'Businesses are on Instagram because the platform drives business outcomes'

In an interaction with e4m, Sandeep Bhushan, Facebook India Director & Head of GMS, said that India has been a testing ground for the launch of new products or services of Instagram

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Published: Jan 18, 2021 8:20 AM  | 11 min read
Sandeep Bhushan

Facebook’s photo and video-sharing social networking service Instagram has been growing at a breakneck speed in India. According to NapoleonCat, there were 129.87 million Instagram users in India in November 2020, which accounted for 9.3% of the country's population.

The majority of Instagram's users were men forming almost 72.3% of its user base. People aged 18 to 24 were the largest user group (57 million). The highest difference between men and women occurs within people aged 18 to 24, where men lead by 27 million.

In an interaction with exchange4media.com, Facebook India Director and Head of GMS, Sandeep Bhushan said that India is an important market for Instagram and has been a testing ground for the launch of new products/services. A case in point being Instagram Lite and Reels.

Instagram's strategy in India is to build a loyal audience base and be the driver of niche trends. The platform also offers full-funnel solutions to brands besides providing a platform to creative talent.


How important is the Indian market for Instagram and what makes India the perfect testing ground for new product launches?

India is an important country for Instagram and has been a testing ground for innovation, thanks to the natural creativity and entrepreneurial spirit we see here. India was one of the first countries where we tested and launched Reels and then Live Rooms. It is the first country where a consumer marketing campaign went live for Reels and one of the first again, where Instagram Lite began testing, before the global rollout.

Public figures show up most authentically and young people express themselves freely on Instagram, driving trends that go mainstream. The community uses the platform to connect back with traditions, be it yoga or vintage jewelry, and start new ones like ‘freak shakes’ and IPL. This pursuit of passions on the platform has also acted as a springboard for successes for large and small businesses, from Samsung to Swiggy.

Businesses too, more and more, make Instagram central to their consumer connect - whether it is through presence, creator engagement, or ads. Creators and businesses at the forefront of pushing culture and creativity forward on the app in India. This enables brands to express and connect authentically with the right audiences. Brands now make use of Instagram surfaces and ad tools to drive business. There are a slew of examples, be it Hyundai Aura that launched with influencers and saw a 5 point lift in awareness or a 2.3 point increase in purchase intent for Cadbury Cocoa or Puma India doing fantastic creative execution at the awareness stage.

What was the idea behind launching Instagram Lite in India?

Earlier last year there was research conducted in India, to ascertain the attractiveness and comprehension of new products, and one barrier that was observed was the compromised internet experience, as a result of low memory phones and heavy-sized apps. This set the context for the test of Instagram Lite, and India is a primary test country for it.

The Instagram Lite app is created to bring the core Instagram experience to people who do not have an Instagram experience today. The app is made for Android and this new version has improved speed, performance, and responsiveness. The experience is similar to the core Instagram app experience, though there are some features that are not currently supported such as Reels, Shopping, and IGTV. The app will be available in Bangla, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Punjabi, Tamil, and Telugu. We don’t have the timing to share when the app will be rolled out more broadly.

What are the key growth drivers for Instagram in India?

People come to Instagram to connect with their friends and family but stay on Instagram for their interests. Given India’s young demographic, vibrant culture, and roots in open expression, we’re focussed on fueling their passions, enabling their expression, and providing a safe and supportive environment to do so.

This is how Instagram has evolved, from the feed to the arrival of Stories, Live, IGTV, and Reels. Teens and creators drive trends on Instagram – from Dalgona coffee and saree challenges to powerful social activism like #ChallengeAccepted and #ShareWithPride to more niche trends like Urdu poetry and memes, Instagram pushes culture forward. Right now, we’re witnessing enormous shifts in how people create and consume culture as tools that were only available to the most sophisticated media organizations are now literally in the hands of billions. We’ve seen an explosion of video, which is why we’ve been focusing on IGTV and Reels.

Compared to the US, a large chunk of your user base in India is skewed towards males? What steps are being taken to onboard more female users on the platform?

Our community is at the heart of Instagram and we’re focussed on enabling their expression for the next generation of young people and creators. Reels, for instance, was launched as people shared their need to make and watch short-form entertaining videos.

But we’re also focussed on keeping people safe and building new features that fight bullying, improve equity and help people feel supported. Our Community Guidelines are robust and help promote a safe online environment, for women, children, and beyond. In light of instances of bullying and harassment on Instagram last year, especially towards women who are creators and public figures, we introduced new controls for creators to manage who can message or add them to groups in Instagram Direct. We also have comment moderation tools and interventions like comment warnings that use AI to detect bullying language before it’s posted.

How is Instagram helping brands to grow their business?

Businesses are on Instagram because the platform drives business outcomes. Instagram is the place where people express themselves creatively, and there’s a natural affinity to interact with public figures, creators, and brands. This is why 90% of people on Instagram follow a business. The platform brings communities together in the moment, offering further ways to shop online instead of in-store, and providing a place to educate and entertain customers with interactive video experiences.

Branded content is thus a huge opportunity for brands who can engage with the creator community, in a way that fulfills their business objectives. Branded content ads help here, as it gives advertisers the ability to promote creators' organic branded content posts as feed and stories ads, thereby reaching new audiences and measuring impact. For example, Hyundai Aura that launched with influencers and saw a 5 point lift in awareness or a 2.3 point increase in purchase intent for Cadbury Cocoa or Puma India doing fantastic creative execution at the awareness stage.

In October 2020, to further spur this interaction between creators and brands, we launched ‘Love Runs Deep’, Instagram's first campaign in India aimed at marketers and advertisers. It was done with the aim of redefining the ecosystem and allowing stories to be told with greater business impact. As part of the campaign, brands were invited to submit their briefs in the ‘Love Runs Deep challenge’, and 5 of them were chosen to have exclusive access to 25 creators to work with them free of cost, in addition, to support of USD25,000 worth of ad credits to run their campaigns. The brands could have been from across India and from big or small businesses.

Most recently, Instagram also partnered with actor Kareena Kapoor Khan, for her to engage with her thriving Instagram community and to support small businesses in the country. The actor was seen supporting an Ahmedabad-based small business, myBageecha, and is encouraging others also to discover and support a small business of their choice.

What kind of solutions do you have for advertisers in India?

Instagram offers full-funnel solutions that help drive awareness, to consideration, to purchase. There are four formats of ads on Instagram: Feed ads, Stories Ads, Ads in Explore, and Branded content ads.

Feed ads – Leverage Instagram’s dynamic feed for placing photo ads/ video ads/ Carousel ads/ Collection ads.

Stories Ads - 500 million Instagram accounts use Instagram Stories every day. And businesses are seeing success with Stories ads for a range of objectives. 1 in 3 of the most viewed Instagram Stories are from businesses.

Ads in Explore - Explore is one of the best places for people to discover, shop, and connect with people, businesses, and creators. Advertisers can be part of what's culturally relevant and trending while reaching new audiences who are looking to discover something new.

Branded content ads – With this, advertisers have the ability to promote creators' organic branded content posts as feed and stories ads, thereby reaching new audiences and measuring impact.

Instagram is also an important platform for independent creators? How do you plan to help them in monetising their content?

For Instagram, creators play a key part, as they epitomise the spirit of the community with their creativity in visual storytelling and amazing social video moments. We’re constantly working to create value for them by educating them on our suite of products and best practices, enabling them to best use our platform to engage millions of their fans, and empowering them to build a strong and sustainable business model.

In November, we also launched a bunch of branded content updates.

These include:

Branded content tag on Reels and Live - To help increase transparency, the Branded Content tag has launched in Reels and will begin testing in Live.

New creation flow for Branded content ads - Until today, Branded Content ads could only be created by promoting the existing posts from creators. Instagram is now launching a new workflow where advertisers can create Branded Content ads without the need for creators to post organically on Instagram first. Now brands have more flexibility with fewer constraints when they want to run Branded Content ads. This new process has been designed with creator control in mind - creators can approve and pause any ads published from their handle.

Branded Content ads in Stories - Branded Content ads in Stories can now include tappable elements, such as @mentions, location, and hashtags. We want brands to have access to organic Stories’ creative that is native and authentic to the Stories experience.

Branded Content ads with Product Tags - We’re introducing the ability for businesses to promote branded content posts with product tags.

Can you tell us about the creator-centric products/features launched by Instagram?

There are a number of features we had launched last year to help creators.

Reels - Instagram announced Reels, a new feature where one can create and share short videos on the platform. With this feature, Instagram aims at redefining the future of entertainment on the platform.

Reels tab - We also launched a dedicated tab for Reels to make it easier for people to discover new Reels creators and their videos on the app. This dedicated tab enables you to be discovered by Instagram’s large and diverse community.

Live Rooms - Instagram introduced Live Rooms to help creators better engage with and grow their audiences by going live with multiple guests. With the ability to go Live with up to three guests, creators now have more opportunities to have conversations with their communities and to expand their reach and use cases for Live.

Guides -  Guides from Instagram, is a new way to easily discover recommendations, tips, and other content from your favorite creators, public figures, organizations, and publishers on Instagram.

How is your short-video platform Reels performing and how do you plan to scale it up?

India was one of the first countries where we launched Reels and it now has its own dedicated tab in the app. We are especially excited to see how Reels can help drive strong follower growth for creators in India. Creators don’t need a large following, in Reels the best content gets the most distribution and we’re hoping to see many Indian Creators become global stars on Instagram because of Reels.

Since we’ve launched, we’ve made many other updates in just the last few months. We’ve extended the recording time limit up to 30 seconds; extended the countdown timer to 10 seconds while recording, and added options to trim and delete clips from the timeline. We’ve also made some changes to our audio features where you can now save audio clips, share audio pages, and browse for trending songs.

We’ve also had some amazing moments happening on Reels in India. We’ve had a diverse set of public figures and creators using Reels - from public figures like Virat Kohli and Neha Kakkar to creators from Bhatinda and Hubli.

Like IGTV, episodic content is surfacing on Reels. Creators Komal Pandey and Sakshi Sidhwani are running a series called ‘Vibe Check’ and ‘Breaking fashion stereotypes’ respectively. And new music is finding a place in popular culture by being available on Reels. A recent song from Neha Kakkar has seen more than 350k reels created with it! And India is setting global trends too. 2 out of the 5 songs shared most globally on Reels are from Indian artists.

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