - Expanded Guides

Instagram Guides is open to all creators and entrepreneurs. This feature becomes an excellent place to publish product guides or repackage content from another platform or format for extra reach.

February 2021 - Shop Pay

Powered by Shopify, Instagram (and the broader Facebook ecosystem) becomes the first partner to support Shop Pay, an accelerated checkout service and Shopify's version of Facebook Pay.

March 1, 2021 - Live Rooms

Instagram is further extending the "Live" feature thanks to the Messenger product integration across Facebook properties. Live Rooms currently enable up to 4 streamers at once enabling new formats and engaging experiences for audiences that creators can monetizing.

The power of Instagram

Only time will tell if Instagram’s continued evolution into a commerce and creativity marketplace is able to accomplish its goals and if its features are heading in the right direction.

But what Instagram has—that few other platforms have really endeavoured to create—is not only an active and captive audience, but one that is mobile-native and comfortable buying online.

Take a look at Instagram’s mixed audience:

What’s more interesting is when you overlay other economic data with Instagram's young and active user base. Stats like:

Another Gen Z trend is the blurring of lines between creator and consumer. This makes total sense as users are active members within their communities of interests. Not only that, but the landscape of tools to help users and creators realize their ambitions—regardless of skill level—is ever expanding.

What's next?

We hope the above evidence convinced you to consider Instagram as one of your distribution or brand building channels.

With the shift in lifestyle and habits caused by COVID-19, ecommerce sales in the US grew by 44% in 2020 alone.

While some brick-and-mortar businesses saw their sales halt, a spectrum of others saw this offline revenue shift to online channels.

At the same time, creators, entrepreneurs, and influencers who were impacted in different ways by the pandemic began responding to the greater demand from their audiences. This applied pressure on platforms to create innovative new features and monetization options. If not, creators didn’t hesitate to seek out entirely new platforms.

Web Smith, Founder of 2PM, writes that while:

"The recent shift to online retail has been reactionary. The next phase of eCommerce growth will be more intentional."

Part of that intentional shift will, of course, involve better performance infrastructure. But some of it will also be cultural and creative.

Creators of all sizes and influence realize the power of building an audience-first business.

Their fans and customers want greater personalization and deeper access to signal their status within the community.

They also want a seat at the table—a co-creator role where they not only shape the products they want and need, but also share that creative experience with others.

That’s where Creative Layer comes in. If the future of product personalization, commerce, and creative co-creation sounds like something you're interested in, be sure to sign-up for early access.

You can also follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn. Help us shape the future of these exciting industries together!