Is Instagram heading for domination ..or is it all just ‘pretty pictures’?

Ed Kitchingman, Research and Social Insights Director at MEC UK, helps to visualize why Instagram is more than just ‘pretty pictures’ and how the youths platform of choice is set to have a rosy future 


Instagram and the domination of “pretty pictures”  

Instagram, the platform once criticised by some as just a place for people taking pictures of food,  announced last year it now has 300m active users. Just as impressive, as social networking transitions from desktop to mobile, is the news last week that it was the 4th most downloaded mobile app of 2014 (It was 5th last year)

To give some perspective, Twitter, the social media platform (rightly or wrongly) that Instagram is so often benchmarked against has 288m active users* and was the 9th most downloaded app last year after being the 7th in 2013.

Why does any of this matter?

Twitter co-founder Evan Williams when asked about Instagram’s growth declared “I frankly don’t give a s*** if Instagram has more people looking at pretty pictures” and he’s right to some extent. We don’t exist in a world where we just have to choose one platform.

GWI research has highlighted the growth in adoption of multiple networks and these are two very different mediums, and in Williams thinking, have very different uses. However what Instagram’s growth shows is how social has evolved into a more visual based medium. We have moved from status updates, tweets and text messaging to images, emojis and gifs to communicate –  and Instagram is at the forefront of powering this change.

“We’re not a photography company. We think about photos like, this is your tweet; this is your status update.” Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom said in 2013. Systrom’s vision of viewing an image like an update foresaw how social would develop and tapped into people’s urges to share and document. Instagram provided an easy to use platform and a set of filters that enabled people to creatively do that

Now 300m active user later, it one of the fastest growing platforms with the share of the youth demographic

What does it mean for brands?

Instagram forces brands to be more creative, which can only be a good thing. It moves social away from some of its most criticised elements: the clickbait, hit like and please retweet and provides brands with a platform to really showcase their product

Brands that have already successfully leveraged the app for campaigns have been as diverse as Landrover, who used it as part of its Hibernot campaign, harnessing user generated content to strengthen the  brand’s adventure credentials. Also Redbull, who used it to help launch its red, blue and silver editions varieties and asked people to send in images based on the colour of the can. What both these campaigns have in common are utilsing the elements that made Instagram so popular: a desire to share, document and be creative

The other benefit is the ad platform Instagram is developing and the high level of recall these images are receiving. This, combined with its access to Facebook data to target ads based on what the user is interested, provides a promising platform to move forward with.

Is Instagram set to dominate?

When asked about Instagram’s growth in 2013, Systrom thought it could be the “biggest thing in the world”.  Nothing about the results in 2014 would change this belief and the reported decline in active usage for Facebook should only encourage him. However, if it is set to dominate it needs to encompass Facebook’s global reach. Systrom has grand plans to do this and wants “to see not just content from my friends but my morning news on Instagram, from multiple channels…Instagram to be the place I learn about the world”.

However, the app is still some way from making this happening. Twitter remains a popular platform for discovering new information and as the World Cup last year showed, it is still the platform of choice for real time content marketing, adept at placing itself at the heart of an event. However, with a bigger active user base than its rival and an easier to understand user mechanism, who’s to bet that Instagram won’t find a means to make that happen.

Evan Williams might then be a bit less blasé about “people looking at pretty pictures”

*Twitter debate active use as a measurement

If you’d like to talk pretty (or un-pretty) pictures with Ed please contact him through the @MECUK Twitter Handle or leave a comment below.