20 March 2015

Instagram's community vs Instagram's commodity

Instagram picture of Benjamin Franklin with his arm around 'The Man'
Instagram is my favourite social network. There. I said it. After Initially giving it short shrift (from years of shooting on film I HAY-HAY-HATED retro-filters) I caved, accepted then embraced the ‘nice network’ after Twitter became Troller and Facebook became, well, Facebook. So it’s with knitted brow that Instagram are introducing a new ad model which will allow brands to post carousel-style ad stories on the timeline with links to web content browse-able within the app – much like Twitter and Facebook.

Now, I’m not a frikking idiot. I know a network can’t run 40 million posted images a day on good vibes alone (“unless you’re owned by Facebook!” someone shouts from the back of the internet) so something’s got to pay for the servers. And short of convincing a social generation raised on freemium to subscribe or make micropayments every time they post a picture of their breakfast (guilty), advertising is the obvious choice.

Since the rollout last year of promoted posts, Instagram became a bonafide brand platform and it’s since been noticeable how user engagements with brand accounts are increasingly done so in a way more akin to Twitter. For example, to celebrate Red Nose Day British Airways posted a joyous picture of their record-breaking highest gig in the sky from last year. Amongst all the fan love responses, one awkward, chilly off-topic question relating to an alleged BA association to animal welfare violations cut through the warm glow on the timeline like a hornet at a child's summer party.

At first this interaction seems a bit weird, given that the platform primarily converses with pictures. But not so weird when you look at YouTube: a platform that primarily converses with video but whose below-the-fold commentary reads like an irascible 70s teenager with Tourettes. It’s this tricky, brand-baiting, PR managed reality of paid-for which could be the turn-off for the people who helped lovingly build the network in the first place – the same cornerstone community whom Instagram is constantly celebrating.

It’ll be interesting to watch the balancing act between community and commodity as the network becomes more sophisticated but I really hope it succeeds in managing both. After all, it’s arguably the one big network left where one can converse daily and be surprised, inspired and feel genuine positivity without having to suffer misanthropic bellends as you do so.