Group Video Calling, New Explore and More on Instagram

For a while now, we’ve been living off rumors of a group video calling option becoming available on Instagram. Finally, we can relax-- it’s here. 


This week, Instagram has officially rolled out its group video calling option-- not to mention a new Explore layout, as well as some new AR filters.

While these features were announced last month, users have been waiting impatiently for the action buttons to appear. 

Here’s what you need to know about the new tools:

Group Video Calling

The development of the group video call feature was being discussed as early as March, and Instagram officially announced the tools at F8 in May. Now it’s actually rolling out to everyone on iOS and Android, allowing up to four friends to group video call together through Instagram Direct.


Instagram Group Video Calls Example

As shown in the video, the process for starting a group video call is fairly straightforward:

“To start a video chat, swipe into your Direct inbox and open any message thread. Tap the new camera icon in the right corner, and the video chat will ring your friends’ phones so they don’t miss it. While on the video chat, you can minimize the video and multitask on Instagram, sending messages and photos in Direct, browsing your feed, posting a story and more.”

One of the nice features is that the app allows you to multitask while on a call, so you can keep browsing your feed, or post to your Story, while chatting. It’s also a good step given that an increasing number of users have been moving away from public sharing, and towards smaller, more intimate groups.

On Instagram, more than 375 million of the app’s billion users now interact via messaging each month. DMs are clearly booming, but Instagram’s analytics show that 85% of people’s messages within the app are shared with the same three friends. Any tool that enables these more enclosed communication methods is bound to find purchase with users. 

Group video calling is one of the many features Instagram has modeled after its competitors. Snapchat introduced the feature in April, and Facebook Messenger has had the feature since 2016. There are also standalone apps, like Houseparty, which are entirely dedicated to group video. But, even though they're late to the game, none of Instagram's non-Facebook owned competitors come even close to its size (Instagram just passed 1 billion users).

Here’s the breakdown of group video options across the major platforms:

  • Instagram – 4-way plus simultaneous browsing
  • Facebook Messenger – 6-way with up to 50 people listening via audio
  • Snapchat – 16-way with up to 32 people via listening via audio
  • FaceTime – 32-way (coming in iOS 12 this fall)
  • Houseparty – 8-way per room with limitless parallel rooms

Clearly, it’s a feature people want to use. It also taps into the larger proliferation of digital video across the web. When Instagram launched its live-streaming video option back in 2016, Instagram Live product manager Shilp Sarkar noted then that:

"The use case that caught our attention was people just hanging out on live, particularly young people. After school, they jump on a live-stream and hang out. That use of live [video] is particularly interesting to us."

With so many platforms employing group streaming, you can imagine that Instagram’s group video calling option will be a hit, and will encourage more people to engage on the platform.

(Image Source)

(Image Source)

New Explore with Top Channels

Two more features promised at F8 have also been released: a refreshed Explore page, and new camera effects by partners.

The Explore page will now be segmented to show a variety of topic channels that reveal associated content below. Before the update, Explore’s 200 million daily users just saw a random collection of popular content related to their interests, with just a single “Videos You Might Like” section separated.

The new layout is still tailored to the user, but the content is organized into “topic channels” at the top of the screen. Users can swipe between the categories to browse, and then scroll up to view more posts from any they like. A list of sub-hashtags appears when you open a category, like #Typography or #Watercolors when you open art. 

“With topic channels, you can be more intentional about how you navigate posts on Explore. When you open the page, you’ll see a tray at the top with personalized channels. This includes a ‘For You’ channel, which has a mix of posts tailored to your interests. You’ll also see channels on topics you might like such as Art, Sports, Beauty or Fashion – as well as a list of hashtags, giving you more ways to explore your interests. Now, when you want to get inspired by the latest fashion trends or discover a new travel destination, you can easily find posts you’re looking for and follow those accounts or hashtags.”

This development is one that marketers in particular should watch out for, since the enhanced Explore page will certainly make it easier for people to discover new creators. Growing the audience of these content makers is critical to Instagram as it strives to be their favorite app amongst competition. Snapchat, for example, lacks this kind of dedicated discovery section or other fan base-growing opportunities, which has alienated some creators. Instagram’s new topic channels is reminiscent of YouTube’s mobile Trending page, although Insta’s focus on aesthetics makes it quite distinct visually from the latter. 

Marketers should take note not just of the new capacity for creator exposure, but also of the related hashtags listing, which could make your Instagram hashtag choices even more crucial. It’s true that related hashtags pop up with every search, but now they’ll be right along the top of the search screen, which will doubtless have more users scrolling through to check it out. 

“We’re also giving you better ways to control what you see on Explore. You can browse through a variety of interests by swiping from grid to grid, or you can go deep into a specific interest by tapping on a channel and scrolling up. If you’d like to remove a topic channel, press and hold the channel and select ‘Mute’ from the menu. This sends the channel to the end of the tray, giving you the option to unmute it at any time.”

Instagram marketers will need to consider how these new search options will impact search behavior, and keep a close eye on their analytics to discover how to optimize their strategy in the new layout. 

New AR Camera Effects

Lastly, Instagram has added a collection of camera effects designed by celebrities and brands, marking another push on Instagram’s part to dominate the AR sector.

“You’ll now see the first batch of new camera effects designed by Ariana Grande, Buzzfeed, Liza Koshy, Baby Ariel and NBA in the Instagram camera. Whether you want to make your friends laugh or add some glam to your selfies, you now have more ways to express yourself and feel closer to your favorite accounts.”

Partnering with celebrities and brands takes some of the pressure off of Instagram’s own creative team, as well as tapping into the latest audience trends. So far, Snapchat has had the advantage of leading the way on the latest trends, but Instagram’s increased reach and celebrity cooperation may give it an edge. After all, any filter designed by Ariana Grande is going to be popular. 

You can find these new effects in your Instagram camera, provided you follow the participating accounts. You’ll also be able to try them if you see others using them by tapping the “Try it” option at the top left of the screen. This makes it more possible for accounts to offer their own augmented reality and 2D filters without the Stories camera becoming overstuffed with lenses you don’t care about.

These changes have been eagerly awaited for several months, but it’s exciting to see them in their final forms, and it will be an interesting experiment to monitor how people interact with the app at this point. Instagram has been gradually diversifying its use case, becoming a huge platform in its own right and layering in new tools without much upheaval or rebranding. If it can keep it up, the platform will only further cement its spot as a juggernaut of passive consumption. 

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TrendsVicki Frid