The Instagram Presents: Owning Your Space panel took place on Creator Day at Summer in the City 2019. It featured an opening speech from Instagram’s Head of Northern Europe, Sunil Singhvi, who announced some new features. He then introduced three panellists: Arooj Aftab, Yaw, and Riyadh Khalaf, who discussed their own journeys on the platform.
Sunil opened by explaining how Instagram has changed a great deal over the years. He said that Instagram is meant as a tool for users to express themselves or help them engage with friends, family, and the community, and that new features aim to be either one or both. Recent new features have included stickers such as chats, quizzes, countdowns, and donations, and Sunil said that adding the questions feature to live video has helped make the experience feel more polished and professional.
Many music products have recently come out, including adding lyrics to stories, and Sunil said he believes that adding stickers to Stories will have the same effect as filters have on images: videos that are just okay can come to life with an addition of music or lyric sticker.
Sunil then announced some exciting new features that will soon be added to Instagram. He began with the “game-changing” Creator Studio, which will allow users to schedule and draft Feed and IGTV posts and view insights on desktop. Users will need a Business or Creator account to access the feature, but as the reaction in the room confirmed, this is an exciting new change for Instagram.
Sunil explained that a Creator account is a great way to see highly detailed insights, and that there are separate Direct Messaging inboxes: primary, general, and requests. Requests are split into “top” (which includes and “big” accounts) and “all”.
The introduction of IGTV increased the maximum runtime of videos to 60 minutes, and Sunil explained that Instagram audiences are increasingly used to long-form video, and that the most successful IGTV videos are centred on people. He also said that the ability to edit the previews shown on feeds, such as how they are cropped, will soon become available.
Also launching very soon, Sunil said, is a new approach to face filters. Spark AR is a desktop package which lets anyone create their own custom face filters. Users will need to be following someone to be able to see their filter, and Sunil suggested that “those that build good filters will grow new communities”.
Sunil wrapped up his speech with the announcement that the platform is moving towards a greater focus on positivity. Instagram is using AI technology to flag comments that are likely to cause offence, asking users to double-check that they really do want to post that comment. He said this is “the first step in a long journey” to making Instagram a more supportive place.
He added that, because blocking can feel harsh and definite, a new “restrict” mode will be introduced later this year as a more private way of blocking which will hide users’ online status and read receipts. He expressed his hope that this less public and abrasive approach will be a way to defuse anger. Sunil concluded by announcing the Create Don’t Hate campaign, which is a sticker that will roll out in the next few weeks. He said he hopes it is “a call to arms to create positive content”.
Sunil was then joined by the panellists, who introduced themselves. Arooj Aftab has been on Instagram for four years, but as of last year “switched up” her content from fashion to focus more on body positivity and advocacy. Yaw has been on Instagram for two years, and has also changed course, moving from male fashion to being the “king of colour”. LGBTQ+ YouTuber Riyadh Khalaf didn’t fully realise what Instagram was when he first began, but now sees his Instagram profile as being as integral as his YouTube channel.
Sunil opended the discussion by asking the panel how they balance their real lives with their advocate profiles online. Riyadh said that he had spent a long time trying to figure out his online identity. He then realised that “how I get rid of that headache is just by being — I am enough”, and said that if he takes away all the “hate” and “just present[s] what is naturally there, then people will make the decision for themselves. Do you follow, do you stay, do you share my stuff, and do you support me? Or do you not?”
Yaw talked about the transition he has made with his account. “I had to make myself ready,” he said. “It’s been a journey. A lot of people have faded… have disappeared.” He said has noticed that, as he has changed, he has picked up a new audience: “I’d much rather have people that support me for what I’m doing and who I really am, than who I was trying to be.” He now feels that he is being his most authentic self.
Riyadh agreed, adding that when he made his content more authentic, he started haemorrhaging followers — but he saw this as “a cleansing… it was a recruitment drive for people who were only going to be there for the long haul”. Arooj said she had similar fears as to how she would be received, but that she has grown along with her new followers. She said it’s “better to have followers that care than uninterested ones”.
Sunil asked the panel how they build a positive community, and Arooj answered by saying acceptance within herself is vital, as it then reflects positivity back onto her feed. She said that being a positive role model means presenting yourself in an achievable and authentic way. Riyadh said he makes his feed positive by putting out himself out “warts and all”, and finds it frustrating when he watches content he hasn’t gotten anything out of, so he focuses on making sure his own content gives something back to the audience. He added that he sees content as either “sugar” or a “full meal”: for example, short and sweet content is a picture of his new kitten, whereas a heavier post about something like LGBTQ+ activism is part of your five-a-day. He emphasised that the balance of light and heavy content is important.
Arroj has only recently started posting to IGTV but has already seen a difference in response; she said she thinks her increase in engagement is due to the audience enjoying seeing the “person behind the screen”. But she also agreed it’s important to keep a good balance in order to stay positive, saying that “you have to find your own identity” to stay current. If everyone is saying the same thing, she added, your voice can get lost.
To close, Sunil asked each of the panellists about their communities. Yaw described his community as “very diverse”, with a wide range of ages, and said he “paved a way for people like me: boys of colour in makeup”. Sunil added that “representation is an unbelievable super strength of Instagram”, sharing a story about how he didn’t see many people of colour growing up in the media, and saying how important it is to be visible. Riyadh noted that he used to get a lot of hate online which he was “ill-prepared to deal with”, but now Instagram has more diversity and “there are more positive voices than negative ones”.
The Create Don’t Hate movement is designed to increase that positivity, and all the panellists agreed it was a good thing to introduce. Yaw said he has had his “fair share of negative comments” but tries to focus on positivity, and that he believes that “this campaign will reinforce that message and reduce the amount of hate people receive”.
Photos by Christy Ku.
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