For the first few years of its existence, Instagram wasn’t great for marketing – you could highlight a particular product, but because of linking limitations and lack of payment infrastructure, it was fairly marginal within the world of social media marketing. More recently, however, Instagram has honed its marketing edge, introducing a range of features.

For businesses that are trying to gain social traction, these 3 features can take your marketing and ecommerce practices to the next level. Instagram may have gotten a slow start, but in 2018, it’s the place to be.

The Hashtag Advantage

Though hashtags aren’t exactly a new feature on Instagram, over the last few years they’ve become a powerful marketing tool, helping businesses take advantage of user generated content (UGC) and interact with customers. Popular hashtags are also used for product giveaways, such as RYU Apparel’s #whatsinyourbag campaign; RYU received useful UGC for marketing purposes and users were entered to win products from the athleisure brand.

Unique hashtags are also a great way for companies to demonstrate special product features and collaboratively create more content around those features than would be possible internally. For example, when Nintendo launched the Switch, its portability was a real selling point. The company cultivated the hashtag #onlyonSwitch to demonstrate the device’s mobility and saw an outpouring of innovative UGC in response.

Get On The Carousel

One of Instagram’s newest features are carousel ads for stories, a visual promotion approach that’s also designed to facilitate product purchases. But how are these carousel ads different from multi-picture posts? In large part, they aim to draw on video and the increasing popularity of Instagram stories. Furthermore, Snapchat recently introduced its own competing sales mechanisms, the Snap Store ecommerce platform, and these carousel ads are a comparable version for Instagram.

By introducing carousel ads, Instagram isn’t just making it easier to initiate sales via the social platform, but they’re also offering companies a format that accommodates multiple representations of a given product. Customers like visual diversity, but they also tend to get visual fatigue when the same product is presented over and over again. To combat that, brands split up their visuals, using one variation on their website and another on social. For example, to advertise their Hypnotic Lights bundle, Milani shows one set of photos on their website while introducing individual swatches on Instagram. Brands have long been splitting up product images to offer new perspectives, and ad carousels allow them to add more variation to marketing campaigns.

Putting Payments In Place

The greatest barrier to making sales on Instagram has historically been the lack of direct payment platform. This has been a problem for business for years and in response the platform initiated a few shoppable tags back in 2016. This was generally inefficient, though, and didn’t give businesses much flexibility. It came as a surprise to everyone, though, when the platform rolled out native payments on business accounts across several countries.

Despite the demand, Instagram didn’t heavily publicize its new business features, but they’re still highly beneficial. Previously, many companies relied on third-party apps to initiate sales through Instagram, or hoped users would directly navigate to the home site. Native payments have the potential to greatly increase sales and transform the way customers interact with their favorite brands.

Say goodbye to the old Instagram and its tendency to sideline sales in favor of marketing – today the platform is ready to make the move from photos to funds. Though the format may look the same, what was long a social network can now claim the title of ecommerce tool.