Instagram’s Success Lures Brands into the Picture

Instagram: NPR, Starbucks, Levi's BraziliPhone app Instagram is one of the hottest tech properties out there right now despite its lack of a traditional web presence. It does display a page images shared by its users on Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr. Virtually all the interaction takes place in the iOS-only app, where users stylize their own photos and follow the stream of others.

The application was launched in the early fall of 2010 by Kevin Systrom of Burbn, Inc. and became an instant hit gaining over 100,000 users in just it’s first week. In late December that user number grew to 1 million, and by last week (Feb 14) that figure has doubled to 2 million users.

Instagram is a simple application, you take a picture using the camera phone or select an existing one from your library. Next, you select one of its 12 retro-look  filters, then share it to your Instagram followers as well as to Twitter or Facebook if you choose. You can follow the shared images of other Instragram users, adding likes and comments as you go.

Here are examples of how brands and news services have started to explore ways to use Instagram to enhance their own photo sharing, or to solicit photos from users for contests.

  • Levi’s Brasil are sharing imagery of their new products line.
  • NH Hotels are hosting a contest asking consumers to share Instragram images on Twitter with the hashtag #WakeUpPics.
  • CNN iReport and NPR are supplementing their existing news with Instagram and are getting comments and dozens and ‘likes’ on each photo they share.
  • Starbucks is sharing images of products and asking followers opinions of new store signage ideas.
  • Brisk is crowdsourcing an Instagram photo shared with the hashtag #briskpics to appear on a new can to be introduced at SXSW.

So,what are these brands and organizations hoping to achieve by using Instagram? In most cases they are simply dipping their toes and testing the waters by sharing a few photos here and there. However, NPR and CNN have built up large followings of 13,000 and 8000 respectively, and images frequently receive dozens of comments and likes. UPDATE: On February 24, Instagram announced a new real-time API that would allow developers to create new web applications and services from its user’s uploaded content.

It will interesting where Instagram goes from here. Similar apps like PicPlz and Hipstamatic are providing some competition plus a rumour is making the rounds that Facebook may add their own ‘retro-look’  filters to user’s photo albums. With big brands experimenting and a user base of 2 million and growing, the only way is forward. One hopes that Instragram will be able to maintain its simplicity as it grows.

As our digital cameras get more sophisticated, the more popular it becomes to make them look like they were taken in another era.

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