By the end of 2014, Instagram had achieved over 300 million monthly active users.
According to various reports, the network is the fastest growing in the world. Not only does this speak volumes about sharing habits and trends, but highlights the overwhelming rise of mobile technology.
Instagram is only available through mobile devices; not through desktop PCs or laptops. The fact that it is now the fastest growing social network in the world reflects this massive shake-up in the way that people share and consume content.
The wonderful simplicity combined with potential for user artistic license has catapulted Instagram to the forefront of social media popularity. Facebook’s $1 billion buy-out in 2012 may have seemed outrageous at the time, but according to reports the platform is forecast to achieve $5.8 billion in revenue in 2020. Its current value is said to be around $33 billion overall. Doesn’t look so outrageous now.
For all of the features and functions of MySpace, Bebo, Facebook, Foursquare, and other successful social networks, Instagram brought the restraint and clarity. It’s just photos and short videos, that’s all.
The ability to easily add artistic effects, fades, colour, and blur to images means that the user is able to further personalise (and almost professionalise) their images – setting Instagram apart from other image-based networks.
How Did They Conquer The World?
At the beginning, Kevin Systrom intended his app to be much more complex; an amalgamation of Foursquare and Facebook, allowing users to check in, earn points, etc. This idea was called Burbn. In a bid to simplify Burbn and make it more user-friendly, Systrom and his partner Mike Krieger stripped the app back to just the photography elements.
It was 2010, and Instagram was born.
Within hours of the initial release on October 6th, it had 10,000 downloads. By the end of that week, the app had over 100,000 downloads across the globe. When Christmas 2010 came around, Instagram had achieved around 1 million total users on the network. Systrom and Krieger’s dramatic success grabbed the attention of investors and media alike, and by early 2011 the team had achieved over $7 million in investment.
It continues to grow from strength to strength.
What Did Instagram Get Right?
To start with, it helps to have the backing of key industry influencers at the very beginning. One early adopter was Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, who tweeted about the app early on. Within a few weeks, celebrities had jumped on board and the snowball effect began.
Not all apps can have the same early exposure (or the same financial investment and silicon valley contacts), but without the true quality of its design and offering, such influencers would never be interested in the first place.
Aside from celebrity backing, there are a number of key reasons why Instagram took off as it did at the time it did;
- It was free
- Easy to use
- Designed only for mobile
- Good integration with other platforms
- It was unique
Despite rapid growth, the Instagram team remained nimble, keeping overheads manageable and their HQ modest and relatively unassuming. They didn’t go looking for the cash straight away, but instead allowed their small team to work on delivering an amazing product that would build a worldwide community.
At the time of Instagram’s inception, the iPhone was the boss. Some would argue that this is still the case, but like it or lump it, Apple has stronger competition these days than it did in 2010. Systrom and Krieger recognised the iPhone’s status and began only with their iOS version, although this would later be extended to Android and others. Most importantly, they noted that the perfect audience for Instagram owned iPhones, and built their early strategy around that trend.
Furthermore, Instagram capitalised on the move to mobile and did not overcomplicate the userface or force users down any unwanted routes. The platform remained spam-free, and didn’t force its community to post images, or nudge them in the direction of specific accounts / posts (something other networks do with a moneymaking agenda). Put simply, Instagram’s community felt respected, and felt free.
What Lessons Can We Learn From Instagram?
There are a number of key ideas to take from the successful growth of Instagram; both in terms of app design and the marketing of a product. Firstly, remember that complex features aren’t guaranteed to simplify people’s lives. Sometimes things need to be stripped back to work better.
It also pays to be adaptable and willing to make changes if you can see your market shifting. In what was widely seen as a challenge to Twitter’s Vine video app, in 2013, Instagram introduced their 15-second short video feature. Vine still remains a highly popular and creative platform, but Instagram’s introduction arguably removes the “photo vs. video” element of this duel.
Luck will always be a factor in success, but by designing a great product you put yourself in the frame to be a world-beater. Perhaps the best lesson to learn from Instagram’s meteoric rise is… Just go for it, you never know!
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