Instagram a free social media platform for sharing videos and photos has transformed and changed the digital landscape since it was first launched (Blystone, 2020). Instagram distributes users’ photos and videos to friends, families and public networks and encouraging creation and participation.
This essay will be a critical internet ecology analysis on Instagram as a social networking platform. It will first briefly highlight the development and history of Instagram, describes how Instagram’s business model was so successful. Further in the essay will identify the key actors in Instagram’s internet ecology and finally explain how Instagram has changed and transformed out digital landscape today.
Instagram was Launched in 2010 for iPhone and was only differentiated as an entirely visual sharing platform, and by the end of the year had accumulated one million users and now has 500 million daily active Instagram story users (New Audience Media, n.d; Clement, 2020). Developed in San Francisco by Kevin Systrom a 27-year-old Stanford University graduate who had originally created Burbn which became Instagram’s prototype, another social sharing application which existed in an increasingly saturated market. While it was similar to other applications its photo-sharing feature made Burbn unique so when Systrom and Mike Kriege partnered they adjusted the application to just photo sharing and stripping Burbn to simply liking, commenting and photo posting and was renamed Instagram combining the words instant and telegram and within hours of its launch became the number one photo-sharing app winning iPhone App of the Year Award in 2011 (Anderson, 2016; Blystone, 2020).
However, Instagram’s minimalist approach of purely photo sharing, liking and commenting, has since adapted and evolved since Mark Zuckerberg bought Instagram in 2012 (Blystone, 2020). In that same year Instagram’s additional features such as photo mapping, mobile phot images and web profiles, were added the app became Facebook added in 25 making Instagram more international. it wasn’t until 2014 when Facebook introduced dedicated advertising or analytics tools to Instagram and started to become recognised for its marketing tools which marketers wanted (Anderson, 2016; Carah and Shaul, 2016)
INSTAGRAM’S SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS MODEL
“A business model describes the rationale of how an organization creates, delivers, and captures value” (Osterwalder et. Al, 2010, p. 14).
Today Instagram remains one of the market leaders in social media, not only in users but for businesses, and has become the forefront of e-commerce tools. After Facebook acquired Instagram, they implemented an ad-free service to implementing an advertising model which was similar to Facebooks (ACCC, 2019; Blystone, 2020). Facebook managed to pursue and untapped business opportunity in a visual sharing platform and saw this adapting to serve a new user and marketing demand exploring the digital distribution channels (Loebbeckea & Picotb, 2015). With Facebook owning four of the top most downloaded apps Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram, Facebook owns a substantial market power over advertising, thus little competition. With mass audiences, Instagram is the forefront of marketing with its analytical tools.
Instagram’s business model works to target businesses for adverting but commodify its users data, participation and engagement on Instagram to collect and specifically market to them effectively. Instagram today highlights its success in advertising earning USD 20 billion in advertising alone and about 69% of America’s marketers planned to spend most of their 2020 influencer budget on Instagram (Blystone, 2020). When searching Instagram online and looking at information page, the normal user page is more highlighting that “we bring you closer to people and things you love” whereas the business page strongly focused on convincing business’s Why Instagram? And highlight adverting opportunities and marketing opportunities it can give. However, Instagram’s successful value creation models, offer consumers.
Image: Apptunix, all rights reserved
INSTAGRAM’S INTERNET ECOLOGY
Smart et al. (2017) express that the internet is part of our cognitive ecology – “the multidimensional contexts in which we remember, feel, think, sense, communicate, imagine, and act, often collaboratively, on the fly, and in rich ongoing interaction with our environments” (p. 252, as cited from Tribble and Sutton 2011).
Despite being a leader, it is still competing with other social networking applications, while it once was unique for its image sharing capabilities it does, however, compete with other visual like sharing applications, and is trying to entre new like markets. As social media platforms are starting to blur together such as how Instagram and Facebook adopted stories on their pages. The ACCC (2019) suggests that Instagram and Facebooks closest competitor is Snapchat, in digital advertising is Snapchat but still hold a significantly more market share than Snapchat. However, Instagram’s other key competitors in particular other social networking applications for advertising and user engagement such Twitter, Pinterest, TikTok and LinkedIn as well as Facebook but only in user attention with Facebook being its owner.
Instagram as one of many social media platforms regulated just by its platform policy and moderation systems, this self-regulation leads to much of its moderation activities to be vague (Witt et al, 2019). However, Instagram also follows governmental regulations such as copyright law.
Instagram is reliant on its users, and organisations to produce, and publish their own content, merely just acting as its distributor. Instagram claims do not take ownership of user’s content but instead do however have been granted a licence for them to use it (Instagram, 2020)
TRANSFORMATIVE EFFECTS OF INSTAGRAM
While social media was already popular in a saturated market Instagram managed to establish itself in a different form of sharing, which was visually focused. Facebook saw the competitive potential of Instagram against Facebooks social media platform and bought it. From this, it changed Instagram further, and as a result, created news ways of communication has changed business structures and models and also mobilised social and political activism.
Political and Social activism
Instagram has become a place which has mobilised the appearance of activism which is an onset of focus on visual content that differentiates it from other platforms. Instagram’s tools allow for the enablement of advocacy through video function, filters which can express different feelings, messaging, hashtags, polls, tags etc (Parmelee & Roman, 2019). This all together allows for the cultivation of imagery and videos to tell stories and interact with people. Instagram’s hashtag features allow for collective sharing and of similar ideas and beliefs, which can create purpose-built hashtags for a particular cause, opinion or brand (Carah and Shaul, 2016). However Instagram’s is unlike other social platforms due to market share, and despite its similarities to hashtags on platforms such as Twitter its visual base makes Instagram stand out. On June 2nd 2020, after the death of George Flloyd the Black Lives Movement called for a protest – Blackout Tuesday, where people were encouraged to pause and post a black background resulting which resulted in 28 million posts with Instagram the forefront of this movement. However, despite the mobilisation of activism and the promotion of change. However Sinanan (2020) in her article argues that ‘the black square is a symbol of online activism for non-activists’ highlights that the task of a black square barrier made activism barrier low, thus increased participation, however, but the collective mass participation made its networked power higher (Couldry, 2014). However, Facebook, its parent company faced criticism for the poor regulation of hate speech and discriminatory content, as well as was at risk of losing advertisers, further highlighting the need for visual messages. (Ho and McCausland, 2020)
Growth of the Influencers
From Instagram’s platform, algorithmic design and visual nature have allowed for the performance of self however this gave growth of micro-celebrity – someone who has gained a large number of followers and as a result use this for the financial benefit (Cotter, 2018). This digital influencer became a key part of advertising and marketing for businesses, due to their large following and the targeted audience they could reach a large following. However, the desire for some to be ‘Insta-famous’ with a large following, only emphasises the focus on self-branding and presentation reinforced by the monetary and attention currency (followers) you would receive (Carah and Shaul, 2016). As a result, in addition to micro-celebrities, is the development of virtual celebrities which came about on Instagram mimicking the activities of real-life influencers. Lil Miquela @LilMiquela was one of the first viral virtual celebrities who debuted on Instagram in 2016 and currently has 2.8 mullion followers and makes money working with brands designing and promoting their collections (Fowler, 2018). There is also Shudu @shudu a digital supermodel her creator, Fatou, said “she’s so perfect I’m a bit glad she’s not real” (Fowler, 2018). The existence of virtual influencers highlights the demand for influencers and the future which is directed towards influencers and the perfection of which its users as a visual platform strives for.
Changing Businesses Marketing Models
Instagram’s successful advertising model has created a tool which allows businesses to access free and paid marketing tools. On Instagram’s business website they emphasise the features, number of users. With over 25 million businesses on Instagram and 90% of people following a business account, the visibility Instagram offers allows businesses to reach out to consumers (Instagram, 2020). Facebook also implemented the ‘shop’ feature which runs through both Facebooks and Instagram’s platform. However, as Instagram can display advertisements differently highlighting appearance and aesthetic of a product due to the visual nature of the platform. It also allows businesses to save money while remaining competitive, spending less money on advertising and for it to be more personalised and targeted. All types of organisations are joining, and you will find a variety of nearby cafés, on Instagram, even companies with everyday product such as Colgate @colgate, glad wrap @gladproducts you will find with an Instagram. Instagram has created a space, where businesses have adapted to or even were evolved from Instagram as a digital channel. When you search up Instagram for businesses there are an endless number of e-marketing guides and successful guides to Instagram.
View this post on Instagram
Instagram as an entity has developed as a key social platform which differentiates itself through visual sharing. It’s owner Facebook saw the marketing potential of the platform and it has become a important player in E-marketing, enabling free and cheaper analytical and advertising tools to businesses. In addition, Instagram has become a place for social change, with its communities and movements unique to others because Facebook hashtag, and the power of photos. While the power of images and the influence is further highlighted the cultivation of influencers who are seen as marketing and advertising potential to businesses. The growth of Instagram has changed how the internet is consumed and participated in particular for businesses, its users and movements.
ACCC. (2019). ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry. Retrieved from https://www.accc.gov.au/system/files/Digital%20platforms%20inquiry%20-%20final%20report.pdf
Anderson Katie, E. (2016). Getting acquainted with social networks and apps: Instagram’s instant appeal. Library Hi Tech News, 33(3), 11-15. doi:10.1108/LHTN-03-2016-0011
Blystone, D. (2020). The Story of Instagram: The Rise of the #1 Photo-Sharing Application. Retrieved from https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/102615/story-instagram-rise-1-photo0sharing-app.asp#:~:text=Instagram%20is%20a%20photo%20and,app%20was%20launched%20on%20Oct.
Carah, N., & Shaul, M. (2016). Brands and Instagram: Point, tap, swipe, glance. Mobile Media & Communication, 4(1), 69-84. doi:10.1177/2050157915598180
Cotter, K. (2019). Playing the visibility game: How digital influencers and algorithms negotiate influence on Instagram. New Media & Society, 21(4), 895-913. doi:10.1177/1461444818815684
Couldry, N. (2015). The myth of ‘us’: digital networks, political change and the production of collectivity. Information, Communication & Society, 18(6), 608-626. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2014.979216
Fowler, D. (2018 ). The facinating world of Instagram ‘virtual’ celebrities. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20180402-the-fascinating-world-of-instagrams-virtual-celebrities
Ho, S., & McCauland, P. (2020). How Instagram became a destination for the protest movement. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/how-instagram-became-destination-protest-movement-n1232342
Instagram. (2020). Getting Started. Retrieved from https://business.instagram.com/getting-started/
Clement, J (2020). Instagram – Statistics & Facts Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/topics/1882/instagram/
Loebbecke, C., & Picot, A. (2015). Reflections on societal and business model transformation arising from digitization and big data analytics: A research agenda. The Journal of Strategic Information Systems, 24(3), 149-157. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsis.2015.08.002
New Audience Media. (n.d.). Brief History of Instagram. Retrieved from https://www.newaudiencemedia.com.au/brief-history-of-instagram/%22%20%5Ct%20%22_blank
Parmelee, J. H., & Roman, N. (2019). Insta-Politicos: Motivations for Following Political Leaders on Instagram. Social Media + Society. https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305119837662
Sinanan, J. (2020). Blackout Tuesday: the black square is a symbol of online activism for non-activists. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/blackout-tuesday-the-black-square-is-a-symbol-of-online-activism-for-non-activists-139982
Smart, P., Heersmink, R., & Clowes, R. W. (2017). The Cognitive Ecology of the Internet. In S. J. Cowley & F. Vallée-Tourangeau (Eds.), Cognition Beyond the Brain: Computation, Interactivity and Human Artifice (pp. 251-282). Cham: Springer International Publishing.
Witt, A., Suzor, N. P., & Huggins, A. (2019). The rule of law on Instagram: An evaluation of the moderation of images depicting womeé s bodies. University of New South Wales law journal. Retrieved from http://classic.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/UNSWLawJl/2019/20.html