Top Instagram Trends in 2021



2020 has so far been a triumphant year for Instagram.

From being coined as the favourite app for teens (between the age of 13 and 18) and young adults (between the age of 19 and 25) to emerging as one of the most downloaded apps in 2020 (the 6th most downloaded app to be precise), we can confidently say the app isn’t about to lose its momentum any time soon.

With Instagram, things only get better with time. It’s a platform that’s always evolving, trying to catch up with time and making sure it doesn’t lose its cool factor.

Setting the same pace for the second half of 2020; there are a few clear trends that are dominating the platform, some of which we’re convinced are among the key ones to watch for any brand that wants to master how to market on the app.

A Quick Overview of Some of These Trends

Instagram rolled out some big changes in 2019. The most notable (or the biggest) of them was the hiding of public likes counts, a test project they had started earlier on and have been in the process of extending to multiple other regions, including the US, Europe, Canada, and Japan.

That same year, they also introduced shoppable adds, new chat, desktop publishing for IGTV and Instagram, as well as donations and quiz stickers, not forgetting the option to switch your account to a creator profile.

To keep it simple, 2019 was a busy year for Instagram, and they even have greater things that they’ll be rolling out in 2020.

A lot has already happened since the year started. From Instagram’s sharp turn into the world of ecommerce, to carousel posts, hashtag challenges, and branded AR filters, it’s safe to say Instagram has grown from the parochial social media app people thought it was to an all-encompassing, multi-faceted social media network with skyrocketing engagement levels.

What These Trends Mean to Businesses

Simply creating an Instagram account will never cut it. With more app changes and algorithmic updates, users can enjoy every feature this leading photo-and-video-sharing platform has to offer.

Whether it’s Insta stories, shoppable ads, sponsored posts, IGTV, or explore feed, you have a better chance of succeeding on this platform by exploring all these options.

Reason being:

If you’re convinced your target audience is on Instagram, then they’re just not in a single place, but all over the place. For this, you want to make sure you’re interacting with your audience from every touchpoint.

Additionally, being present all across the different pages is a good way to show that you actually care.

Proof That Instagram is a Powerful Social Media Channel

Instagram is underestimated by marketers, despite being one of the most powerful social media platforms around.

Want proof?

  • Instagram records more than 1 million active accounts every month. That’s enough proof for the level of engagement that occurs on this platform.
  • 80% of Instagram users follow at least one brand or business.
  • Insta stories have hit a user-count of 500 plus million, a significant improvement from the 400 million in 2018.

These stats aren’t to be taken lightly. With this mobile platform offering a gateway to a multitudinous number of users, here’s your chance to amplify your engagement and conversions.

Trend 1: The Continued Growth of Insta Stories and IGTV

At the start of 2019, Instagram made it official that they’ll be hiding the likes on their main-feed content. This controversial update sparked a lot of mixed reactions and discussions on how it’s going to impact influencer marketing, with some of the influencers (like Kim Kardashian) celebrating and others like Piers Morgan not taking the news in good faith.

Whatever the reason stirred this change, it correlates with Instagram’s new focus on Insta stories and IGTV. If users stop obsessing with how many likes their content is getting, they might consider trying out something new, like videos.

It’s a calculated risk, considering a majority of Instagram audience spend much of their time on Insta stories. Yet, Instagram doesn’t see the need to continue displaying this public-facing metric.

What do they Hope to Achieve?

Let’s go back. In May 2018, the report released seem to suggest that Insta stories were growing 15 times faster than feeds. As of January 2019, the number of people using Insta stories every day had increased to 500 million, from the previous 400 million in 2018.

Instagram appears to have the same level of faith in IGTV. This could be the year when we get to see it truly take off. Although Instagram hasn’t released viewership figures and IGTV engagement publicly, brands already using the app have been seeing lots of positive results.

How to Prepare for this Trend?

If Instagram isn’t already part of your content marketing strategy, then this is where you start.

For starters, no other platform offers a better way to establish a more intimate relationship with your target audience. For this, you want to make sure your Insta stories build trust and provide value.

In broad terms, Insta stories can be categorically divided into two:

Value-Driven Stories: These are informative and often created in a “how-to” style. They basically offer value to the user or something that your users can learn from you.

Personal Stories: Personal stories are meant to familiarise users with your brand. They’re meant to offer users a view of your brand and everything it’s involved with.

For instance, you can come up with an Insta story on a day in the life of your employees.

IGTV might be in the experimental stage, with no surety on whether it’s going to take off, but that’s no excuse to rule it off. Even with this, a good chunk of your audience might be consuming your content in this manner.

You can start slowly by launching a pilot project. Just launch 2 to 3 videos over one month and analyse everything (including the results you get).

Don’t forget that, the strategy you use on Insta stories wouldn’t work with IGTV. You have to go back to the drawing board and figure out something else. Of course, IGTV requires more effort, but its rewards are plentiful compared to that of Insta stories.

Trend 2: The Rise of Instagram Shopping

Instagram has been a shopping destination for many people, even before they launched their ecommerce tools.

However, the platform is in the process of changing into a full-fledged ecommerce platform, and this could be the year when we finally get to see many of these changes.

With the introduction of ecommerce tools, such as the Instagram Checkout, shoppers don’t have to leave the app to buy anything. Not forgetting, Facebook shops which allow businesses to set up their online store on both Instagram and Facebook.

Suffice it to say shopping is fast becoming a more significant part of how users interact with Instagram.

Even as COVID-19 continues to terrorise business, forcing some of them out of business, Instagram shopping continues to live on well.

They even released so many ecommerce features since the year started, way more than they have released in the past.

Here are a few of these features:

Instagram Shop and Facebook Shop: These two features were announced via Facebook live in May.

Instagram Live Shopping: This feature is getting beta-tested as we speak. A few businesses are already using it as we wait to hear more about it.

Plans to Expand Instagram Shopping: There are plans to roll out Instagram on a global scale, to more businesses and content creators. This was officially announced in late-June.

Many of these shopping features are in closed beta, most of which will be released in due course.

Examples include Shopping from Creators and the Instagram Checkout.

It’s no wonder many businesses are now investing in Instagram stories. With all these features, businesses can now build fully-supported digital storefronts to sell and promote their products or services directly on Instagram.

Instagram is also working on a system that will allow these businesses to partner with influencers and market their products directly. Sellers can also run shopping ads, get their products on Explore Page, and even share their Insta stories and posts with product tags.

These are tactics that have been tested and proven to work. According to some of the internal data released, more than 130 million Instagram users tap on shopping posts every month to learn more about a shopping post.

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Insta shopping is a huge opportunity for brands to not only influence shoppers’ decision but to also sell to them directly on this platform.

If you’re an ecommerce brand with plans to increase your sales online, then this is the right time to get started with Instagram Shopping.

Trend 3: Carousel Posts levelling Up Information Sharing

Instagram has for long been a place of sharing inspirational posts. But there’s a new shift in 2020, where the platform is fast-becoming a place for sharing informational content.

So, how can you best share detail-dense content on this platform?

Well, with Carousel posts.

With this option, you can share a maximum of 10 images in a single post. It’s a perfect storytelling tool.

It also breaks your information into small digestible chunks for easier consumption and understanding.

People’s purchasing behaviour has seen a new shift in 2020. With Instagram, the space has grown to be a place for education and social awareness.

Throughout May and the months that followed, the #BlackLivesMatter Movement saw millions of educational and informative posts published on Instagram.

Carousel post proved to be an invaluable tool for sharing informative posts.

We also started seeing creators, brands, and influencers using Instagram to educate their followers, and we can only predict this education trend is here to stay.

You’ve probably seen brands using the carousel post to create awareness around the Covid-19 pandemic, with some even diving into detailed topics. So yes, this is a trend that’s picking up shape fast, and it’s about to revolutionise what we make of Instagram.

So, if you consider yourself a blogger, content creator, or vlogger, then it’s time you thought about investing in carousel post or using Instagram to micro-blog your content.

Trend 4: Instagram Live is Becoming a Mainstream Thing

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it some new trends, some of which were totally unexpected or nothing anyone could have predicted.

The fact that people had to stay indoors forced many of them to dig deep into their creative wells and find ways to entertain themselves.

One result of this is many people turning to Instagram Live to entertain themselves.

And it’s not just you. According to Facebook, Instagram Live views have increased by about 70% since February.

Following the eruption of the Covid-19 and everything happening in between, it’s easy to make sense of this surge.

Instagram Live is preferred by many because it’s a more authentic, transparent, and direct way to connect with your audience, especially at such a time when real-life get-togethers are no longer possible.

As brands hunt for new ways to engage their follower during this lockdown, Instagram Live offers a more practical and easy way to stay in touch with them effectively.

With Instagram Live, you can host a virtual event to offer a valuable service or organise some form of online entertainment where your followers can participate in – a great way to inspire trust and build brand loyalty.

Instagram Live is also an excellent strategy for promoting your products or services. It can also help you drive traffic to your website.

Trend 5: Stickers for Small Businesses

Among those suffering the most as a result of Covid-19 pandemic are small businesses and start-ups.

It’s been a challenging year for most of them, something that’s has seen many of them pause their operations or permanently close their doors.

Instagram is among the few platforms that have been really supportive during these tough times. They have been a lifeline to many businesses, having helped so many of them stay afloat.

They even responded by releasing tons of features and tools that go beyond helping users with shopping.

Among them is the “Support Small Business” Sticker that works with Instagram stories. With this feature, your Instagram followers are allowed to mention your business or brand in the sticker and share it on their stories for their followers to see. Whenever someone uses this sticker, it’s automatically added to their stories. And not just that, Instagram also introduced new stickers for ordering food, buying gift cards, and making donations.

When an Instagram user sees food orders or gift cards, all they have to do to purchase it is tap on the sticker, and they’ll be directed to a partner site where they can complete the purchase.

This comes as a great opportunity for small businesses to sell their products directly to their target audience. It has provided small businesses with tons of exposure and the opportunity to gather support from their community of followers.

Instagram’s bigger sister had to also step in by setting aside $100 million that they’ll be offering to small businesses in both cash grants and ad credit.

Despite the crisis that’s hitting us all, 2020 is turning out to be a year where people just want to support small businesses, a trend that we all hope will continue.

Trend 6: Content Creators Can Now Create Money Directly on Instagram

Since Instagram started, the only way to make money on the platform was through brand partnership and affiliate marketing. But as it stands, Instagram has a series of new features that started rolling in since May that will provide creators with more avenues to make money directly on the platform.

Among the things they’re experimenting with is Instagram Badges, already released to a small number of creators. With this feature, users can spend between $0.99 and $4.99 on heart badges that unlock features and make them stand out in the content stream.

Until the test phase ends, creators will be pocketing 100% of the revenue earned through these badges.

Trend 7: IGTV Ads

Another monetisation feature that Instagram is on the process of introducing is IGTV ads.

These ads are designed to last for a maximum of 15 seconds. They’re to appear on your IGTV videos after someone clicks on them, the same way they occur on YouTube videos.

The creator gets to pocket 55% of the revenue generated from these ads.

In addition to these ads, Live Shopping tools now allow creators and brands to tag the items they’re selling on live videos.

Instagram is making all these changes to retain creators, following the competition they’re facing from the likes of TikTok. They’re also doing this to target a specific group of audience that prefer to monetise their audience by offering useful content rather than promoting a product or a particular experience in their content.

That also explains why many of them are now dropping the title influencer in favour of the new term “ambassador” or “creator.”

Trend 8: Instagram Challenges

From #Trickshot to #DontRush and TrickShot, 2020 will be remembered as the year of social media challenges – not just on Instagram, but TikTok and other social media channels, as well.

The biggest driver of all these challenges is, of course, this pandemic.

The more people are forced to stay home to curb the spread of Covid-19, the more they turn to these social media challenges to stave off boredom.

Challenges have become so popular that Instagram decided to introduce challenge stickers for streamlining the process and nominating the people that you’d wish to see participating in your challenge.

With this feature, all you have to do to participate in any challenge you see is tap on the sticker. Your camera will be directed to record the challenge, and after that, allowed to nominate a few of your friends to also participate in the challenge.

Although many of these challenges are best suited for regular Instagram users, it’s not uncommon to see brands initiate or even take part in some of these challenges.

You can take a cue from the design app, Over. They have a monthly challenge, the #OverDesignChallenge, which design enthusiasts are free to participate in. It’s a simple challenge that’s been so instrumental in helping them raise awareness around their creative editing and design app, as well as its features.

You have two options when it comes to these challenges. The first one is where you decide to launch your own, and the second one is where you choose to participate in one. Either way, challenges are a great way to kill boredom and keep your followers entertained.

Trend 9: Memes are the Thing Now

Memes aren’t just popular on Instagram. They’re the new wave.

However, for a very long time, Memes on Instagram was a reserve of a few meme accounts, specifically opened for creating and sharing memes, like @ladbible, @mytherapistsays, and @fuckjerry.

But all that is now in the past.

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As we speak, we have so many brands and organisations experimenting with memes. A casual look around should reveal so many of them taking a break from the highly curated feeds in favour of something more fun and authentic.

This was bound to happen anyway, considering memes are so easy to relate with. They’re also relevant and more likely to be shared around. They’re the perfect posts for driving product interest and increasing your level of engagement.

So many businesses use meme nowadays. Memes can be versatile and fun. But while at it, you want to make sure your memes remain on-brand.

Trend 10: Branded AR Filters

Instagram launched their AR studio in mid-2019, and since then, they have managed to attract so many artists and designers dedicated to creating their own AR effect to be used on Instagram stories.

So far, this particular project has been so successful.

Named Spark AR Studio, this is an augmented reality (AR) platform for Windows and Mac, dedicated to creating AR filters and effects for mobile cameras. It’s more like Sketch or Photoshop, but for AR.

Before this platform was launched, users had to create their custom AR effects and submit on Instagram stories. They would then have to wait for the effects to be approved to Instagram’s closed beta program.

But after opening Spark AR Studio, anyone is free to create and submit their effects any time they feel like.

Perhaps the most significant trend to ever emerge from this project is the branded AR effects. As a brand, you can even create your own effects and post them on your profile or Insta stories for your followers to access.

Example of a company doing this is @summerfridays. Visit their profile to see a list of AR effects that you can use.

There are so many reasons AR is one of the most powerful marketing tools for businesses. The core of which has to do with its freedom for creativity.

There’s literally no limit as to what you can do with this tool. For instance, if you’re in the cosmetic business, you can use AR to allow your followers to try on your makeup virtually.

Furniture shows can use it to show their customers how their products would look in their homes.

Fashion brands are not exempted. They too can use it to allow their customers to try on sunglasses, shirts, or any other outfit to find out if it indeed fits them or if it matches their taste and style.

Trend 11: The Rise of Nano Influencers

One of the biggest trends to watch on Instagram in 2020 is the emergence of Instagram influencers with fewer than 10, 000 followers, or the nano influencers as they’re commonly referred to.

Nano influencers are the real deal, and it’s because Instagram users prefer connecting with real people. They want to connect with people they can be real with and empathise with, and not all the glam and glitz that Instagram has for long been associated with.

There was a time when fake used to sale, but that’s far behind us now. Users don’t just want people they can look up to. They want real.

The lack of trust and relatability is one of the reasons users have turned to peer-to-peer engagements. In which case, the most reliable and effective advertisement strategy is a peer-to-peer referral.

A friend or family member recommending a product beats any form of endorsement you can get from a celebrated figure with millions of followers on Instagram. You just have to get many followers to recommend your products to their peers, and that’s pretty much like it.

Nano influencers might not have a bigger reach, but the influence they have in their small communities or groups is potentially huge. They know their followers in and out and have a level of intimacy that could work magic for the right brand or campaign.

Trend 12: The Longer Your Captions the Better

Microblogging on Instagram is a trend that’s been with us for a while now. But until now, words weren’t that much of a big deal.

Pictures carried all the attention. However, things appear to have taken an unexpected turn, with more users craving for a real connection.

Captions are a good way to establish this connection – and as it turns out, the longer your caption, the better.

In a recent report by FOHR, Instagram users are now making longer captions. The average caption length now rests at 65 to 70 words, which is more than double of what it used to be in 2016.

What This Means to You

Just get to it. Start posting more extended captions. You can start with the most critical points or call to action. Whichever way you start your captions, figure out how to make it count.

While at it, keep in mind that only the first 125 characters will show. This is where you pour your creativity and give your audience more reasons to keep on scrolling.

Trend 13: Twitter, TikTok, and Giphy Invade Instagram

Instagram has evolved a great deal. It’s no longer a place for filtered images. But an all-rounded platform that now features almost everything you imagine a social media network of its scale should have — from memes to TikTok challenges, music, special effects, and so much more

They compete with almost any social media channel, including their sister social media network, Facebook.

Recently, in what appears like an effort to keep up with Snapchat and TikTok, Instagram has been rolling out so many features, especially in their stories.

They also acquired Giphy, which also adds to a list of interactive features they have – stickers, special effects, filters, and more.

Trend 14: More Content on Instagram’s Explore Tab

Instagram is always looking for new ways to make new accounts easier to find and follow, and the biggest beneficiaries of this are businesses. The explore tab attracts more than 200 million users per day, a great way to get more eyeballs on your brand.

There are tabs for “Shop” and “IGTV,” but that’s not where the story ends. There are tabs for “Décor,” “Nature,” Travel,” and more.

The content on each Explore page has to cater directly to the activities associated with that particular page. In other words, the only way to secure a spot on a particular explore page is to make sure you’re targetting or marketing to its audience correctly.

A few pointers on how to get to Explore Page:

  • Know when to post. Find the right time to post your content.
  • Identify users that are relevant to your field or industries, and make a point to interact with them.
  • Use appropriate and compelling call-to-actions.

Trend 15: Interactive Content

It’s not just with Instagram, but any other social media channel. After all, it’s only social when you’re able to get your peers, friends, or followers to chime in with their contribution.

It’s not a one-way conversation but an interactive one. For this, you want to make sure your Instagram stories features quizzes, questions, polls, and more. At least have a way that your audience can interact with you or your content directly.

Posting interactive content is also a fun way to get your audience’s opinions and thoughts.

Here’s how you incorporate interactivity into your content:

Simply open Instagram stories and upload your photo or content, after which you want to tap on the Stickers icon to open all the interactivity options – polls, question, quizzes, and so on.

You can use interactivity to incorporate some fun into your content or use it strategically for market research or to gather some ideas on your future launches, products, or services.

A few ways to Incorporate Interactivity into Your Content:

  • Create a countdown to run until the end of your giveaway.
  • Add a question or poll stickers to get your followers’ opinion’ on some things
  • Use quizzes to test the understanding or knowledge of your audience on something
  • Give your audience a chance to join your private Q&A chat

Final Words

Instagram will always be a work-in-progress. They’ll always be rolling out new and updated features, so make it your mission to keep up with these trends.

About the Author

Tom Koh

Tom is the CEO and Principal Consultant of MediaOne, a leading digital marketing agency. He has consulted for MNCs like Canon, Maybank, Capitaland, SingTel, ST Engineering, WWF, Cambridge University, as well as Government organisations like Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Law, National Galleries, NTUC, e2i, SingHealth. His articles are published and referenced in CNA, Straits Times, MoneyFM, Financial Times, Yahoo! Finance, Hubspot, Zendesk, CIO Advisor.


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