How Brands Are Learning to Use Instagram's Latest 'Guides' Feature
Kevin Best, Contributing Editor, BrandStorytelling.tv
When Instagram first launched its new feature “Instagram Guides” back in May of 2020, the immediate focus was on providing a better platform for mental health awareness and wellness content. The goal was to connect users with experts and organizations who could share more robust tips and resources on how to stay connected and manage anxiety and depression during the early months of the COVID-19 lockdown. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Heads Together, and other international organizations were some of the early adopters who put together messaging around the importance of talking about mental health. While Instagram is obviously known for focusing more on photos and videos, Guides allowed these orgs to use the platform more like a blog, sharing and curating text-based content like articles and lists that would be easy to find on their profiles.
The reaction was positive, and Guides has expanded since then, with Instagram announcing they were allowing other influencers and brands to use the new feature starting in November 2020. A way to quickly tell if a brand you follow is using Instagram Guides is to look for the clickable Guides logo, the simplified image of an open magazine, on their profile page. Instagram has placed Guides between a brand’s saved highlights and its grid of posts, alongside the icons for posts, Reels, IGTV, and tagged posts.
Now that the feature has been rolled out more widely, brands have been testing the water in distinct ways, with some use cases more straightforward than others. Starbucks highlighted different items on their menu that are vegetarian, under 200 calories, or have less than 10 grams of sugar. Travel Alberta posted different ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day in the Canadian Province. Customer relationship management platform Hubspot has posted tips on how to manage a team remotely. And furniture and decor brand West Elm has made several Guides of the best bedrooms, living rooms, and design crew makeovers of 2020.
Other companies have branched out more, using the space to amplify the voices of smaller brands and causes they support. Lululemon made two “Five to Follow” Guides about people to follow in the wellbeing world. The lifestyle and crafting brand Brit + Co covered 15 women-run small businesses they were supporting, while digital marketing agency Huge Inc. did the same with a list of “25 black owned businesses in Our Hearts and Carts.” Instagram itself has used the feature for three posts about social issues and brand values. One titled “Take Charge, Create a Positive Instagram Experience,” helps users improve their experiences posting and commenting by explaining how to combat cyberbullying and hate speech. Another, titled “Act for Racial Justice,” educates users on structural racism, a “recipe for creative resistance,” and steps on how to be an ally.
Two industries that have really begun to embrace Guides are beauty and fashion. Brands like Prada, Kate Spade, Sephora, Morphe, Lush Cosmetics, and Anastasia Beverly Hills have all used the format to highlight their various “Holiday Gift Guides” and new product lines. Gucci, Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana and Maybelline have treated it as more of a curated space to showcase new campaigns, short films, photography, and a general “mood.” These brands have been using the new feature to have more of a creative voice on the platform, and as a tool for brand storytelling.
Dolce & Gabbana posted a seven slide Guide highlighting their first digital show. It included an interview with the designers, and a look at what was used for inspiration when creating the catalog. Burberry also recently used the new feature in February to highlight their latest fashion line, but told Vogue Business that they plan to use the space in the future as a way to promote emerging talent in the industry.
With consumers spending more time indoors, Astrid & Miyu, a jewelry brand based in the UK, used Guides to host a virtual tour of what it’s like for customers to enter their physical store. In a 19 post Guide titled “The Virtual Store Guide,” Astrid & Miyu show off the storefront, then walk their customers through the store step by step. The tour doubles as a showcase for all of the services offered at the shop, including an explanation of how to book a stylist and a look at their “piercing salon,” where customers can book appointments to get pierced. There’s also a tattoo studio on site, and a post-piercing selfie room where you can take the perfect picture to post on Instagram.
The expansion of Guides was a wise response to the evolution of how Stories have been used over the past year. The Stories feature was designed for quick content like Boomerangs, but increasingly Stories have become a space for long blocks of informational text that require the viewer to hold their finger down. Guides allows this information to exist in a more natural format. But the key to Guides’ long term success will be whether brands are able to apply it in creative ways, and not just for gift guides and content that would’ve also worked in Stories or posts.
About Kevin Best
Kevin Best is a writer and film critic who lives in Los Angeles, California. He is the host of the podcast Sequel Rewrite, and is working on his first novel.