4 Reasons Why Instagram Has Gone Mainstream

The other day I heard a rap song that mentioned Instagram. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise since hip hop artists are highly in tune with pop culture and tend towards early adoption when it comes to technology (watch any music video and you’ll be inundated with the latest tech in the form of cars, sound systems, and phones.)

It did come as a surprise when I found that Instagram has been mentioned a total of 73 times in rap songs, with the vast majority of the songs being released in the last year.[1] This metric hit home for me more than any other indicator as a sign that Instagram has finally crossed the proverbial chasm into mainstream adoption.

A closer inspection of the other, slightly more conventional metrics, around Instagram revealed a similar story—the platform is highly engaging and has a great deal of momentum right now. More and more people are using Instagram, and brands are beginning to follow suit. Beyond the free advertising they’re receiving from rappers, I’d attribute Instagram’s success to the following four facts, each of which is crucial for marketers to understand.

1. Young Users

Instagram users are extremely young. According to the most recent Pew Internet survey (February 2013), 60% of Instagram users polled fell into the coveted 18-29 age bracket. A mere 10% of Instagram users polled were over the age of 50, with the numbers dropping precipitously in the upper age echelons. Basically, chances are very slim that your grandparents are on Instagram, thus allowing the platform to retain a certain coolness and exclusivity. Moreover, Instagram is the most widely used platform after Facebook in the 18-29 demographic in the United States.

There is a big opportunity for companies to market to Instagram’s young user base natively or to leverage Instagram content on owned sites. Instagram has tremendous social [media] inertia due to their impressive growth rate and remarkably young user base. Developing a marketing strategy around Instagram aligns your brand with a youthful and digitally-savvy audience that will likely grow in size and earn additional income in the near future.

2. Simple Interface

The kids are on Instagram for a reason. Instagram’s interface draws from the best features of more prominent platforms; combining Facebook’s visual appeal with Twitter’s essential aggregation mechanism, the hashtag. Instagram’s beauty is in its minimalist design and ease of use. Instagram is a true mobile application in the sense that it is designed for a very specific function: sharing edited photos.

Instagram’s signature filters are brilliant not in the fact that they make photos look cool or artsy (to the disdain of actual photographers) but the fact that the filter step serves as a content barrier. By including a step in the Instagram upload process where the user must consider which filter to apply to the photo, Instagram is introducing a self-enforced quality assurance measure. The user asks him or herself if this photo is good as is, needs a filter applied, or is simply not Instagram-worthy. This keeps the content looking relatively good.

3. Mobile-First

Last fall, comScore reported that daily mobile visitors on Instagram jumped from 886,000 to 7.3 millions in a matter of six months, representing a 724 percent leap. Perhaps Instagram’s biggest strength is the fact that it was designed for mobile first. This allowed Instagram to focus entirely on the mobile experience without creating a bevy of features that don’t transfer from desktop to mobile (or do so awkwardly.)

As overall mobile use continues to grow, web-first companies must take a step back to create mobile-friendly experiences that mimic the desktop version. This is not always easy due to the nature of the existing functionality and available hardware. Meanwhile, Instagram continues to maintain its strong mobile momentum as evidenced by the app’s considerable user growth.

4. Facebook Oversight

Finally, being purchased by Facebook may play an understated role in Instagram’s long-term success. The acquisition solidified the feature boundaries that were in place at the time of the buyout—allowing Instagram to add more and more features would be to run the risk of cannibalizing the parent company, Facebook. Instagram, under the Facebook umbrella, seems committed to evolving its current offerings rather than overextending itself with feature creep.

Just like any other platform, Instagram has its fair share of stigmas that will evolve over time. Instagram will not always be seen as the app where girls post photos of their food and coffee and guys post photos of their sneakers. After all, many considered Twitter catty and pointless in its nascent stage and now it displays the thoughts of world leaders. People and brands are using Instagram in more creative ways, and the unfollow button is a beautiful means of weeding out the users and brands that just aren’t cutting it on the platform. It’s natural social media selection.

In closing, when the likes of Rick Ross, Fat Joe, and Nas are validating what hoards of 14-year-old girls knew years ago, you’d better pay attention as a marketer. Instagram is hot and here to stay due to its young user base, awesome interface, mobile-first approach, and relationship with Facebook. I think Ludacris summarizes the power of Instagram best in the only three lines of his song “9 times out of 10” that don’t contain any profanity: “Drop it for a legend or this DTP[2] logo / Drop it for a little free marketing and promo / And let me Instagram this photo.”


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[1] As a reference, Pinterest has received 0 mentions, Facebook 204, and Twitter has been mentioned 319 times.

[2] Stands for “Disturbing Tha Peace”, the record label founded by Ludacris.



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