Last week, Instagram announced an overhaul of its offerings in terms of search and discovery; giving its users a simple way to engage with places, events and people around them. Instagram’s new search enables discovery in real time.

Until now, Instagram has been struggling to deliver its 300 million active monthly users – who, by the way, share more than 70 million photos and videos each day – a sense of place and time.

Users would share hugely compelling content, but discovering the content relevant to you at a specific place or point in time was difficult. The choice? People or hashtags.

In an effort to connect the Instagram ‘community to the world as it happens’ – the fastest growing social media community in the world – the company has announced two major changes to how it handles search.

Though currently only available in the US, you can expect Instagram to roll out these changes globally a little later in the year. And by thinking ahead, when the changes do take hold in Europe you could find yourself with the opportunity to use Instagram to capture new audiences in your area.

The first change? An updated Explore page.

Delivering users surfacing trends in real time, Instagram’s aim is to connect you with events both near and far, as they happen. To this end, the platform has introduced a whole raft of changes to its functionality, which come together to form one big shift.

Instagram's New Search

Instagram Trending Places

Clicking ‘Explore Trending Places’ will bring you to a screen featuring trending events in your location and further afield.

Perhaps to an even greater extent than Twitter, this potentially game-changing feature allows users to discover and engage with what’s going on around them quickly and in real time.

The potential implications of this are great. If you’re travelling, for instance, you likely haven’t yet decided on a comprehensive itinerary.

What Instagram now does for you in that particular situation is enable you to discover interesting events and goings on that you’d otherwise have bypassed. It’s no longer a case of searching for events that you know are happening or have happened.

And the impact of this doesn’t stop at the individual either; get your event trending in your area and Instagram could prove a powerful tool for impromptu promotion.

Soon, people could be using Instagram as a tool for discovering places to eat, sleep and be entertained in the moment, using visual cues to make their decision. It’s an exciting prospect.

Instagram Trending Tags

Clearly, Instagram is seeking to offer its burgeoning user base access to as many ways to search as possible. And like ‘Trending Places’, ‘Trending Tags’ enables discovery of global and local talking points.

Interestingly, these changes place Instagram in direct competition with the similarly sized Twitter, a platform that has always been proud of its ability to cover news and events in real time.

Until now, Twitter has been home of the trending hashtag. And while it remains to be seen whether this change will have any impact on the status quo of social media, it’s a clear move by Instagram into Twitter territory.

Instagram Curated Collections

Instagram Curated Collections

In addition to real time trending, Instagram will now be delivering its users curated content. Scroll sideways and you can discover content put together by its editors twice weekly, enabling you to explore places and engage with experiences that you might not otherwise have done.

Though manipulation of curated content isn’t possible, ensure that the content you share on the social network is of the highest quality and who knows? You could find yourself, or your brand, featured to potentially rapturous success.

Instagram Places Search

Search; The Second Big Change

Providing support for the platform’s changes in functionality, Instagram has also beefed up its search offering. In their words, they’ve ‘dramatically improved the ability to find what you’re looking for’. And that can only be a good thing.

Places search, for instance, enables users to pinpoint virtually anywhere on the planet and explore the images and videos – divided into top and most recent – taken in and associated with those locales, events and even establishments.

Beef up your presence on Instagram, then, and you could feasibly make the new search functionality work for you. In the words of Instagram:

‘…you can now peer in at just about any location on earth, allowing you to scout out your next vacation spot in the South Pacific, get a look inside that hot new restaurant or experience your favorite music festival…’

A Social Media Step Change?

Naturally, it’s too early to say how changes to the Instagram platform will manifest themselves in relation to the business of social media. But stepping directly on to Twitter’s turf has, rightly, captured the attention of the social media community.

Interestingly, this news comes little over a week after Twitter’s much-heralded announcement of its own strides into curated content for the masses; Project Lightening.

Following this announcement, Twitter was lauded for throwing its social media hat ever deeper into the realm of real time content.

It’s fair to say, then, that Instagram’s own declaration comes as something of a curveball. But it’s a curveball that, if dealt with correctly, could bolster Instagram’s already impressive growth and cement it as a feature of social media marketing in the short and long term.