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這款曾經小清新的應用,為何成功轉型成為“帶貨王”?

2019上证指数k线图: 這款曾經小清新的應用,為何成功轉型成為“帶貨王”?

Kristen Bellstrom 2020年06月05日
它曾經是許多人的靈感源泉,但隨著其不斷探索商業模式,這款應用最終可能只會提供如何花錢的靈感。

2019沪指年线位置 www.839841.tw

圖片來源:Illustration by Ben Wiseman

今年3月中旬,當全世界像龐大的機器停止轉動時,有個地方卻仍然保留著常態,那就是Instagram。我全家人都在用這款照片視頻分享APP:媽媽發她最新的藝術作品,我哥哥拍新出生的寶寶。所有的朋友都在這上面發照片或視頻。我最喜歡的健身教練也會在Instagram Live上直播平常周六教的巴利舞蹈課程,布魯克林發廊的造型師發視頻教人修劉海,很多家紐約大熱餐廳的廚師在自家廚房錄制烹飪課程然后發到長視頻平臺IGTV,他們的廚房看起來跟我家的也差不多。幾乎一夜之間,我的生活已經全部搬進了Instagram。

這并不是我在Instagram唯一的變化。正常工作狀態已經遠離,我不用穿筆挺的西裝和通勤高跟鞋,Instagram時間線里的廣告也發生了變化。現在,屏幕上充斥著毛絨運動褲、緊身褲和休閑套裝等。變化還遠遠不只服裝方面,還有雜貨快遞箱、在家辦公桌和自制美甲套裝等新型廣告。而且沒錯,我都點擊了。

當下的Instagram反映出,智能手機應用幾乎完全能夠捕捉和利用人們的生活方式。盡管有時迷失在強大母公司Facebook隱現的陰影之下(也有可能受到壓制),但在2013年年底Instagram發布首條廣告后,它儼然已經成長為營銷巨頭。2012年,全世界最大的社交網絡以10億美元收購照片應用Instagram,但并未透露這塊業務的財務表現。有報道稱,2019年Instagram的營收在200億美元左右,約占Facebook總營收的四分之一。即使疫情流行期間,數字還在上升。摩根大通預計,今年Instagram的營收將增長20%以上,而外界預計投放Facebook核心應用的廣告資金將保持平穩。與此同時,Instagram的目光已經超越了蓬勃發展的廣告業務,開始關注更直接的“帶貨”。投行Cowen的高級研究分析師約翰?布萊克利奇表示,Instagram將成長為“新興社交商業帝國”。

該應用之所以能成長為“吞金獸”,與Facebook有著千絲萬縷的關系。Facebook以用戶為目標且體量龐大,可以推動Instagram賺錢機器的運轉。但Instagram也有其獨特的優勢,包括為不同人提供不同選擇。你有沒有被那些亮閃閃、精心設計、充滿藝術感的奢侈品廣告吸引過?然后你就會發現時間線里的類似的廣告不計其數。如果你更喜歡直白更真實的內容,那Stories就能發揮作用,和Snapchat一樣,Stories里面的照片和視頻“閱后即焚”。即便你不喜歡廣告,在面對喜歡的名人或其他“網紅”的推薦時,你都能否招架得???

可以說,Instagram實現了在線廣告最初的承諾,引導你購買你確實需要的商品。正如數字產品代理公司Work&Co.的設計合伙人喬恩?杰克遜所說:“如果人們不在乎廣告在銷售什么,那這真是糟糕的廣告?!?

通過作者的手機截圖,便能看出疫情期間廣告商是如何利用Instagram做廣告的。圖片來源:Courtesy of Instagram; Getty Images

不過,營銷的魔力很脆弱。甚至在新冠病毒顛覆世界經濟之前,就有人提出疑問:Instagram能讓用戶持續關注多久?反壟斷監管機構呼吁拆分Facebook,如果真是這樣,Instagram就不能再使用其強大的算法。而且Instagram跟之前的社交媒體新生代一樣,都面臨著被新來者取代的威脅。當下的挑戰者包括Snap和抖音國際版TikTok。而且,誰又敢說程序員在公寓里隔離時,會夢到什么聰明又令人上癮的新應用呢?

不過,對于日常使用相關應用的人們來說,真正的問題是如果Instagram變得太優秀會怎樣?早期Instagram之所以能在硅谷KPI驅動的世界里突飛猛進,主要是因為純粹關注新創意。剛開始應用就是為了分享和欣賞美麗照片。Instagram的產品副總裁維沙爾?沙阿說,之后情況發生了很多變化,但很多用戶還是去Instagram“尋找靈感”,這也是Instagram作為廣告和購物平臺運作良好的原因之一。他說得也沒錯。但隨著Instagram不斷探索獲取新收入的方式,最后情況可能是,該平臺只能提供如何花錢的靈感。

2013年11月,Instagram首次涉足廣告。當時,Instagram的聯合創始人凱文?塞斯特羅姆聲稱,每條廣告都他都親自審查,以維持平臺的審美水準。2018年,塞斯特羅姆因為與Facebook的首席執行官馬克?扎克伯格發生沖突而離開公司,當年嚴苛的規定也早已不復存在。事實上,在Instagram發廣告最吸引人之處就是極其方便。eMarketer的首席分析師黛布拉?阿霍?威廉森表示:“就像勾選方框一樣簡單?!憊愀嬪淌褂玫墓ぞ哂臚斗臚acebook廣告相同,告訴公司目標客戶在哪以及廣告投放地點,或者干脆讓Facebook幫著決定就可以。如果廣告主想觸達我這樣的用戶,Facebook會利用我在其應用和網上其他地方的行為辨識出我是女性,35歲到45歲,住在紐約市,喜歡設計、旅游和時尚,然后嗖一下,我的Instagram時間線上就會出現粉色旅行箱的廣告。

Facebook在數字廣告市場幾乎占據主導地位,市場份額基本上只輸給谷歌一點,現在重心是推動Instagram轉向下一個收入前沿——電商。自2017年以來,平臺允許發布“購物帖”,即商家可以在照片中顯示產品的定價信息,用戶點擊后直接跳轉至零售商網站上的商品頁面。2019年年初,Instagram深入商業領域,推出了結賬功能,用戶無需離開Instagram即可通過PayPal完成購買。只要輸入一次付款和發貨信息,之后幾秒鐘內就能夠從入駐平臺的賣家購買。每筆交易Instagram都會收取一定費用。

Facebook提供的數據顯示,結賬是迅速也很基本的操作,剛開始有22個品牌,現在發展到“數百個”。該項服務也有人質疑,稱之過于簡單,缺乏購物工具。但樂觀的分析師認為其中蘊藏著巨大的機會。去年,德意志銀行估計,到2021年,結賬功能可以推動Instagram電商收入增至高達100億美元。Instagram對母公司的重要之處還不僅在于剛剛起步的電商業務。分析師普遍認為,無論在用戶還是廣告收入方面,其增速都比Facebook核心應用更快。eMarketer估計,12歲至24歲的美國用戶,也是各方爭取的用戶群體中,今年Instagram將超過Facebook,到2022年,Instagram將占據公司總收入的一半以上。由于成功地避免了困擾Facebook的虛假信息和數據隱私陷,公關方面Instagram也很省心。2019年皮尤研究中心的一項民調顯示,只有29%的美國人能夠正確指出Instagram和通訊應用WhatsApp屬于Facebook。不管從哪個角度看,2012年扎克伯格花10億美元收購Instagram都很值?!罷饈怯惺芬岳醋畛曬Φ氖展褐?。沒錯?!盋owen的分析師布萊克利奇說。

我已經記不清具體從什么時候開始,我從在Instagram發照片變成了在Instagram購物。但這些年來,我在應用里下單或在應用里發現目標之后下單的數量急劇增加。我買過Rothy平跟鞋、Outdoor Voices緊身褲配連帽衫、Ferm Living的花盆,還有新買的Article抱枕。在寫稿期間,我看到有個朋友穿著新跑步褲發布了Instagram Story,就發信息問她:“褲子從哪買的?”“Vuori?!彼卮鸕?,并補充說:“在Instagram買的:)”現在我的新褲子正在送往公寓的路上。

我對自己的行為并不驕傲,但我知道像我一樣的人并不少。Cowen最近的一份報告發現,在18至35歲的用戶里,近40%從Instagram上發現的品牌買過東西。總體而言,約13%的美國Instagram用戶承認直接通過應用購買過商品,超過60%的用戶表示“關注”了品牌賬戶。

Instagram如此討喜的原因很簡單:美麗的照片。其美感已經滲透到現實世界,也讓公共和私人場所“處處皆可ins風”,引發了 #OOTD (發布“今日搭配”照片的概念),還催生出了所謂的千禧一代設計風格,即火遍應用內外的弱粉色無襯線字體。

Instagram也改變了數字廣告。早期塞斯特羅姆把關的原則一直存在,到最后時間線上的廣告看起來要像朋友可能發布的東西,而且要更好看。通過應用里最受歡迎的廣告界面Stories,營銷者學會了自然和不加修飾的重要性。利用該功能,品牌可以將一系列照片和視頻打包,最理想的情況是不讓用戶感覺到在沉重的前提下傳遞大量信息?!癐G Stories是向全世界介紹品牌最有力的工具?!庇笹ood Moose的首席執行官兼聯合創始人丹尼爾?羅馬諾說。

如果談論Instagram,就無法避開網紅,也就是應用里還有YouTube上聚集的有些奇怪的類明星群體。據營銷平臺Influencer Marketing Hub統計,去年市場營銷人員在網紅身上投的錢約為65億美元。網紅“創造者”是應用里推動銷售的“秘方”關鍵,首批試用Instagram結賬功能的阿迪達斯數字合作高級主管謝麗爾?馬洛尼表示。她舉了個例子,玩家忍者跟德雷克玩《堡壘之夜》游戲直播打破了平臺紀錄,在當上網紅后,他就能夠號召粉絲到Instagram看比賽,并購買阿迪達斯的最新款“drop”休閑鞋。

當然,現在的問題是,在疫情過去之后,構建電商帝國的數字積木能否保持穩固,哪一塊可能變松,導致整體結構搖擺。網紅經濟肯定面臨風險,因為居家令限制了鏡頭前的生活方式,炫耀性消費也與新聞中每日死亡人數的沉重氛圍存在沖突。Facebook曾經表示,病毒導致廣告業務“急劇放緩”,認為未來將出現“前所未有的不確定性”。但與此同時,全球范圍內的封鎖也推動應用用戶數量和參與度大幅飆升,困在家里的人們開始改變使用方式。4月的財報電話會上,扎克伯格說每天在Instagram和Facebook觀看直播視頻的用戶多達8億人。相比之下,今年美國超級碗的觀眾僅為約1.02億。

Instagram很清楚,必須在“原生”帖子(比如同事分享新做的面包)和付費內容之間維持平衡?!岸雜詮婺E喲驣nstagram,甚至普通用戶來說,并不存在簡單統一的答案?!盜nstagram的沙阿說。該公司利用數據在喜歡廣告的用戶面前投放更多廣告,至于不喜歡廣告的用戶,就少投放。

至于我,泡在應用里的時間比以往都多。iPhone屏幕使用時間統計顯示,最近一周日均6小時24分鐘。但我發帖變少了,今年以來只發過兩張照片。毫無疑問,主要原因是在過去兩個月內,我一直被困在不太適合拍照的公寓里,這也反映了我跟應用關系的轉變。等到能重新走出去看外面的世界,我希望用Instagram的方式能更接近2012年剛下載時:發揮創意,而不僅僅是消費。(財富中文網)

本文另一版本登載于《財富》雜志2020年6/7月刊。

譯者:Feb

今年3月中旬,當全世界像龐大的機器停止轉動時,有個地方卻仍然保留著常態,那就是Instagram。我全家人都在用這款照片視頻分享APP:媽媽發她最新的藝術作品,我哥哥拍新出生的寶寶。所有的朋友都在這上面發照片或視頻。我最喜歡的健身教練也會在Instagram Live上直播平常周六教的巴利舞蹈課程,布魯克林發廊的造型師發視頻教人修劉海,很多家紐約大熱餐廳的廚師在自家廚房錄制烹飪課程然后發到長視頻平臺IGTV,他們的廚房看起來跟我家的也差不多。幾乎一夜之間,我的生活已經全部搬進了Instagram。

這并不是我在Instagram唯一的變化。正常工作狀態已經遠離,我不用穿筆挺的西裝和通勤高跟鞋,Instagram時間線里的廣告也發生了變化。現在,屏幕上充斥著毛絨運動褲、緊身褲和休閑套裝等。變化還遠遠不只服裝方面,還有雜貨快遞箱、在家辦公桌和自制美甲套裝等新型廣告。而且沒錯,我都點擊了。

當下的Instagram反映出,智能手機應用幾乎完全能夠捕捉和利用人們的生活方式。盡管有時迷失在強大母公司Facebook隱現的陰影之下(也有可能受到壓制),但在2013年年底Instagram發布首條廣告后,它儼然已經成長為營銷巨頭。2012年,全世界最大的社交網絡以10億美元收購照片應用Instagram,但并未透露這塊業務的財務表現。有報道稱,2019年Instagram的營收在200億美元左右,約占Facebook總營收的四分之一。即使疫情流行期間,數字還在上升。摩根大通預計,今年Instagram的營收將增長20%以上,而外界預計投放Facebook核心應用的廣告資金將保持平穩。與此同時,Instagram的目光已經超越了蓬勃發展的廣告業務,開始關注更直接的“帶貨”。投行Cowen的高級研究分析師約翰?布萊克利奇表示,Instagram將成長為“新興社交商業帝國”。

該應用之所以能成長為“吞金獸”,與Facebook有著千絲萬縷的關系。Facebook以用戶為目標且體量龐大,可以推動Instagram賺錢機器的運轉。但Instagram也有其獨特的優勢,包括為不同人提供不同選擇。你有沒有被那些亮閃閃、精心設計、充滿藝術感的奢侈品廣告吸引過?然后你就會發現時間線里的類似的廣告不計其數。如果你更喜歡直白更真實的內容,那Stories就能發揮作用,和Snapchat一樣,Stories里面的照片和視頻“閱后即焚”。即便你不喜歡廣告,在面對喜歡的名人或其他“網紅”的推薦時,你都能否招架得???

可以說,Instagram實現了在線廣告最初的承諾,引導你購買你確實需要的商品。正如數字產品代理公司Work&Co.的設計合伙人喬恩?杰克遜所說:“如果人們不在乎廣告在銷售什么,那這真是糟糕的廣告?!?

不過,營銷的魔力很脆弱。甚至在新冠病毒顛覆世界經濟之前,就有人提出疑問:Instagram能讓用戶持續關注多久?反壟斷監管機構呼吁拆分Facebook,如果真是這樣,Instagram就不能再使用其強大的算法。而且Instagram跟之前的社交媒體新生代一樣,都面臨著被新來者取代的威脅。當下的挑戰者包括Snap和抖音國際版TikTok。而且,誰又敢說程序員在公寓里隔離時,會夢到什么聰明又令人上癮的新應用呢?

不過,對于日常使用相關應用的人們來說,真正的問題是如果Instagram變得太優秀會怎樣?早期Instagram之所以能在硅谷KPI驅動的世界里突飛猛進,主要是因為純粹關注新創意。剛開始應用就是為了分享和欣賞美麗照片。Instagram的產品副總裁維沙爾?沙阿說,之后情況發生了很多變化,但很多用戶還是去Instagram“尋找靈感”,這也是Instagram作為廣告和購物平臺運作良好的原因之一。他說得也沒錯。但隨著Instagram不斷探索獲取新收入的方式,最后情況可能是,該平臺只能提供如何花錢的靈感。

2013年11月,Instagram首次涉足廣告。當時,Instagram的聯合創始人凱文?塞斯特羅姆聲稱,每條廣告都他都親自審查,以維持平臺的審美水準。2018年,塞斯特羅姆因為與Facebook的首席執行官馬克?扎克伯格發生沖突而離開公司,當年嚴苛的規定也早已不復存在。事實上,在Instagram發廣告最吸引人之處就是極其方便。eMarketer的首席分析師黛布拉?阿霍?威廉森表示:“就像勾選方框一樣簡單?!憊愀嬪淌褂玫墓ぞ哂臚斗臚acebook廣告相同,告訴公司目標客戶在哪以及廣告投放地點,或者干脆讓Facebook幫著決定就可以。如果廣告主想觸達我這樣的用戶,Facebook會利用我在其應用和網上其他地方的行為辨識出我是女性,35歲到45歲,住在紐約市,喜歡設計、旅游和時尚,然后嗖一下,我的Instagram時間線上就會出現粉色旅行箱的廣告。

Facebook在數字廣告市場幾乎占據主導地位,市場份額基本上只輸給谷歌一點,現在重心是推動Instagram轉向下一個收入前沿——電商。自2017年以來,平臺允許發布“購物帖”,即商家可以在照片中顯示產品的定價信息,用戶點擊后直接跳轉至零售商網站上的商品頁面。2019年年初,Instagram深入商業領域,推出了結賬功能,用戶無需離開Instagram即可通過PayPal完成購買。只要輸入一次付款和發貨信息,之后幾秒鐘內就能夠從入駐平臺的賣家購買。每筆交易Instagram都會收取一定費用。

Facebook提供的數據顯示,結賬是迅速也很基本的操作,剛開始有22個品牌,現在發展到“數百個”。該項服務也有人質疑,稱之過于簡單,缺乏購物工具。但樂觀的分析師認為其中蘊藏著巨大的機會。去年,德意志銀行估計,到2021年,結賬功能可以推動Instagram電商收入增至高達100億美元。Instagram對母公司的重要之處還不僅在于剛剛起步的電商業務。分析師普遍認為,無論在用戶還是廣告收入方面,其增速都比Facebook核心應用更快。eMarketer估計,12歲至24歲的美國用戶,也是各方爭取的用戶群體中,今年Instagram將超過Facebook,到2022年,Instagram將占據公司總收入的一半以上。由于成功地避免了困擾Facebook的虛假信息和數據隱私陷,公關方面Instagram也很省心。2019年皮尤研究中心的一項民調顯示,只有29%的美國人能夠正確指出Instagram和通訊應用WhatsApp屬于Facebook。不管從哪個角度看,2012年扎克伯格花10億美元收購Instagram都很值?!罷饈怯惺芬岳醋畛曬Φ氖展褐?。沒錯?!盋owen的分析師布萊克利奇說。

我已經記不清具體從什么時候開始,我從在Instagram發照片變成了在Instagram購物。但這些年來,我在應用里下單或在應用里發現目標之后下單的數量急劇增加。我買過Rothy平跟鞋、Outdoor Voices緊身褲配連帽衫、Ferm Living的花盆,還有新買的Article抱枕。在寫稿期間,我看到有個朋友穿著新跑步褲發布了Instagram Story,就發信息問她:“褲子從哪買的?”“Vuori?!彼卮鸕?,并補充說:“在Instagram買的:)”現在我的新褲子正在送往公寓的路上。

我對自己的行為并不驕傲,但我知道像我一樣的人并不少。Cowen最近的一份報告發現,在18至35歲的用戶里,近40%從Instagram上發現的品牌買過東西。總體而言,約13%的美國Instagram用戶承認直接通過應用購買過商品,超過60%的用戶表示“關注”了品牌賬戶。

Instagram如此討喜的原因很簡單:美麗的照片。其美感已經滲透到現實世界,也讓公共和私人場所“處處皆可ins風”,引發了 #OOTD (發布“今日搭配”照片的概念),還催生出了所謂的千禧一代設計風格,即火遍應用內外的弱粉色無襯線字體。

Instagram也改變了數字廣告。早期塞斯特羅姆把關的原則一直存在,到最后時間線上的廣告看起來要像朋友可能發布的東西,而且要更好看。通過應用里最受歡迎的廣告界面Stories,營銷者學會了自然和不加修飾的重要性。利用該功能,品牌可以將一系列照片和視頻打包,最理想的情況是不讓用戶感覺到在沉重的前提下傳遞大量信息?!癐G Stories是向全世界介紹品牌最有力的工具?!庇笹ood Moose的首席執行官兼聯合創始人丹尼爾?羅馬諾說。

如果談論Instagram,就無法避開網紅,也就是應用里還有YouTube上聚集的有些奇怪的類明星群體。據營銷平臺Influencer Marketing Hub統計,去年市場營銷人員在網紅身上投的錢約為65億美元。網紅“創造者”是應用里推動銷售的“秘方”關鍵,首批試用Instagram結賬功能的阿迪達斯數字合作高級主管謝麗爾?馬洛尼表示。她舉了個例子,玩家忍者跟德雷克玩《堡壘之夜》游戲直播打破了平臺紀錄,在當上網紅后,他就能夠號召粉絲到Instagram看比賽,并購買阿迪達斯的最新款“drop”休閑鞋。

當然,現在的問題是,在疫情過去之后,構建電商帝國的數字積木能否保持穩固,哪一塊可能變松,導致整體結構搖擺。網紅經濟肯定面臨風險,因為居家令限制了鏡頭前的生活方式,炫耀性消費也與新聞中每日死亡人數的沉重氛圍存在沖突。Facebook曾經表示,病毒導致廣告業務“急劇放緩”,認為未來將出現“前所未有的不確定性”。但與此同時,全球范圍內的封鎖也推動應用用戶數量和參與度大幅飆升,困在家里的人們開始改變使用方式。4月的財報電話會上,扎克伯格說每天在Instagram和Facebook觀看直播視頻的用戶多達8億人。相比之下,今年美國超級碗的觀眾僅為約1.02億。

Instagram很清楚,必須在“原生”帖子(比如同事分享新做的面包)和付費內容之間維持平衡?!岸雜詮婺E喲驣nstagram,甚至普通用戶來說,并不存在簡單統一的答案?!盜nstagram的沙阿說。該公司利用數據在喜歡廣告的用戶面前投放更多廣告,至于不喜歡廣告的用戶,就少投放。

至于我,泡在應用里的時間比以往都多。iPhone屏幕使用時間統計顯示,最近一周日均6小時24分鐘。但我發帖變少了,今年以來只發過兩張照片。毫無疑問,主要原因是在過去兩個月內,我一直被困在不太適合拍照的公寓里,這也反映了我跟應用關系的轉變。等到能重新走出去看外面的世界,我希望用Instagram的方式能更接近2012年剛下載時:發揮創意,而不僅僅是消費。(財富中文網)

本文另一版本登載于《財富》雜志2020年6/7月刊。

譯者:Feb

As the world screeched to a halt in the middle of March, there was one place where I could still find normality: Instagram. My family was there—my mom sharing her latest artwork; my brother’s shots of his new baby—as were my friends, both real and aspirational. (DM me anytime, Chrissy Teigen!) But now I could also find a favorite fitness instructor teaching his usual Saturday barre class on Instagram Live, the stylists from my Brooklyn hair salon posting bang-trim tutorials, and the chefs of many of New York’s most beloved restaurants leading IGTV cooking lessons from home kitchens not so different from my own. Almost overnight, the life I used to lead in, well, life, had relocated to Instagram.

And that wasn’t the only change happening in my Instagram existence. As I temporarily retired workwear staples like sharp-shouldered blazers and commute-friendly heels, the ads filling my Instagram feed transformed as well. The screen was now bursting with sponsored posts for “plush upstate sweatpants,” leggings, and loungewear sets. The shift went far beyond clothing, to new-to-me ads for grocery delivery boxes, work-from-home desks, and DIY manicure sets. And, yes, reader: I clicked.

Instagram is having a moment, one that reveals the ways in which the smartphone app is almost perfectly positioned to capture—and capitalize on—The Way We Live Now. Since Instagram posted its first ad in late 2013, it has grown into a marketing juggernaut, albeit one that is sometimes lost in (or perhaps sheltered by) the looming shadow of its powerful parent, Facebook. The world’s preeminent social network, which acquired the photo app for $1 billion in 2012, doesn’t break out Instagram’s fi?nances. But news reports peg the unit’s 2019 revenues in the $20 billion range, or about a quarter of Facebook’s total. And even amid a pandemic, that number is on the upswing. J.P. Morgan projects that Instagram revenues will climb more than 20% this year, despite the expectation that ad money being pumped into the core Facebook app will stay flat. Meanwhile, Instagram is already looking beyond its booming ad business, setting its sights on selling us stuff more directly. It is, says Cowen senior research analyst John Blackledge, “an emerging social commerce powerhouse.”

The app’s evolution into one of the Internet’s most potent tools for separating users from their cash cannot be severed from its relationship with Facebook. The parent, with its user targeting and sheer scale, provides Instagram the engine to turbocharge its own moneymaking machine. But Instagram also brings unique strengths to the endeavor, including its ability to be many things to many people. Are you tempted by the kind of carefully composed, art-directed ads you might see in a luxury glossy? You’ll find an endless supply on your feed. Or maybe you prefer your brands chatty, unscripted, and “authentic.” That’s what Stories—Instagram’s Snapchat-esque feature for disappearing photos and videos—is for. And if the very idea of an ad is a turnoff, how about getting a recommendation or 12 from your favorite celebrity or other “influencer”? They’re all on the app, tagging and sharing their way through their closets, homes, social lives, and vacations.

At its best, Instagram delivers on online advertising’s original promise, to be a helpful service that steers you toward things you actually want. As Jon Jackson, design partner at digital product agency Work & Co., puts it: “An ad only sucks if you don’t care about what it’s selling.”

That marketing magic is fragile, though. Even before the coronavirus upended the world’s economic expectations, there were plenty of questions about how long Instagram can keep us caring. Antitrust regulators yearn for Facebook to be broken up, a move that would deprive Instagram of its parent’s valuable algorithms. And Instagram, like all the cool kids of social media before it, faces the existential threat of being displaced by the new new thing. Today’s challengers include Snap and TikTok, but who’s to say what brilliant and deviously addictive new app some coder is dreaming up while quarantining in her apartment right now?

For those of us who have made the app part of our daily routine, though, the real question is, what happens if Instagram gets too good? In its early days, part of what made Instagram radical within the KPI-driven world of Silicon Valley was its focus on creativity for creativity’s sake. It was just a place to share and appreciate gorgeous photos. A lot has changed since then, but people still come to Instagram “to be inspired,” which is one of the reasons it works so well as an ad and shopping platform, says Vishal Shah, Instagram’s VP of product. He’s not wrong. But as the app continues to explore new ways to drive revenue, it risks reaching the point where the only thing it inspires us to do is spend money.

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Instagram first dipped its toe into the advertising world in November 2013. At the time, Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom claimed he personally vetted each ad in an effort to keep the platform’s aesthetic bar high. Fast-forward to 2020: Both Systrom, who left the company in 2018 amid conflicts with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and those stringent rules are long gone. Indeed, one of the most appealing aspects of advertising on Instagram is how easy the process is. “It’s literally checking a box,” says Debra Aho Williamson, principal analyst at eMarketer. Advertisers use the same tool that places Facebook ads; they tell the company whom they want to target and where the ad should run—or simply let Facebook make that decision for them. If that company is trying to reach, say, someone like me, Facebook uses my behavior on its apps (both Facebook and Instagram if the accounts are linked, as mine are) and elsewhere on the Internet to see that I’m a woman, age 35 to 45, living in New York City, who likes design, travel, and fashion, and—boom—that ad for the blush-pink Away suitcase lands in my Instagram feed.

Having established near domination in the digital ad market—only Google gets a larger share of the pie—Facebook is now pivoting Instagram toward the next revenue frontier, e-commerce. Since 2017, the platform has allowed for “shoppable posts,” in which a merchant can display pricing information about products shown in a photo, and with a tap take users directly to that item on the retailer’s site. In early 2019, Instagram waded deeper into the world of commerce, launching Checkout, which enables users to buy via PayPal without leaving Instagram. Shoppers enter their payment and shipping information once and then can buy from any of the participating sellers in seconds. Instagram takes a cut of all sales.

Checkout is still a small-time and rudimentary operation—it started with 22 brands and now involves “hundreds,” according to Facebook. The service has its share of skeptics, who call it bare-bones for its lack of shopping tools. But bullish analysts see a big opportunity. Last year, Deutsche Bank estimated Checkout could help drive Instagram’s e-commerce revenue to as much as $10 billion by 2021. And it’s not just its fledgling e-commerce business that makes Instagram essential to its parent. Analysts generally believe Instagram is growing faster, both in ?users and in ad revenue, than the core Facebook app. eMarketer estimates that Instagram will surpass Facebook this year in terms of U.S. users age 12 to 24—a coveted demographic—and that by 2022, it will be responsible for more than half of the company’s total revenue. Instagram represents a PR coup for Facebook, too, as the photo app has managed to avoid most of the misinformation and data privacy pitfalls that have dogged Facebook. According to a 2019 poll by Pew Research Center, just 29% of Americans correctly identified Instagram and messaging service WhatsApp as being owned by Facebook. Either way, the $1 billion Zuckerberg spent to buy Instagram in 2012 was money well spent. “It’s one of the best acquisitions in history. Period,” says Blackledge, the analyst with Cowen.

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I can’t recall the exact moment I crossed over from Instagram photo poster to Instagram shopper. But over the years, the number of purchases I made or first spotted on the app has snowballed. There’s the pointy-toed Rothy’s flats, the Outdoor Voices leggings with matching hoodie, the Ferm Living planter, our new Article throw pillows. In the midst of writing this story, I messaged a friend who’d posted an Instagram Story of herself in some new joggers, asking, “Where are they from?” “Vuori,” she responded, adding: “Instagram buy :)” A pair are now en route to my apartment.

I’m not exactly proud of this behavior—but I know I’m not alone. A recent report from Cowen found nearly 40% of users ages 18 to 35 had bought something from a brand they discovered on Instagram. Overall, about 13% of U.S. Instagrammers said they had made a purchase directly through the app, and more than 60% said they “follow” a brand’s account.

The main reason Instagram is so pleasantly browsable is simple: pretty photos. Much has been made of how its aesthetic has spilled out into the physical world—remaking our public and private places to be “Instagrammable,” spawning #OOTD (the concept of posting a photo of your “outfit of the day”) and helping birth so-called millennial design—the muted pastels and sans serif fonts that rage on and off the app.

Instagram also has transformed digital advertising. The discipline of Systrom’s early gatekeeping has persisted; the ultimate news feed ad looks just like something one of your friends might post—only better. And one of the app’s most popular ad surfaces, Stories, has taught marketers the value of appearing spontaneous and unpolished. It’s a place where brands can string together a series of photos and videos, ideally conveying a ton of information without feeling heavy-handed. “IG Stories is the most powerful tool you can use to introduce your brand to the world,” says Daniel Romano, CEO and cofounder of marketing agency Good Moose.

And you can’t talk about Instagram without talking about influencers, the strange universe of digital demi-celebrities that the app, along with YouTube, created. Marketers spent an estimated $6.5 billion last year on influencers, according to Influencer Marketing Hub. These “creators” are a key part of the “formula” for selling things on the app, says Sheryl Maloney, senior director of digital partnerships at Adidas, an Instagram Checkout pioneer. She cites Ninja, a gamer known for, among other things, breaking streaming records while playing Fortnite with Drake, as an example of someone with the online clout required to get his followers to come to the platform to see—and buy—Adidas’s latest new “drop.”

The immediate question, of course, is which of these digital Jenga pieces will hold firm in a post-COVID-19 world, and which will come loose, leaving the whole structure swaying. The influencer economy is certainly at risk, as stay-at-home orders crimp their photogenic lifestyles, and messages of conspicuous consumption clash with the daily death toll in the news. Facebook has said that the ?virus has created a “steep slowdown” in its ad business and that it sees “unprecedented uncertainty” ahead. But at the same time, global lockdowns have prompted a massive spike in ?users and engagement on its apps, and people, stuck at home, are starting to change how they behave when they use them. On an April earnings call, Zuckerberg said that 800 million people are now tuning into live video on Instagram and Facebook daily. By way of comparison, about 102 million people watched this year’s Super Bowl in the U.S.

Instagram knows it must strike a balance between “organic” posts (like when your coworker shares a shot of his latest loaf of sourdough) and paid content. “There’s no one monolithic answer for all of Instagram or even any one person,” says Instagram’s Shah. Instead, the company uses data to try to put more ads in front of users who welcome them—and fewer in front of those who don’t.

As for me, I’m on the app more than ever: six hours and 24 minutes one recent week, according to my iPhone’s Screen Time report. But my posting became anemic—just two photos in my feed so far all year. No doubt the fact that I’ve been stuck in my less-than-photogenic apartment for the past two months has had something to do with that, but I think it also reflects a shift in my relationship with the app. When it’s time to reenter the outside world, I hope I can get closer to the way I used Instagram when I joined, back in 2012: to create, not just to consume.?

A version of this article appears in the June/July 2020 issue of Fortune.

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