It’s a familiar story in the business world. A small, innovative start-up gets acquired for a jaw-dropping amount by a behemoth company. In the latest chapter of this story in the social media world, the characters are Instagram and Facebook.

The general reaction to the $1 billion deal among the Instagram community thus far has been equal parts shock and sadness. Most of the outcry has been concern that Facebook ownership will change the much-loved brand for the worse. But we won’t know anything for sure until the deal is finalized.

Once the dust settles, what should you expect to see? How will the acquisition change the platforms, and how will that impact your business? Let’s take a look at some possible outcomes.

What the Bosses Are Saying

The CEOs of both platforms promptly weighed in on the acquisition to assure members that Instagram and Facebook would remain separate entities. Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg emphasized that the platforms would be complementary and said, “we need to be mindful about keeping and building on Instagram’s strengths and features rather than just trying to integrate everything into Facebook.” Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom echoed those sentiments, writing in a blog post that, “Instagram is not going away.”

These are certainly reassuring words, but will they hold true over time? It makes sense to be skeptical about how the companies will change with the new ownership. Obviously, only time will tell, but the focus on Instagram as a unique property within the Facebook umbrella certainly bodes well for its continued success.

What Changes Could You See?

While Facebook has long had photo functions, they’ve never been a highlight of the service. With access to Instagram’s technology, that could be changing. Even if the whole platform doesn’t get plunked into the Facebook experience, there will probably be some noticeable upgrades in how you upload and share images. The company did some experimenting with photo filters similar to those offered by Instagram, so it’s likely that those will also be worked into the platform.

The deal’s ramifications for Instagram are much less certain. Its most important feature is the sharing, and Zuckerberg has said that will not change. However, it’s hard to imagine that Instagram will remain as closely entwined with rival networks in the future. Photos can be displayed on many other networks and made selectively visible to friends on those networks. It offers a degree of easy control that some fear could be lost once it becomes part of Facebook’s sometimes nebulous privacy settings.

The other possible changes over the long-term include available resources. Primarily, how much of the small Instagram team will stay on board? Keeping the creative team would be a positive sign that Facebook is sincere about allowing Instagram to maintain its independence. And will Facebook dedicate sufficient resources to the team members so they can continue to innovate? It seems unlikely that Zuckerberg would shell out $1 billion only to let the service wither. You may see Instagram expand to more mobile devices and to finally appear in a web app, obtaining the breadth of exposure that Facebook currently has.

What You Can Learn From The Deal

The big takeaway from this deal is that images are king. Instagram built its very rapid success on the ability to create a story with photos and share those snapshots. As the photo interactions improve, you’ll want to take advantage of them. Continue to post images that show not just your products, but capture the spirit of your company’s people, culture, and mission.

And if images are king, mobile platforms are the power behind the throne. What good is a beautiful photo if it’s impossible to find, see, and share? Facebook has gotten flack for its mobile app, with frequent complaints about it being slow, buggy and inconsistent. Meanwhile, Instagram is the top downloaded free program in the Apple App Store and the #8 free app on Google Play — impressive for a program that’s only been on the market since the beginning of the month.

Another important note to keep in mind is the power of the fan backlash. Shortly after the deal was announced, articles about Instagram alternatives and complaints about social media monopolies abounded across the blogosphere. There may be a lull in use or a small drop in members during this initial time after the acquisition, but it is unlikely that Instagram will see a long-term loss in popularity. If Facebook holds true to its stance that Instagram will remain independent, then you can plan on business as usual. But with every change to the Instagram system that makes Facebook more obviously integrated, you can expect to see another outcry.

What Should You Do Differently?

In terms of how you currently use Instagram and Facebook, nothing will change for now. Since Facebook isn’t planning to fold in the Instagram platform, you’ll want to maintain your accounts with both. You’ll want to be prepared for the possibility of changes, though, because Facebook’s strategy could change on a dime.

Take this opportunity to prioritize your online and mobile presence. Focus on striking photos and evocative design. You know the expression about a picture being worth a thousand words? It’s never been more true or more important from a business angle. Your customers are more likely to have a positive response and to talk you up if you can offer them a beautiful and easy experience.

Also, if Instagram maintains its base of 30 million members and continues to grow, it will be a powerhouse tool both for you and for Facebook. Keep investigating all the possibilities Instagram offers you for marketing and networking. And by all means, don’t start neglecting your Facebook Pages. This deal is a major step that could secure Facebook’s dominance in the world of social media for the foreseeable future.

Are you changing your Facebook and Instagram use? Tell us in the comments!

[Image credits: Karl Nilsson, Jason McELweenie, Kyle May, Zaid Al Balushi, Sage Ross]