Instagram – Three years and 150 million users later


Instagram recently turned three years old. In that time, it has managed to amass over 150 million users. While Instagram doesn’t hold an audience the size of Facebook or Twitter (yet), it has established one of the most active and engaged audiences of any social media platform, with the photographic nature of the medium lending itself perfectly to sharing amongst peers.

Even though Instagram doesn’t necessarily have the sheer weight of numbers, it has quickly become one of the first-referenced platforms for brands to utilise in their social media strategy, because it allows brands to speak via imagery to the overall interests of their fans, not just pump out brand messages.

Facebook bought out Instagram two years ago for the staggering amount of one billion dollars, but the platform has yet to introduce ads — although recent reports show they will begin rolling them out in 2014. Facebook made a number of mistakes when it started to monetise its user base, including the introduction of confusing options and types for ad makers. It was difficult to navigate and difficult to accurately track success and meaningful engagement. Instagram seems to be trying to address this issue by looking to create a streamlined and simple approach. And they are being very transparent, recently putting out a blog post outlining their advertising plans:

Our aim is to make any advertisements you see feel as natural to Instagram as the photos and videos many of you already enjoy from your favorite brands. After all, our team doesn’t just build Instagram, we use it each and every day. We want these ads to be enjoyable and creative in much the same way you see engaging, high-quality ads when you flip through your favorite magazine.

Instagram is following the growing trend of “build-the-audience-then-monetise”. However, how users react to their feeds being populated with paid for advertising remains to be seen. Instagram could well take the higher-ground and create premium cost ad spaces for “quality” content that’s heavily monitored and curated; or it could follow Facebook’s path of an advertising-free-for-all. Instagram — at least at this stage — seems to be opting for the former:

We’ll also make sure you have control. If you see an ad you don’t like, you’ll be able to hide it and provide feedback about what didn’t feel right. We’re relying on your input to help us continually improve the Instagram experience.

Like a parent trying to educate their children of mistakes past, hopefully Instagram can address some of the issues that hampered Facebook. In the meantime, brands should continue to utilise the visual strength of the platform, producing not just branded messages but generating engaging and interesting content for its audiences. If this continues, and Instagram follows through on their advertising promises, paid-for content may be a welcome (or at the very least, non-offensive) inclusion. When forging new ground, mistakes are there to be made, but the Internet (especially social media) is a harsh, unforgiving place. If Instagram can learn from its parent’s mistakes, they could well make their advertising model a true value add to both brands and audiences alike, or risk its users turning to the next in line for the social throne.


Pete Saunders
Director of Brand Projects

1 Comment

  1. Alexandra Akehurst

    I really hope Instagram doesn’t go for an ‘advertising free for all’, as you put it, like Facebook. Having said that, it’s clear that Facebook has seen the error of their text-heavy, spammy ways since they’ve introduced the ‘no more than 20% text’ rule to their promoted post images. Having learnt this lesson, there’s hope for Instagram that their ads will be visually interesting and unobtrusive. They could take a lesson from Pinterest’s recent proposed approach to advertising too; tasteful pins (no banners or pop-up ads), transparent (so users know they’re being advertised to) and relevant. But then, they’ve had 4 years to ponder monetization, and Instagram has a $1 bill debt to pay! Great post, Pete Saunders. Cheers!

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