This piece originally appeared on Three Degrees.
Instagram is dead, long live Instagram. The second largest media network — and fastest growing one, at that — has ditched what made it unique in the first place: the square.
Years of restricting media to a square format forced users to get creative, but at long last, the latest update has allowed for full size images and videos in landscape and portrait sizes. According to the company’s blog, it was time. Nearly one in five posts don’t stick to the square, using third party apps like Whitagram or Afterlight to add whitespace to their content before sharing. While this obviously creates a shift in the content everyday users are sharing, the most sizeable impact will be on businesses.
Last year, Instagram opened themselves up for ads, and at first they were sparsely integrated and saved for the biggest and best brands, worked out exclusively between brands and an Instagram sales representative. But earlier this month, Instagram opened up its advertising API (application programming interface), making ad buys way more accessible for brands of all sizes. So much so, that EMarketer predicts Instagram will generate $595 million in advertising revenue this year, and surpass Google and Twitter in mobile ad revenue by 2017.
Which is why the change in media format matters so much. Now that more brands will be advertising on Instagram, things could go one of two ways. Brands could embrace the freedom of layout as an opportunity to be more creative — think full portrait looks from fashion brands or horizontal teaser videos from movies.
Or, they could get lazy, and integrate the same standard TV promo, horizontal banner ad, or vertical Snapchat video, which is what a lot of critics fear. The square was like Twitter’s 140 characters or Snapchat’s 10 seconds. Was it restrictive? Yes. Did it make for unique content once people were forced to adapt? Absolutely.
Opening up the API was a step away from their pains to regulate ads that were authentic and compelling, ads that would seamlessly flow in a user’s feed. This, combined with the new media format could spell out success or it could be a disaster. The cards are all in the hands of brands now. And let’s hope they remember what Uncle Ben said: “with great power comes great responsibility.”