Lentis/The Culture of Instagram

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Introduction[edit]

Instagram is a social networking app that allows users to share photos and short videos. It currently operates on iOS, Android, and Windows mobile phone platforms, as well as a desktop web browser version. Co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger developed and launched Instagram in October 2010, believing that the simplicity of the photo-based app would fulfill a unique corner of the market where social networking meets photography.[1]. Notable original features include the ability to add digital filters for photo enhancement and to share content on other forms of social media. Since launch, they've also included Instagram Direct, a method of private messaging between users, Instagram Stories, and augmented reality facial filters. As of December 2015, Instagram had more than 400 million active users and 80 million photos posted daily [2]. As of April 2017, they were at 700 million users, independent of Facebook users, making them the third largest social media platform. [3]. This chapter explores how Instagram has influenced society through the emergence of its modern culture.

History[edit]

Instagram's story begins well before it entered the App Store. Technically, the first iteration was a mobile application called Burbn, created by Systrom. [4]. Systrom at the time had recently graduated from Stanford University. After an internship at Odeo, the predecessor to Twitter, and working for 2 years at Google, but had been working on a side project. He was working on Burbn, a mobile application with the check-in capability of Foursquare but also with social features like photo-sharing and event planning. After meeting some investors at a party, who are interested in the product, so much so that it spurs Systrom to quit his job to pursue Burbn full-time. Unfortunately for Systrom, Burbn was underperforming and struggling to grow, as users thought the application was cluttered and clunky. Attempting to pivot, Systrom thought he’d take what the best part of Burbn, photo-sharing with friends, and develop an application focused around that. With that in mind, and using a portmanteau of “instant-photo” and “telegram”, he creates Instagram [5]. On October 6th 2010, the company closes it's first round of funding taking $500,000 in investment money, and launches in the Apple App Store. Within the first 2 months, the app received over a million downloads. By the time they would enter the Google Play Store, in March 2012, they had over 30 million users.

In March 2012, before they launch in the Android store they reach 30 million users. They launch in the Google Play store on April 4th where they had a million downloads that day. About a week later, Facebook, eager to boost its mobile users and hopefully stock price, would acquire Instagram for $1.01 billion, personally netting Systrom about $400 million.[6] Facebook agreed that Instagram had developed a great growth plan and thus should maintain autonomy to maintain their current course, now just with the critical resources of an about-to-be-public company to help empower them. So, by the end of 2013, Instagram reaches 130 million users, the end of 2014, at 300 million users. Instagram is now a large, developed platform that supports a bustling business ecosystem, with over 1 million advertisers and a wide network of influencers to help support those advertisers. [7].

Competition[edit]

Instagram has tried its best to stay competitive with other social media platforms including Snapchat, Pinterest, and Youtube. Primarily, this has been focused on having the same or similar features to Snapchat. In August of 2016, Instagram released Instagram Stories, allowing users to post content to their "story" that would automatically delete 24 hours after posting. In April 2017, Instagram also introduced augmented reality stickers, something that many considered to be Snapchat-esque, only to later introduce augmented reality face features, what most described as deliberately "copying" Snapchat. [8]. When questioned on the nature of feature development between the two companies Systrom said "Multiple car companies can coexist, with enough differences among them that they serve different consumer audiences". [9].

Users[edit]

Instagram has worldwide presence, with 75% of users outside the United States. This rivals its parent company, Facebook, which has 83.5% of users outside the US and Canada[2][10]. It maintains a strong presence among young adults. Studies show that 6 in 10 users on smartphones fall into age brackets,18-24 (30.6%) and 25-34 (29%), whereas fewer than 1 in 10 users are aged 55 or older[11]. Though Instagram has expanded with a web application, the mobile app remains the primary method for users to post content, accounting for the strong presence of young adult users.

Instagrammers use the photo-sharing platform for personal, business, or brand purposes [12]. Personal users utilize the platform to share photos with their inner circle of family and friends, while businesses use it to share their products, services, and interact with their customers. Instagram has a strong adoption rate of 86% among top brands such as Nike and Starbucks [13]. Some users employ Instagram to create, promote and maintain a personal brand, such as reality stars and influencers.

Lingo and Social Media Campaigns[edit]

Social media platforms provide users a voice for expression and communication. Instagram leverages it with pictures and hashtags. Hashtags grew in popularity on Twitter, and Instagram added them in January 2011 [14]. Trends such as #TBT or “Throwback Thursday”, where users share old pictures on Thursday, did not gain traction until the following year. Google Trends shows a spike in the use of #TBT around February 2012 when celebrities such as Kim Kardashian began using it [15] [16] . Since early 2012, the hashtag #TBT has seen a steady increase, and the overall use of hashtags on Instagram has become a norm. As of 2017, the usage of hastags has been declining, however, they are still frequently used.

Hashtags among business accounts are popular, with 88% of businesses utilizing at least 1 per post [13]. Studies have shown that posts with at least 1 hashtag lead to at least 12.6% more engagement. This increases companies' chances of discovery and gaining exposure to specific areas of interest [13]. Users also utilize hashtags to easily engage in dialogue about current events, such as the 2015 Paris Attacks. The hashtag #prayforparis rapidly generated millions of posts [17].

Psychology[edit]

Why are People Using It?[edit]

Instagram users value the app for personal and social reasons[18]. Studies identify several main categories of motivation for users[12][19]. General reasons include: social interaction, archiving events, creative expression, entertainment, and surveillance.

Instagram distinguishes itself from other social media forms in its emphasis on images over text. The photo-based environment is highly influential. Photos provide credibility that can be absent with text, which makes them more effective for self-expression and impression management[20]. The image-driven nature of Instagram elicits a more immediate social response in users to compare themselves to others. An Ohio State University study indicated that some Instagrammers aim to show their positive side through enhanced self images to feel, as one participant said, "better than them". Others want to keep up with the current trends by looking for ideas on photo composition and creativity, popular places to go, and items to purchase[21].

Envy[edit]

Instagram allows users to carefully edit what the public can see. Compared to other social networking sites, Instagram posts are less geared towards family members and contain significantly more edits[22]. Participants can filter their photos to potentially or purposefully alter followers' perceptions. Dr. Hanna Krasnova of Humboldt University in Berlin believes that you get more cues of happiness, wealth, and success from photos than a status update[23][24]. Krasnova has identified a social media phenomenon called "envy spiral" and explains, "if you see beautiful photos of your friend on Instagram one way to compensate is to self-present with even better photos, and then your friend sees your photos and posts even better photos, and so on"[24][25]. Filtered photos, in particular, are 45% more likely to draw comments, which appeals to Instagrammers seeking social approval[26]. Instagram offers the ideal platform for participants to engage in this cyclical contest. A user noted that “Everyone’s life looks better on the internet than it does in real life”[27].

Stanford Duck Syndrome[edit]

The "envy spiral" bears similarities to another social comparison phenomenon called the Stanford Duck Syndrome. Like many Instagrammers, high achievers hide their flaws and struggles under a gleaming facade. "For Stanford students, the duck syndrome represents a false ease and fronted genius"[28]. One Stanford student explains that "frustration, self-doubt, and failure don't have a place in the Stanford experience"[29]. The phenomenon now extends to a more general "millennial duck syndrome" in which, "faking it until you make it is rampant among millennials"[28]. The social-comparison nature of Instagram exacerbates the problem. For young people, in particular, the disconnect with reality poses a mental health threat and the risk of hidden depression.

Case Studies[edit]

Madison Holleran was a star runner at the University of Pennsylvania[30]. From the outside, everything seemed perfect: she was smart, athletic, and had many friends. Her Instagram made it look like she was incredibly happy. Stacy Holleran, Madison's mother, recalls seeing one of her photos[31]:

"Madison, you look like you're so happy at this party."

"Mom," she replied. "It's just a picture."

Madison ended up taking her own life in January of her freshman year. She suffered from severe depression, but this was masked on her social media.

Instagram and Mental Health[edit]

Instagram offers users many positive experiences, and participants may avoid the negative feelings it can promote. However, Instagram ranks highest in social media platforms that are detrimental to young peoples' mental health, according to a study by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH). The RSPH indicates Instagram's focus on image drives "feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people"[32].

Solutions[edit]

The RSPH states, "as the first generation of social media users become adults, it is important that we lay the groundwork now to minimize potential harm and shape a digital future that is healthy and thriving"[32].

Instagram is tackling mental health issues with its own campaign, #HereForYou, which calls attention to participants and groups building awareness on the issues and the need to find support[33].

Sad Girls Club is an Instagram account created to destigmatize mental health and shed light on the negative effects of Instagram, particularly in young women[34].

Essena O'Neill is an Australian teenager who rose to Instagram fame by posting pictures of her day-to-day life[35]. She had over half a million followers, but in October 2015, she decided to quit social media. Before she deleted her Instagram account, she went through and recaptioned some of her photos to reflect reality. For a "selfie" of herself, she writes[36]:

"Please like this photo...[I] took over 50 shots until I got one I thought you might like, then I edited this one selfie for ages on several apps- just so I could feel some social approval from you. THERE IS NOTHING REAL ABOUT THIS."

This example showcases the extreme measures that some people may take to portray themselves in a certain way, as well as the acceptance that they seek from users. It highlights that Instagram is a collection of partial truths since none of the efforts put into the post would be recognized by followers.

Economics[edit]

Advertising[edit]

Instagram has proved itself as a viable business platform. There are over 15 million business profiles and over 2 million advertisers worldwide that use Instagram to share their stories and drive business results [37]. The company offers services to businesses hoping to reach their desired audience through clever ads. 60% of users say they discover new products on Instagram and 75% of users take action after being inspired by a post[37]. This all goes to show the powerful influence Instagram in the modern age.

Advertisements were introduced to Instagram in November 2013 [38]. Driven by high demand for products advertised on Instagram, high brand engagement, and the solidly growing user base, eMarketer expects Instagram to achieve $595 million in mobile ads revenue for 2015. This is projected to reach $1.37 billion in 2016 and $2.4 billion in 2017, which would be nearly equivalent to Google [39].

What Makes Instagram Advertisements Different?[edit]

Although other social media, such as Facebook, introduces ads to users, Instagram ads are generally deemed as more acceptable. The form of the ads on Instagram make it a platform with high business potential [40]. According to Connie Wang, the owner of a fashion site:

"It's so much more personal... It's not a Facebook or Twitter where everything seems like an advertorial. On Instagram, it feels like a discovery because you aren't there to shop -- but if something catches your eye and it's available, you're more likely to buy it."[40].

Because of the nature of Instagram where users can only post photos or videos, the ads mix well and become hardly recognizable from the other posts [41]. As a result, users are not disturbed by the ads. They can conveniently buy anything they would like on Instagram.

Small Companies[edit]

Many small companies use Instagram as their advertising platform. They post pictures of their products or services along with a short description and price [40]. Some of them include Paypal links and WhatsApp tools in their Instagram descriptions for customer support [40]. One example is the buy-sell-trade vintage shop Fox & Fawn, which posts pictures of their clothing and accessories on Instagram in place of an online shop [42] [43]. If Instagram users see something they like, they can leave a comment under the picture and call to order. Before advertising on Instagram, the shop owners, Beverly Hames and Marissa Johnson, posted pictures of new products on their Facebook page. However, Facebook started imposing charges for communicating with customers, so they converted to an Instagram-focused advertisement platform. Now, up to 40% of Fox & Fawn’s revenue is drawn from Instagram business.

Large Companies[edit]

Big companies also use Instagram for marketing. For example, Burberry posted pictures of their shows in the London Fashion Week, and Red Bull documented a Wales cliff-diving competition to increase public influence [44].

Influencer[edit]

Influencers are defined as Instagram users who have an established credibility and audience [45]. They are users who can persuade others by virtue of their trustworthiness and authenticity. Companies hire influencers rather than celebrities because they deemed more relatable, and their own experiences help persuade customers to believe in the product quality.

Case Studies[edit]

Tommy Hilfiger, an American clothing brand, wanted to reach a Latin American audience. They combined their global campaign strategy that featured videos of tennis star Rafael Nadal with exclusive local content created by Latin American influencers. The result was the video ads attracted 3 times more views than previous ad campaigns and sales of the advertised line increased by 28%. [46]

"We got the attention of female audiences who took a look at the Tommy Hilfiger products that were on offer for the men in their lives,” said Paulimar Rodriguez, Digital Marketing Coordinator at Tommy Hilfiger. [46]

Another success story comes from Anheuser-Busch, a company that aimed to sell a new drink: the Lime-A-Rita. Their target audience included women age 21-34. [47] By working with #Hashoff, a company that believes word of mouth and peer-to-peer recommendations outperform other modes of advertising [48], Instagram was able to find key influencers whose content fit the brand’s colorful aesthetic. One of these influencers, handle: sophlog, who describes herself as a color-lover and professional partygoer, fit the look Lime-A-Rita was going for [49]. With the help of two additional influencers and Facebook Marketing Partner Kinetic, who promoted these ads via the influencers’ accounts to the target audience, the company saw a 17-point lift in ad recall and a 5-point lift in purchase intent. [47]

"By promoting the posts through the influencers’ individual handles rather than the brand handle, maximum authenticity was ensured," said Instagram. [47]

Income[edit]

Any Instagram user has the potential to become an influencer, a highly coveted position that indicates high social status and high payout. A user with 1M-3M followers can get up to $50K per post [50]. A user with 3M-7M users can get around $75K per points [50]. Lastly,a user with 7M+ followers can get up to $150K per points [50]. Users with much fewer followers can also experience fortune on this social media platform.

“An Instagram user with 100,000 followers can comment $5,000 for a post made in partnership with a company or brand,” Clare O'Connor in a Forbes Article.[50]

Even users with as little as 2000 followers can make $75-250 per image [51]. The prices are on the rise as Instagram obtains more and more users. Being an Instagram influencer has become a full-time position for some users who have curated a “brand” from themselves.

#Hashtag Campaigns[edit]

Companies launch Instagram campaigns to communicate with customers and increase social attention. For example, TOMS started the #WithoutShoes campaign in May 2015 [52] [53]. Unlike traditional ads, people were not asked to buy products from the company. Instead, they were asked to share a picture of their feet and tag #WithoutShoes. TOMS agreed to donate one pair of shoes to a child in need for each posted picture with the hashtag. By removing purchases from their intentions, TOMS garnered strong awareness and goodwill through word of mouth.

Official Instagram API[edit]

Instagram officially switched on its ads Application Programming Interface (API) in 2015 [54]. Marketers can now purchase Instagram advertisements in a more automated fashion, increasing convenience.

Conclusion[edit]

Instagram has sparked a new form of social media platform for self-expression and voice, where photos are the primary focus. Participants can use pictures for awareness and ideas, along with social comparison. Inaccurate perceptions of highly edited and curated photos can lead to a warped sense of reality, an unhealthy self-image, and the risk of mental health issues, including untreated depression.

The depth of any interaction or experience cannot be reduced to a snapshot. At work, at home, and throughout our daily lives, we must be aware that what lies beneath the surface has importance and deserves acknowledgement and attention.

However, Instagram also provides a novel and promising advertisement and information-sharing platform to reach targeted customers. Since current users are mostly younger generations, Instagram has the potential to increase in popularity and importance in the future.

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