In the last two years, the image sharing platform Instagram has seen its user base double and it now hosts over 300m active users worldwide! In terms of the time taken to reach this level, this puts Instagram two years ahead of some of our other favourite social media platforms like Facebook (and unlike Facebook, 90% of its user base is under the age of 35).
But why the sudden popularity? It has been said that the shift in consumer behaviour from text-based to visual-based communications can be attributed to the rapid growth of image-centred platforms in harness with the continued improvement of camera functionality in mobiles. The shift also seems to have been heavily influenced by the rise of cosmetic celebrity culture: airbrushing apps such as Perfect 365 and Face Tune provide a false sense of perfection for the young Instagram users, which in turn causes an addiction to looking at and following visual content. Modes of expression have certainly changed – the saying that ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ is as old as the hills, but it’s more relevant than ever in an age when many of us prefer to convey the feeling of stretching out on a beach by snapping a sun-drenched panorama, rather than a typing out a mundane text message.
Up until now, Instagram has never incorporated brand advertising, a feature which has enabled it to build a reputation as the most authentic social media platform in the industry. With that in mind, there are concerns over how its recent decision to offer paid advertising will affect the user experience and their all-important trust in the authenticity of content.
However, the Instagram team have thought long and hard about this and come up with a solution that satisfies both the user and the advertiser. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Instagram Advertising will not have a self-serve arrangement. Instead brands will have direct contact with an account manager at Instagram who will manage the whole process, from the image content, copy attached to the image and the targeting of the ad. This enables Instagram to have greater control over user experience and the quality of brands and ads which its users see.
The new advertising feature will not be readily available to all brands and businesses – it comes with quite a hefty price tag that will place it beyond the means of many marketing budgets. The advertising feature works on a CPM basis (£20 for images and £27 for videos) and the cost of set up for a UK-based brand would be around £50K!
It seems as though the team at Instagram are slowly testing the waters, probably as a result of pressure from internal and external sources, but they are doing so without rocking the boat too much for the existing user base. It’s a refreshing change to see a platform focusing on the users, rather than exclusively prioritising monetary gain, and maintaining this approach may prove to be a key factor if Instagram continues to make headway against its rivals.