Instagram brings the new idea that the image is supreme to words. It is important for our understanding of the internet transformation. As internet is regarded as a user-oriented virtual space for constructing social interaction and expression, Instagram provides a space for them through images (Abbate, 2017). This article argues Instagram is a transformative platform that encourages social engagement and social activism through the conceptual level. Further, analyzing Instagram into three aspects. Socially, the image could increases debates on the social exclusion of female body more directly and dramatically. Politically, the topic of hashtag activism and news sharing could have an impact on politics. Economically, Instagram as a participatory media that companies use business to consumer (B2C) model to gain awareness and increase social creativity.
History of Instagram
Instagram is a social media networking. The founders, While Systrom and Mike Krieger used the unique idea of photo-sharing on Instagram in 2010. The idea of photo-sharing is new in the market, especially the photo taken by mobile phone (Blystone, 2020). Below is a short YouTube video about the start of Instagram.
The hashtag and tagging function can build a connection with the community to encourage more social participation. Also, users not only use Instagram as a personal image blog but also a business account. The function of a business account allows the individual to start a business easily. This shifts the business from physical to a digital platform(Flanigan, & Obermier, 2016). Another transformative function is the ‘stories‘ in 2016 which is seen as competing with Snapchat. Lastly, Reels is a new short-form video function on Instagram for competing with TikTok (Hales, 2020). As can been seen, Instagram is changing the way of presenting the world, from photo to short-video.
A Successful Business model (Facebook-Instagram) ?
The term business model refers to the ‘firm economic model’ that combines the logic of profiting earning structure (Morris, Schindehutte & Allen, 2005). According to Gillespie’s (2018), one of the requirements of being defined as a ‘platform’ is the infrastructure for collecting data for profit, advertising, service. That is to say, the original idea of photo-sharing is too narrow. To become a social media platform, Instagram needs to build its business model to become a platform. There are two main ways for generating profit.
- Selling users data to third parties
Generally, Instagram gains profit from advertising which is similar to Facebook. Companies put ads on Instagram to increase brand awareness and lead the consumer to off-line business or official site (Sharma, 2018). Furthermore, Instagram captures users’ data including using time, user rates, topics interested, search words and sell them to a third party which can analyze consumer behavior.
The innovative point of Instagram’s business model is when Facebook bought Instagram for approximately US$ 1 billion in 2012. Now, Facebook is the owner of Instagram.
This turning point makes a win-win situation for both Instagram and Facebook. There are two explanations for this innovative social media business model. One is based on Zingales’ (2017) winner-take-all concept of Facebook and Instagram. The combination of these two social media increases the data value. Instagram gives Facebook a huge mobile user base; Facebook provides a shortcut for advertising on Instagram (Sharma, 2018). Instagram and Facebook both bring profits to each other from their user and information base which is a snowball effect. The other explanation is borrowed from Martin’s (2019) vertical integration in the business of news sharing. The news sharing business is highly related to social media platforms because users get information and spread political ideology on these platforms. The vertical integration of Instagram and Facebook not only increase the potential revenue but also redefine a multi-side news media business model (Martin, 2019). Because of Facebook-Instagram integration, Instagram can generate advertising value from the news sharing business, vice versa.
Instagram’s internet ecology
Internet ecology is the study of the ecosystem of the Internet. In Cambridge Dictionary (n.d.) ecosystem refers to a group of businesses or activities that interact among each other. That is to say, Instagram’s internet ecology is the agents interact and operate with Instagram in the digital environment. Instagram is placed in the social media industry which works to share information and mediating the conversation. Most of them are user-orientated content, so Instagram is a major competitor of the social media industry.
The core competitor is the information-sharing app, especially for those photo-sharing and short video sharing platform. For example, Snapchat, Pinterest, Tik Tok. In James Hale’s (2020) Instagram Reels article, Tik Tok is a significant short video shopping competitor. Moreover, LinkedIn and Twitter are the competitor for information searching and news sharing.
Major suppliers of Instagram are all the users, such as the general public, Influences, company account, news agency, etc. They all create content for sharing information both privately and publicly. For the service supply, iOS and Android launch Instagram for users to download. Instagram’s major partner is Facebook which shifts from competitor to partner in 2012. As for regulation, Instagram is a self-regulated moderation system and censorship (Faust, 2017). Only a few countries have strict censorship of Instagram such as China and Turkey.
Below is an infographic of Instagram’s internet ecology:
Instagram is a conceptual innovative consequence of the internet
Instagram is a user-oriented social media platform that gives the user opportunity to spread their ideology socially, culturally, politically and economically. However, according to Ketly (2014), the internet sometimes does not offer freedom but restricts it. Along with Instagram, our ideology or information are not real, they are only the concept that spreading on the internet and platform. The result would be that the world is changing faster but stuck at the conceptual level.
– Point 1. Social & Cultural: Pushing Gender equality visually but exclusively
In Instagram, gender equality is more visual and direct when posing photos or videos on the platform. It is usually related to content moderation. Instagram’s selfie culture enhances the postfeminist sensibility, women can empower themself by ‘feels right’ with their body (Fallon, 2018). However, this concept is disturbed by Instagram censorship and the content moderation in the real-time example. In Faust’s (2017) research about Instagram censorship and woman body, content moderator could not distinguish the intention behind the photo, whether it is art or pornography. Due to the questioned moderation system, there is a movement to fight against it. The #freethenipple movement sparked in Instagram to express gender equality as mentioned in the research (Faust, 2017). Unfortunately, Instagram blocks some user accounts for the reason of pornography which obstructs the movement. Below is @the_breasties request for unblocking its account on Instagram.
在 Instagram 查看這則貼文
Although the hashtag movement is widely spread, it is difficult for pushing this conceptual idea forward due to Instagram censorship and policy. Female body is excluded in the participatory media which loss the power of free expression.
– Point 2. Political : Social media and hashtag activism is a short-term movement
When it comes to social media transformative innovation in the political aspect, protests in American politics is a common example. With Heaney’s voice (2020), the decentralization of social media is the reason for the increasing number of protest in the USA. The effectiveness of social media make the process of protests much easier through the internet. However, social media is a double-sided blade. The rapidity will lead to a lack of organizations and insufficient strategies (Heaney, 2020). The protest that planning only within hours and days is difficult to sustain and make a substantive change.
Apart from America, let’s take the 2019 Hong Kong protest for example. This is hashtag activism reveals that there are nearly 15.8K posts under the #hongkongprotestoperates on Instagram.
Though it seems that this protest works well on attracting public and international awareness at first, the actual achievement is not so well when it goes further. The Chinese government does not respond to the requests of Hong Kong citizens. This situation could be analyzed that the increase of media output on the digital platform will decrease the likelihood of making sustained attention (Couldry, 2014). Users on Instagram would prefer a short-term event rather than a long-term political issue. Thus, Instagram does increase political awareness but it leaves the process on the conceptual level without further achievement.
– Point 3. Economic : Instagram as a participatory media is a cost-effective method for holding campaign
According to Flanigan and Obermier’s (2016) research on social media and company, the business to consumer (B2C) works well with the social media. The major reasons could be the influencers and social interaction on social media platform. It is successful for a company to hold a campaign on Instagram because the cost of influencers is lower than celebrities. Moreover, they can interact with their follower regularly to increase loyalty. In Giles’ (2018) blog post, the Adidas Neo campaign used #MyNeoShoot to create Adidas-inspired content on Instagram in 2015. Influencers, even celebrities such as Selena Gomez joined this activity. In the end, it gained nearly 40ooo new followers. This image of Adidas Neo Labels Instagram photos represent the creativity of users and their participation.
“@adidasneolabel – adidas NEO Label’s Instagram photos Statigr.am” by Tom Hirt is licensed under CC BY 2.0
However, Instagram has a limit. Consumers cannot buy the product immediately from this social media platform. That is to say, Instagram increases brand awareness at the conceptual level but does not have a direct influence on the company’s sales. Furthermore, the campaign is a short-term event, the company needs to keep the information current on social media to satisfy users (Flanigan, & Obermier, 2016). In this case, Instagram could only be defined as an effective tool for spreading the conceptual brand image.
In sum, Instagram is an influential internet transformation that provides a virtual public space for social participation, the political protest movement, business campaigns. Although Instagram makes users on the internet more active and socially engaged than before, they still need to discover the world from a deeper perspective. Then, users on Instagram could establish a substantive influence on the real world and welcome the fully user-generated internet era in every aspect.
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