Take Charge of Your Social Presence: Bossing Instagram in 2021

What’s the key to Instagram these days? What can you do to shift your game for the new world? Let’s find out.

A year ago, I wrote my first article here on Shutterstock that looked at the “10 Fresh Styles to Try Out on Your Instagram Grid Layout.” At the time, The Grid was all-powerful. Choosing color palettes, perfecting aesthetics, balancing content, creating styles—all of it was important for when a visitor came a-knocking. The Grid was the ultimate shopfront for your entire Instagram account.

Things change, and things change fast. Since then, TikTok has ripped through social media, delivering a whole new experience that’s converting users to its platform faster than any before it. Instagram’s dominance as the cool platform is less assured than it was a year ago, and that shows in the recent and rapid updates we’ve seen to the platform, as well as the regular broadcasts from its CEO, Adam Mosseri.

So, a year in, things have changed. Let’s find out how.

Changing It up

Instagram is leaning hard into promoting video content. Image by ROMSVETNIK.

In the last year, Instagram released more than fifteen major updates to the platform:

  1. Instagram Shop
  2. Pinned comments
  3. Instagram Reels
  4. Live Shopping
  5. Automated captions on video
  6. Music sticker expansion
  7. Home Screen updates to reposition Reels and Shop
  8. Watch Together
  9. Instagram Guides
  10. Keyword search
  11. Professional Dashboard
  12. Recently Deleted
  13. Live Rooms
  14. Cross-App messaging with Messenger
  15. Remix Stories and Reels with other people’s content
  16. Stories Caption sticker

Reading through these, one point is particularly striking: Not a single update has anything to do with photography.

When Instagram launched back on October 6, 2010, it was heralded as a photo-sharing app. In the beginning, most posts contained blurry shots from pioneering iPhone users. As time passed, professionals jumped on, seeing this as a perfect way to share the world around them.

The rise of the selfie also owes itself to Instagram. As technology improved, front-facing cameras were born. And, as the filter became part of everyday lexicon, Instagram became an essential part of life for billions of users across the planet.

Over the last eleven years, photography has dominated Instagram, leading to hours and hours being poured into how The Grid looked and felt.

TikTok led the way in restructuring the way we interact with social video. Image by ThirtyPlus.

Adam Mosseri, CEO of Instagram, proclaimed on Twitter that Instagram was no longer a photo-sharing app. Just like that, the effort of the past eleven years fell away. The algorithms now promotes other types of content in a move to ward off TikTok, YouTube, and others that are currently dominating the video space.

Yes, that’s right, Instagram is now all about the video.

Now What Should I Be Doing?

First things first, it’s worth taking another look at the Instagram user interface, as a few things have changed that you may have overlooked.

Nav Bar

The nav bar has found itself home to a few new additions of late. You have the familiar Feed button on the far left, followed by Discover. Then, where you used to add posts, you now have Reels, followed by Shop, and then your Profile.

Reels and Shop now take considerable prominence in the app by virtue of their primary positioning on the app’s nav bar. Looking back at the updates over the last year, you can see that many of them relate to shopping and even more to video content, so this is no surprise.

Instagram Nav Bar
The nav bar has new additions Reels and Shop.

Creating Content

To further emphasize how diminutive static photography has become, when you click Create (which is usually in the top-right of the app, but may be positioned elsewhere if you’re one of Instagram’s new feature guinea pigs), the word Photo isn’t even mentioned. Instead you get Post, Reel, Story, Story highlight, IGTV video, Live, and Guide. Again, five of the seven options relate to video content.

Instagram Create
No mention of photos?


That isn’t to say that photo-sharing is dead and buried. However, it does mean that if you currently only post static content, then chances are that recent changes to the algorithm will suppress your profile.

An interesting outlier to the changes is Guides. Guides are a way of curating your content—be that photos or videos—alongside the written word, a little like the Journal feature over on VSCO.

Originally intended for wellbeing profiles to promote COVID-related information, this feature has now been rolled out to all users, and acts as a fascinating way to bring together all your content from across your profile. If you create a Guide, then it will create a new tab within your profile alongside all your other content.

Instagram Guides
Guides is the newest way of adding content to your Profile.

So, with all these options for video content, what should you be creating? Well, it all comes down to duration. Essentially, Stories are for ephemeral snippets that are quick to create and gone within the day.

Reels are for longer form, more interactive content à la TikTok, and IGTV is synonymous with YouTube.

Tip: Just remember that Instagram favors portrait video content, not landscape. So, if you’re thinking of cross-pollinating with YouTube, you’ll likely need to set your videos twice, once in each orientation.

The New Kids on the Block

To get a feel for the kinds of content that’s currently en vogue, here’s a selection of accounts that are transitioning, or have entirely shifted, to the new video paradigm:


This account creates nothing but video content, mostly for Reels and IGTV. With a focus on technology, they use video to capture clever and quirky tech in unexpected or exciting new ways.

Their content is engaging and very much comes as it is, without any use of filters. The content is edited together in the modern way you’d see on TikTok or YouTube, with obvious breaks and clever quips to create transitions and fades.

Instagram Post
Image via @braineytech.


Next up is a dance video production company that shares amateurs and professionals putting their feet in motion with interesting dance moves and routines. Again, the content is real, there’s no obvious editing, and each clip follows the same format. The content is highly engaging, with thousands of comments and likes per post.

Instagram Post
Image via @socialdancetv.


Sonos’s dedicated profile for their radio station is less transitioned to video than the previous examples, but its use of video is more varied, with some notable examples showcasing animations and other types of video content other than straight-up camera work.

Using the soundtrack of their radio station as a background, they create captivating videos of all lengths, with broad-based appeal for their followers.

Instagram Post
Image via @sonosradio.


Apple’s Instagram profile is an absorbing place to visit. What’s striking is that the account doesn’t follow the brand’s aesthetics we’re all used to. Instead, it lets content rule the day.

For that reason, it’s perhaps a perfect example of how The Grid has changed from being a perfectly primped shopfront to a more organic—dare I say—inviting, experience. With guides, insights, and looks into other worlds, this is a perfect example of the new world we’re moving to.

Instagram Post
Image via @apple.


If there was any doubt that TikTok-style content is leading the way on Instagram, then look no further than Brent Rivera’s account. With over twenty million followers and millions of likes per post, Brent’s profile comes across as a well-polished, better-executed version of the types of content you’d find on TikTok.

This callback to the polish of Instagram, yet applying it to video, is likely an early look at what Instagram hopes all profiles will aspire to be in the future.

Instagram Post
Image via @brentrivera.

Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Photos

If you’re left with any doubt, then let me say it again—Instagram has changed. Video changes the game, making things more real, more compelling, and more inviting. For those looking to garner gigantic followings, letting people into your lives or businesses via video content is going to become more and more important.

That’s not to say that brand and aesthetics aren’t relevant. Instagram, while looking to mimic many features from TikTok, will still want to feel intrinsically like Instagram has always felt. This means, in order to conquer the content craze, you’re going to need at least a passing understanding of production values, in the same way that filters, aesthetics, and The Grid were so important in the past.

This is a new dawn, and it came to pass in just one year. Who knows what next year’s new dawn will look like!

A few more social media gems just for you:

Cover image via gnepphoto.

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