Instagram users first got the ability to broadcast themselves in real-time in November 2016, but it wasn't until the coronavirus pandemic that you started to see regular people using the feature in earnest. With millions of people hungry for human connection while practicing social distancing, Instagram Live has finally gotten its day in the sun.
Charles Porch, head of global partnerships at Instagram, tells Bustle that recently, the feature has "exploded." In the first week of April, Live Story viewership increased 70%, he says. Fitness instructors are using Live to teach virtual classes. Chefs are doing cooking demonstrations. People you lost touch with from grade school are showing off their interior design efforts. Celebrities are splitting Live screens with other celebrities, having candid conversations and connecting with fans.
"Instagram Live is our new coffee shop or bar," says Troy Johnson, a writer and TV personality. He's turned to Live to provide daily broadcasts to his 31,000 followers. He confirms that more people are not only tuning in, but they're also asking better questions and sticking around longer. "It’s like Roosevelt’s fireside chats," Johnson says, who has been tuning into his follower's Live Stories, too. "Now is the time and place for immediate couch reporting. And honestly, I can see live broadcasting on Instagram Live become a part of my process long after the pandemic is over," Johnson says.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., tells Bustle that while a Live Story is "not as socially intimate as a one-on-one or even a group videoconference, the acknowledgement of participants in a Live creates an intimate and powerful connection." Dr. Klapow, who admits to frequenting the Live feature himself, adds that when people "let us in their world in real time, we feel a deeper sense of connection to our common humanity." That openness, he explains, can make us feel seen and involved, even if we are isolated and off-camera.
That feeling of being involved translates to engagement. Porch points to John Legend, Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber's Live sessions as examples where fans are "tuning in and engaging." Celebs are using the feature to not just promote their work, but also spread some awareness and good vibes. Noah Centineo has been sharing nightly coronavirus updates; Lizzo went viral for her flute performance. "Younger people who might not be watching the news are getting access to information [through Live] about the government's response to coronavirus and mindful support too," Porch says.
Frankie Celenza, a chef and TV host, has gone live more times in the last week than he ever has. "People are overall incredibly positive and thankful for useful content, it’s as if all the trolls have disappeared in a way," he tells Bustle. Though he misses creating more polished content, he's grateful to have an audience right now. "Broadcasting live is giving me a reason to keep a schedule," he says.
Even creators who are not used to being on camera are going Live. Beth Kirby, a photographer and lifestyle entrepreneur "kinda hated" going Live before coronavirus, but says "something about the isolation and distance changed that." Now, she craves the connection. "Many more people are tuning in, more people are actively requesting Live Stories. People are engaged, and it feels like a house party," she tells Bustle. "There is something therapeutic in an age of massive shared trauma to invite people into the more intimate, unfiltered, unscripted moments of your life," she says.
And according to Porch, that's the hope. "Instagram Live was never built to have TV show level production — raw, imperfect, person-to-person was always the goal."
Dr. Josh Klapow, Ph.D, Clinical Psychologist