On Monday, Instagram officially released Live Rooms, a new feature that allows users to livestream with up to three other people. And it’s using fashion, plus a shopping push to support Black businesses, to promote it for the global launch.
Instagram describes Live Rooms in terms of talk shows, but for a digital age. To kick things off, the company created a series of Live Rooms under the banner of “Next Generation of Fashion Commentator” during Paris Fashion Week.
“There’s this next generation of fashion commentators,” Eva Chen, Instagram’s director of fashion partnerships, explained to WWD. “They’re fashion spectators. Sometimes they’re students, like in fashion school. Sometimes they’re writers, sometimes they’re tech founders. But everyone has a voice in everything, everyone has an opinion. And I think Instagram has leveled the playing field in that way.”
Among the first spate of commentators will be a roster of fashion writers offering real-time feedback on the shows, including self-dubbed “social media aficionado” Louis Pisano, designer José Criales-Unzueta and fashion journalist Susie Lau.
“Louis is a real personality, a real hoot, a real original voice in fashion. And he’s always very, very unedited, and honest and frank,” Chen said. “He has his own, very strong opinion. So I think it’ll be really compelling to watch.”
Pisano and Criales-Unzueta will hold a session following Gabriela Hearst’s debut at Chloé. Pisano will also host panels with industry friends covering Marine Serre, Koché, Balmain and Louis Vuitton, and Criales-Unzueta will rejoin Pisano, along with other friends in the industry, at the end of the week for a fashion week recap. Lau is expected to offer her own commentary in a separate Live Room.
The social photo and video platform has other Live Rooms in the works, including two Wednesday sessions related to the company’s #BuyBlack campaign. Across two sessions, Black beauty founders will gather with a panel to discuss the movement, how to shop on Live and current Instagram beauty trends, among other things. The first session will feature Julian Addo, the founder of Adwoa Beauty, along with Cynthia Andrew, Melissa Guida and Jayde Kamille. Sharon Chuter, founder of Uoma Beauty, will host the second panel with guests Elsa Majimbo, Teyana Taylor and Jessica Fyre.
Instagram’s Chen also plans to hold a Live Room with Allure editor in chief Michelle Lee under the title “#StopAsianHate.” Chen, Lee and other guests (to be announced) will discuss anti-Asian hate crimes and how the AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) community can build on the momentum of support into positive change, including fundraising for nonprofits. The session is scheduled for Tuesday.
There’s no question that the programming is timely, and its fashion- and beauty-forward angle could put plenty of eyeballs on the new feature — which could, in turn, ensure it gets traction among its creator community. Or so Instagram hopes.
It helps that the concept of Live Rooms is immediately understandable. Most people know what a talk show is or, in a stay-at-home world, the framework of video conversations between multiple people has become fairly ingrained. As an extension of Instagram’s popular Live feature, Live Rooms also puts those conversations in front of a social audience in a familiar way. It lives in the app’s “Live” camera, where hosts can add a title and add participants.
But where Instagram Live was capped at just the livestreamer and one other friend — for a total of two people — Live Rooms “doubles up” the model, allowing a panel of four people in the live broadcast.
Something else that feels familiar: The very notion of “rooms” might remind some people of Clubhouse, the social audio app that reportedly prompted Instagram parent company Facebook to develop a rival service or feature. Clubhouse also touts rooms for multi-speaker conversations held in front of an audience.
But there are differences, the most obvious being video, an area Instagram is committed to, having created IGTV and Reels.
For fashion, Chen sees video as crucial.
“Fashion is innately visual. It’s one of the reasons why the fashion industry has adopted Instagram from the very beginning,” she continued. “Let’s say you are with two other friends and you’re talking about the new product show that just happened yesterday. And you’re holding up a vintage product like a sequined shoe. The ability to have that show-and-tell in these live rooms will be really compelling.”
Also unlike Clubhouse, whose audio conversations are ephemeral, Instagram’s Live Rooms remain available in the newly launched Live Archive for 30 days. After that, it’s deleted.
Users can also upload their Live Room stream to IGTV, Instagram’s dedicated video app, either by screen-recording the livestream to save a copy locally or downloading it from the archive.
The company devised a few ways for creators to earn money. Although Instagram is committed to boosting shopping on its platform, there’s no livestream shopping in Live Rooms, at least for now. However, users will be able to shop in other ways, as well as donate via Live Fundraisers. And just as Instagram Live viewers recently got the ability to purchase badges for their favorite creators, Live Room viewers will be able to do so as well.
The other thing to remember about Live Rooms is that it’s still a young feature. It launched in India and Indonesia in November, just three months ago, before now rolling out to users all over the world on Monday.
That likely means it will take on more capabilities before long. Already, Instagram is exploring more interactive tools, such as offering moderator controls, and audio features that will be available “in the coming months,” according to the company.
Moderation and security will be important, as it’s a live broadcast with multiple people, which can become unpredictable. Even great hosts can become gobsmacked by the off-the-cuff behavior or comments of friends, and it’s not clear how Instagram will handle that. So far, the fundamentals including barring blocked users of any of the active Live Room participants from joining in, as well as any guests whose live access was revoked due to Community Guidelines violations. Live hosts will also be able to report and block comments, as well as apply comment filters.
For the launch, Instagram prefers to focus on and promote Live Rooms as a launchpad for an array of uses — from hosting talk shows to holding jam sessions or artistic collaborations. In that way, it sees the potential of social conversations as entertainment, education or maybe both.
The concept makes sense for homebound users seeking out entertainment. As for whether it has staying power post-pandemic, that will entirely depend on the creator community’s wit, wisdom and passions.
And for that, Instagram is clearly banking on fashion.