How Instagram Restored My Faith in Social Networking


If you have not played with runaway hit mobile social network Instagram, you should. Yes, it’s become known as a utility for iPhone users to send pictures to Facebook and Twitter, but make no bones about it, Instagram is its own social network, and a very enjoyable one, too. In fact, it has restored my faith in the media form.

With more than 13 million people on Instagram, you can see some fantastic sharing. It is innately personal and wonderful.

Gone from the mix is the usual social media punditry and sword fighting. Instead you simply have real experiences throughout the average day. It’s just photos, sharing and comments, and nothing more.

Instagram exists on the mobile web, and is not tethered to the web. Rather it is on your iPhone or iPad via application (soon coming to Android). It only lives on the most personal and portable electronic devices. I think that in combination with its simplicity is what makes the network so special.

You see, on the go people can only be people. It’s not contrived, and thus sharing is unusually naked and revealing. People show each other how they see the world. Yes, you can share professional or well edited photos via your phone, but generally Instagram is a social phenomena of the moment. It feels safe, and unbelievably relational.

Sure, companies are trying to figure out how to tap into the incredible Instagram phenomena. And Instagram itself is another social network in search of a revenue model (advertising looks like the probable path). With an open API, people are exploring how to harness the photos, including search by city.

But for now, Instagram is very pure in its simple peer-to-peer interaction. And in that sense, it is a welcome relief in comparison to the over-commercialized Facebook, Twitter, and blogosphere.

How Social Photography Can Benefit Your Effort

Junior the Pug with a Cape

One of the more powerful tools of the social media set remains photography. That’s why I proposed a panel at the 2011 NTC 11 on social photography (if you like this post, please vote for the panel. September 30 is the last day of voting). The old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” still holds true. And social network users know this with photos on Facebook, Twitter, and Ning always ranking as one of the top feature functions, and a frequent source of comments.

Though one of the oldest forms of social media, photography is one of the least thought about when it comes to communications strategy. Social photography is a critical component of a good online program. Here are four benefits that can increase your online capital:

1) Traffic: Cross post images on Flickr to tell stories. On Tuesday I posted a story on my blog about the new Twitter interface. At the time of writing it was read 60 times, while the corresponding Flickr image received 140 views, and a Posterous image received another 120 views.

Assemblee Nationale

Granted the Twitter post was not a popular one, but every month my Flickr blog competes with my regular blog for traffic. Some months it wins. People say it’s because I’m a good photographer, but others say that I’m a pretty good blogger, too. I think people like images more than essays.

2) Better Calls to Action: Perhaps it’s an advertising principle that most communicators think about, but compelling people takes more than words sometimes. People need to see images to understand the severity of a situation, or how cool a technology or product can be. Photos can make the difference in compelling people to act with donations, volunteering, and other efforts.

We saw this with CitizenGulf. Once people saw Kerry’s face they realized fishermen were real people they rallied around our fact finding trip. Eventually, Kerry became the icon of our logo.

Kerry, Sixth Generation Fisherman

3) Search: Social photos via Picassa, Shutterfly, Flickr and other photo sites
offer search benefits and can be sourced in any primary site, including Google, Bing, Yahoo! and more. Contextually speaking, visual imagery can be more powerful in helping someone find their desired item.

Each of the many photo sites have strengths and weaknesses as far as their search value. Of them all, Flickr is strongest and Facebook is the weakest. Combine photos with strong blogging and the combination can be incredible. Consider this Google image search for LIVESTRONG brand.

4) Crowdsourcing Photos: Many organizations, and in particular causes, do not have the luxury of hiring a photographer for blogs, web site pics, and even e-newsletters. But many of their community members take related photos, and represent a great resource. So crowdsource photos through contests, social groups and event tags! This is something we did with the COPD Foundation to find images of folks with pulmonary disease.


Crowdsourcing is a great way to build a network of topical photographers as well as building a repository of photos that you can use in your work (so long as you get permission). However, don’t kid yourself. Crowdsourcing requires work and you need to make sure your ready to invest in the effort.

5) Contacts: It’s still social networking albeit via photos, and this time with photographers across the web. Consider the power of Flickr groups. A great resource to add to your network. And if you’re an enthusiast it really makes for a stronger personal network, too.

Again, if you like this post, please vote for my session. Zoetica CEO Beth Kanter has a list of NTC11 sessions you can vote for, including all four from the company.