Within the last year or so, the photo-centered social media application Instagram has blown up. It was recently reported that there are approximately 100 million active Instagram users and the application has been available since fall of 2010.
Instagram is especially popular among the younger demographic who take a wide array of photos. What tends to attract this age group are the fun filters you can use to edit photos you take. Recent Northeastern University graduate Donielle Gitlin (username: @domigi), 22, has been an Instagram user since April 2011 and has over 500 photos. “I really enjoy taking Instagrams of landscapes. Particularly of NYC and specifically, the Empire State Building because I like how you can blur out everything minus your focal point [using the round blur feature],” says Gitlin. “I also like how you can manipulate the photo by using the effects. I also Instagram random photos that I have funny or witty captions for.”
Among users, there is also a decision to make about which photos you upload on Instagram versus Facebook. There are certainly different “rules” depending on who you ask, but Gitlin believes that there are some specific Instagram-only photos that don’t belong on Facebook. “If it’s a pretty or artistic photo I’ll Instagram it because I also know that I can put a cool effect on it,” she says. “I also Instagram photos of me and my friends because your Instagram feed is like a timeline, so it allows you to look back and see what you were doing when. My Instagram is connected with my Facebook but I rarely share the photo on Facebook unless it’s a picture of me and a friend.”
Instagram is a social media platform that centers on only photos. IPhone and Android users download the free application from their respective app stores and begin uploading photos (it has also recently become accessible via computer). Each user makes a personal username for their profile and can link their account to their Facebook and/or Twitter pages to find their friends who also use the app. You can “follow” your friends and others to receive their photos on your personal feed and you can have others follow you. Users also have the option to make their profiles public or private to control who sees their photos. You are also encouraged to “like” and comment on photos of those you follow.
In addition to being an artsy and fun tool, Instagram has recently been the center of journalism discussion. Recently, The New York Times featured an Instagram photo of Yankee player Alex Rodriguez on its front page. This started debate about whether or not Instagram could be considered a legitimate journalism tool considering it alters the way photos look, something that is generally frowned upon in the industry.
Going against this belief, Chris Marstall and his team at the Boston Globe Lab are working ways to use social media, and Instagram in particular, to form a new kind of multimedia journalism. They have recently done a project entitled “68 Blocks” which focuses on the Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood of Boston. The Globe Lab takes Instagrams from residents and asks them to record voiceovers to explain the story behind the photo. “Instagram has a way of making you look like a professional photographer” says Marstall, “it’s a way to see people’s lives in an immediate way that is also personal and intimate, sometimes too intimate.”
Marstall and his team at the lab also did demos of some of their other Instagram-related projects involving users’ photos. They included restaurant reviews and weather forecasting.
Instagram, as well as social media in general, is also blowing up in the world of public relations. Lindsay Simon works in the Social Media Department of bi-coastal PR firm Sunshine Sachs and helps manage clients’ social media presence and usage. “We represent a wide array of clients, we use social media in a lot of different ways,” Simon explains. “For one of [our celebrity] clients, Naomi Campbell, we teamed up with Elle Magazine and did a Twitter live chat where she took over their account and answered fans’ questions. For non-profits, we help them develop their Facebook pages so that they can appeal to their audiences. We’ll link to articles that were recently posted on major media outlets so that the fans can easily access them. In terms of Instagram, we help set up clients’ accounts. We’ll instruct them on how to use it, but we usually won’t do more than just advise them about what to post.”
The art of “hashtagging” is a popular aspect of Instagram. Hashtags originated on Twitter and are used to gain viewers to your posts. To hashtag, you use the pound sign and a certain word, expression or sentence. For example, an Instagram user may post a photo at the beach and use #beach, #sunny, or #ocean to attract views. There is a search bar on the “popular” page (a set of photos with the most likes that updates throughout the day) where you can look for specific hashtags and users.
Things are only beginning for Instagram. As it continually becomes more popular, we are only going to see it more and more among our friends and family, and of course in the media.