When Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger walked out of Facebook’s Menlo Park office for the last time in late September, it was quite evident that the social media platform they co-founded many years ago and subsequently sold to Facebook, would no longer remain the same. They leave Instagram in great shape. As of June, Instagram clocked 1 billion active users globally, according to research firm Statista. And it is growing still.
In terms of the moolah that Instagram could rake in for Facebook, it is expected to clock as much as $8 billion in advertising revenue next year, if we are to go by the estimates of research firm eMarketer.
With Facebook installing its former VP of News Feed Adam Mosseri as the head of Instagram, it is clear that Facebook would attempt to squeeze every ounce of value out of Instagram. Not to draw any inferences at all, but Mosseri is considered a close friend of Mark Zuckerberg. The vision for how to run Instagram is bound to be common, to a large extent.
Snapchat, Instagram’s strongest rival (strongest being a subjective sentiment here) is expected to earn around $2.7 billion in the same period, as per Statista estimates. The years of Facebook pulverizing Snapchat by adding very similar features on Instagram are well and truly paying off. The biggest case in point is the Stories feature. “We remain excited for the future of Instagram and Facebook in the coming years as we transition from leaders to two users in a billion,” Kevin Systrom perhaps summed it best in a post.
This surely has to be the biggest shakeup Instagram would have received in years, it surely wasn’t what many users would have been bargaining for. But it couldn’t all be bad news. Despite Systrom and Kreiger exiting Facebook in the same week that had WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton suggesting in an interview that he left because of constant disagreements with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, both sets of departures must not be clubbed together. Instagram still pretty much ran the way Systrom and Kreiger wanted. Except recently, when the photo sharing network was bundled off the main Facebook app, which the Instagram co-founders are believed to have thought was stifling the growth.
Till now, Facebook and Instagram were very different. Different identities. Different positioning. And you used them differently. Facebook is your swiss knife of the social media ecosystem—it reminds you about a friend’s birthday, you get invited to events there, it tells you when your friends are taking a vacation and who has just landed an amazing new job. Instagram, on the other hand, was an escape from the mad rush daily routine. Cat pics, food pics, lots of hashtags and a generous dose of influencers hawking stuff that you’ll probably never buy.Instagram's new Nametag Feature For Adding Friends (Photo: Instagram)
The only potential overlap is that Facebook and Instagram have tried to reconfigure the feeds you see every time you open the app to involve more posts that your friends have shared, rather than news feeds by publishers you may follow or businesses you may have otherwise ‘liked’ at some point. But the larger theme may be waiting to be revealed, after the Instagram link option was dropped from the Facebook app recently.
Make no mistake, there is absolutely no way that Facebook would pass over an opportunity to monetize Instagram to the fullest. Even if it means cluttering what is otherwise still a very steam-lined app. For instance, Stories now get prominence as you scroll down the timeline—it will make you notice it, including tiny teasers of what friends have posted as Stories, even if you somehow ignored earlier. Then there is IGTV, which purely feels like an add-on, bolted on to Instagram as an afterthought. But all these are opportunities waiting to be monetized, at the correct time. Other methods would involve driving more referral traffic to the main app, which could see subtle tweaks to the Instagram app layout. Then there could be more adverts being inserted into your Instagram timeline—a no brainer, and also the easiest solution. The third could be deeper data points about the users and the trends, which could come in handy across the plethora of Facebook owned services we use on a daily basis.
This has not been a good year for Facebook, with one controversy after the other. Cambridge Analytica, Android data collection, inability to clamp down on hate speech, lack of counter to alleged Russian interference in the US elections and the recent revelation of the largest ever data breach on their systems. The Instagram bit could prove to be a nice distraction for the time being. A feel-good project, to get over all the bitterness elsewhere. We just hope Instagram doesn’t become unrecognizable after a point.