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Are Instagram?s new features strong enough to court brands?

Instagram recently upgraded its mobile application with a heavier focus on location and social sharing. Although many social media sites are increasingly taking a mobile-first mentality, the company still has ways to go.

In addition to letting users map their photos and more easily share content, the Instagram app also now includes unlimited scrolling to let users browse through more photos. The updates were rolled out across both the Instagram iPhone and Android application.

?It will take some time for full-scale brand adoption,? said Shawn Busteed, vice president of technology and programming at TBA Global, New York.

?With so many other channels for brands to work, it will take time for most community managers to dive into this,? he said. ?We've already seen early adopters embracing it in a big way, however.?

Social is mobile
One of the upgrades to Instagram are features that let consumers more easily share photos and content to their social media networks.

In particular, options to share content via Facebook are especially prominent, mirroring what many experts expected would happen when Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion in April (see story).

Users with both an Instagram and Facebook account now see more photos that their friends ?Like? on Instagram through their Facebook feed.

Red Bull, Brisk and Gap are all brands that post on a regular basis on Instagram, often times with campaign-specific content such as sweepstakes. Although all of these brands have a strong presence on Instagram, they also already have a strong position on Facebook and Twitter, and Instagram seems to often be tacked-on as an extension for many.

?Consumers will start seeing more Instagram photos on Facebook, and more Instagram features within Facebook,? Mr. Busteed said. ?For marketers, depending on how far Facebook goes with their integration it will allow one place to manage both communities ? this is huge.?

?Brands are not taking full advantage of Instagram, but they will,? he said. ?Facebook is making a big bet here, and you will continue to see features for brands that will share photos and ads across both platforms.?

Social mapping
In addition to social sharing, one of the biggest features that was rolled out last week is the Photo Maps section. The feature lets users plot their photos on a map to show where they were taken.

The emphasis on mapping could be particularly effective in driving foot traffic for bricks-and-mortar retailers with a visual representation of where users? friends and family have been.

Given that Instagram is a mobile-only platform, a mapping feature is a natural extension to include in the app.

Instead of being a place to simply share a photo with friends and family, Instagram is slightly repositioning itself with the mapping feature to focus more on helping users discover cities and businesses.

As consumers continue to pour content into their social media streams from mobile, more social media sites are revamping their services with a mobile-first mentality.

"The addition of a photo map is the most critical upgrade of all and will change the way both users and brands tell their stories on Instagram," said Amy Vale, vice president of global research and strategic communications at Mojiva, New York.

"It?s probably going to be an easier process for brands compared to the changeover to Facebook?s Timeline as it's a mobile-only platform and the heavy lifting is done through updating the app," she said.

"These new updates will mean that Instagram can now be seen as a Facebook-meets-Foursquare-meets-Pinterest solution. What?s left to be seen is how brands are strategic and creative in using Instagram to drive longer, deeper and more meaningful forms of engagement with their audience."

However, the mapping feature also has big privacy concerns for users.

Geo-tagging has always been available on Instagram, but the new feature makes it easier to track a user?s whereabouts. In order to add photos to a map, consumers are first prompted before any information is live that their location can be seen by all Instagram users.

Mobile multichannel
With the plethora of social media sharing options available now in Instagram, the updates inch Instagram towards being an all-in-one social media network.

Although the platform might be a newer, shiner object than other social media networks, brands are catching on.

According to a recent study from Simply Measured, 40 percent of Interbrand 100 brands ? which include the world's most popular brands ? have a presence on the platform. The study also found that the top 10 brands on Instagram have a 96 percent engagement rate.

"Instagram is recognizing that brands are in the space, and they?re trying to make it easier for them to take advantage of the unique ways it allows users to tell their story," said Kimburly Ervin, social programs planner at Spring Creek Group, Seattle. 

"Now, people have the ability to report inappropriate comments and page owners can delete comments," she said.

"It can create a safe, more enjoyable place for everyone to spend time. But let?s hope brands don?t get too friendly with that delete button, because a bit of healthy criticism is always a part of being in social. You?ve got to take the good with the bad."

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York