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We need to talk about Instagram. It’s changed – and for the better if you’re a brand or, as I am, a prize promotions specialist. At the moment it also appears to be testing a number of other new innovations, some of which could be even better for promotional marketing.

First up – and I must confess I find this ridiculously exciting – Instagram has just announced that you can now schedule posts. You have to do this through third-party social media management services like Sprout or HootSuite, but you’re probably using one of these already for Twitter and Facebook. You can only schedule photos not videos, but even so my life just got a whole lot easier. Thank you, Instagram!

What’s especially interesting, I think, is that the ability to schedule on Instagram could significantly alter the dynamic between brands and influencers. Our clients already give us access to their social media business accounts so that we can ensure their promotions are compliant and that the right influencer disclosures are being made. Scheduling potentially gives brands further control over paid-for Instagram posts, but we’ll have to see how that impacts on the authenticity Instagram is currently so good at delivering.

It used to be just people, but now you can follow hashtags as well. Tap a hashtag, then tap follow, and posts containing that hashtag will appear in your feed. This is great for brands and prize promotions, because if you get your hashtag research right, you should improve your visibility in people’s feeds, even if they don’t actually follow you.

What’s more, if you can persuade people to follow your brand’s hashtag or the hashtag associated with a particular promotion, they’ll see what other users are posting under that hashtag – ideal for a promotion that utilises user-generated content. No doubt you’re already monitoring hashtags to track trends and keep tabs on what your competitors are up to via your social media management app, but if you’re not, this is another way to do it.

Both those enhancements are live now, as are two pleasing additions to Instagram Stories, introduced at the end of last year. Whereas stories previously disappeared after 24 hours, the Archive feature, as you might expect, automatically archives your stories. You can then use the new Highlights feature to turn your stories into a featured post, which appears on your profile page. If you’ve laboured long and hard putting together a promotion, it’s certainly nice when it doesn’t vanish overnight!

Instagram also seems to be testing a number of new features, including Recommended For You – no explanation needed – which should improve discoverability for businesses, although admittedly this prospect hasn’t been universally welcomed by Insta users, and a Rights Manager. This would help content owners monitor how their images and videos are being used, so may be useful.

However, what could really be a game-changer for promotions is a Regram button, which is allegedly in the works. It’s easy to share on Facebook or retweet on Twitter, but reposting on Instagram has, to date, been something of a rigmarole – either you save the image manually and repost it or you use a third-party app. Tapping to regram should make it far easier for you to share user-generated content and for users to share the content you produce, which should theoretically result in expanded reach. I’m definitely hoping this one happens.

Finally, and this is also only a rumour at the moment, Instagram is apparently testing video calling between Instagram users. If this became a reality, it would presumably make Instagram more like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, which, along with Instagram, are owned by Facebook. That kind of convergence could change the game again, although at this stage I’m not sure I would want to hazard a guess as to how.

Instagram is already an essential channel for promotional marketing, but I particularly wanted to flag up these updates in relation to the more or less parallel updates that have been made on Facebook. In mid-January, when Mark Zuckerberg announced changes to the Facebook feed, it didn’t feel like good news for those of us in prize promotions and it wasn’t.

A few weeks later and Facebook users are undoubtedly seeing less public content and fewer posts from businesses. Of course, we’re being creative and finding different ways to get our Facebook promotions in front of people, but it is perhaps some consolation that as one channel closes down, another appears to be opening up further.

So thanks for the chat! It turns out I’ve given myself a few things to think about here – hope I’ve given you some too! At Prizeology we run social media promotions on all platforms, including Instagram, and we know what’s what when it comes to influencer marketing compliance. If you think we can help you out, do get in touch.

Sarah Burns is Prizeology’s Chief Prizeologist and a National Trading Standards Scams Team Scambassador. She does have a tendency to spend a lot of time on Instagram.

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