Its role as a marketing tool for small and large companies and the way it has changed how people see the world
What is Instagram?
Instagram is a relatively new social media tool that has exploded in popularity. The development of smartphones equipped with their own cameras means that everyone has the potential to quickly upload visual snippets of their life with relative ease. The speed with which Instagram was adopted by users, even in comparison to Facebook and Twitter, was phenomenal. As one Internet website noted in 2011, "although Instagram has only been around for a little over three months, you've most likely heard of it, if not used it" (Lux 1). It was soon acquired by Facebook, further increasing the ease and ubiquity of how it could be used. Within 24 hours of its 2010 launch it was #1 in Apple's App Store.
Instagram enables users to "take pictures within the app or use photos that already exist in your camera roll. You can give your photo a title, which is helpful and fun. Photos can be instantly shared, not only on Instagram, but also Facebook, twitter, Flickr, Posterous and Tumblr. You can also connect with your foursquare account and tag your photos with location" (Lux 1). This visual platform seamlessly integrates the most popular social media platforms amongst the critical twenty-something set with a touch of a button. But Instagram's appeal is not solely relegated to the desire for 'sharing.' It also allows users to craft their own unique images for their photographs. "The 'cool' factor of Instagram is the fact that they have 11 different filters you can use to up the interest of your pix. Even boring photos can look amazing with some of these filters" (Lux 1).
For example, creating vintage-style Instagram photos is extremely popular with many people. An ordinary picture of a glass of ice tea in a Mason jar might seem relatively pedestrian, but given a vintage 'look,' that same glass can have an oddly compelling appearance thanks to the fact that it appears old. For people who are uncomfortable with some of the more technical aspects of Photoshop, Instagram can provide a wonderful tool to engage in special effects without making the commitment to learning about the new technology.
Instagram deliberately fosters social connections and sharing. "On Instagram you 'follow' people" (Lux 2011). Of course, Facebook also allows for sharing of information and Twitter allows users to connect with a wide array of followers based upon the dissemination of relatively inconsequential information. But Instagram's visually-driven nature, combined with the relatively low commitment demanded of followers makes it a particularly potent source of connectivity. People may wish to connect with people they follow, simply based upon what they see, even if they have nothing in common with the person. The verbal interactions are so minimal there is no fear of clashing cultures or clashing political views, as might be the case on Facebook or Twitter. "The only other things you can do are 'like' photos and comment on them. & #8230; People ask questions in the comments, like 'where was this taken' or 'what app did you use for that?'" but arguments and more specific forms of engagement are relatively rare (Lux 2011). For this reason, many people have touted the democratic and universal appeal of Instagram, in contrast to other platforms on which to share media.
Instagram's impact on business and social life
A number of media analysts have stated that the impact of Instagram on people's social lives and upon commerce has been nothing less than seismic and is likely to grow. In particular, people in visually-oriented fields like fashion and food have quickly learned to leverage Instagram to realize their aims of peaking customer interest. "Instagram in particular [versus other social media has]…changed the way entire industries communicate with their customers…Social media has changed fashion…it's everyday fashion on the streets. We all have a camera in our pocket now, and I could snap a picture [of someone with an outfit I like or someone with a nice hat], bring all these images together and show them instantly online. In some way, it democratises how fashion spreads across the world. All of us can participate" (Laurent 1). Of course, street fashion has always had an impact upon the runways, but now the impact can be instantaneous.
A major label can see a fashion trend in Japan, post it on its Instagram site, step back, and watch the powerful positive feedback mount. Then that same company can use that image in its new collection. Or it can post pictures of people using its current trends in the real world of the street, versus simply depicting pictures of models on the catwalk. Fashion has long been criticized for its unrealistic body images and the income level demanded to follow fashion. Today, through Instagram, a more democratic vision of fashion can be offered, enabling fashion to remain more relevant.
Fashions in food can be more easily transmitted via Instagram. Of course, the official company source of images for a restaurant can showcase tantalizing images of its food. But it is also possible for users to post their own visions via personal accounts. Through tagging their posts, the restaurant can re-share them as proof that once again the 'person on the street' actually loves the brand, not simply an official company 'shill.'
Professional photographers have found themselves empowered by Instagram. Freelancers can develop a devoted following online, which enables them to better promote their photographs for sale as sources of relevant journalism to media outlets. "In professional photography, Instagram has also had a strong impact with an increasing number of photojournalists using the image-sharing mobile platform to build large groups of followers" (Laurent 1). But semi-professional and amateur photographers can also use Instagram to generate buzz about their products. Even bloggers in other industries can use photographs to draw traffic to their sites.
However, rather than merely being an extension of a brand, some individuals have actually used their popularity on Instagram as a source of fame, from which they then build a blog, write books, and create a media empire through crowdsourcing their images. According to one food blogger, after her first posts on Instagram: "a week and 1k+ followers later…there was even a whole Vegan Food community on Instagram that was already sharing what they we're cooking and how proud they were of it. 6 months, 13k+ followers, a website, a cookbook and a book tour later, I have all the love in the world for a social network that has made my tiny dream a huge reality" (Mattern 1). The visually-driven nature of Instagram was a compelling tool to 'brand' an author even before she capitalized upon more conventionally verbal sources of fame in the food world.
Instagram's cognitive impact
On an even more subtle level, some people have argued that Instagram affects how people perceive the world. Some people report feeling depressed after looking at Instagram for too long, given the vast discrepancy between reality and the beauty and perfection embodied in people's Instagram feeds. "We rely upon social media as a mirror into other's lives and we use it to portray ourselves according to an image we want others to see… Instagramers don't intend to post mundane or dull images; we try to put up interesting, motivational or entertaining pictures that paint an image of what we want our life to look like to others…it can cause rifts in what the reality of life looks like to other people and this can cause us to view our own life as subpar or incomplete in comparison to others" (Isbell 1). Instagram's ease of transforming the ordinary into something that looks extraordinary can further intensify this vast discrepancy between the real and the ideal.
Philosophically, a number of media observers have critiqued Instagram's tendency to encourage its users to live a life slightly out of synch with what is actually happening. Someone sees a beautiful sunset and rather than simply staring at the sky and seeking to share this moment with another human being, they instead reach for their smartphone. Everything is cannibalized for the media stream that depicts a user's life. "In 2013, the phrase 'you have no filter' no longer means you're not invited to dinner parties. It just means you don't have Instagram, an app that turns its users into monsters" (Fineman 1). Rather than paying attention to the here and now, people instead live in a stream of social media. "There is often so much 'instagramming' going on at events I go to (myself included) that it can be hard to enjoy them" (Fineman 1). Instagram creates users who are obsessed with capturing their surroundings and are unable to view the real world with 'no filter.' Its critics allege that Instagram has become a 'game' with its own social rules and just as companies track their…