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Facebook Acquires Instagram: Is Your Best Friend Marrying THAT Guy?

by Ann Handley  |  
April 9, 2012

For many fans of Instagram, the news that Facebook is acquiring the photo-sharing mobile platform is a little like hearing that your best friend is engaged to that jerk. She might be thrilled. But you can't help but feel a sense of doom about the whole arrangement.

The sense of foreboding is because Facebook announced today that it is acquiring a much-beloved network with gallons upon gallons of that sweet nectar called user engagement. Where Facebook engenders distrust, Instagram inspires affection. Where Facebook feels invasive to many, Instagram creates profound connection.

This afternoon, my social streams were stuffed full of Instagram fans who now worry that Facebook will monkey with the magic somehow, hobbling it or killing it completely. "Not sure I'm excited about our new Facebook overlords," one person said. Others tagged their announcement of the acquisition thusly: #endofdays #instagramsellout and #keepingthesame. This fear has some precedent: Facebook offed social-location app Gowalla after purchasing it in December.

When the Instagram news broke earlier today, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg took pains to point out that Facebook is "committed to building and growing Instagram independently." In other words, Facebook plans to keep the service intact, and it won't screw with features that make Instagram what it is: for example, the ability to post photos to other services—Foursquare, Twitter, and Flickr (and not just Facebook).

Still, some of the 30 million people who use Instagram tweeted their shock and disappointment, and some vowed to delete their Instagram accounts. Around 60% of those who responded to a Mashable poll today expressed disappointment at the pairing ("I think Facebook will find a way to screw Instagram up.") You can see the latest poll results here.

Elsewhere (also tellingly), Mashable suggested how people could delete their Instagram account but still save their library of images.

I look at the acquisition through two lenses. The first: it makes total sense for Facebook. The second: it's an apparent loss for Instagram fans.

Why it's a great fit for Facebook

It's not just that the Instagram network of 30 million is huge and has incredible momentum, growing at 2+ million users per month (last week, within 24 hours of the introduction of its brand-new Android app, it swelled by 1 million folks).

It's also not just that it's the largest mobile-social network—in other words, a social network in which the majority of activity takes place via mobile devices.

It's that it's the most successful mobile-first platform: a platform created initially as a mobile app, and not built first as website with a mobile app added later (like, well, Facebook).

If you've ever accessed Facebook on your smartphone, you know that mobile isn't Facebook's strong suit. Clearly, Facebook will benefit from acquiring the sharp mobile development chops of the Instagram team.

Why Instagram fans are upset

That growth momentum of Instagram speaks to its unique strength versus that of most any other large social network, and it's that unique strength that fuels its rich relationship with the people who love it—and accounts for the wailing at the news that Facebook has acquired it.

What strength am I talking about? At its core, Instagram allows you to tell stories visually, with a simplicity and immediacy that mobile users expect. And it does so with elegance and artfulness. That's what makes its "stories" so appealing, and (for me) why it breaks new ground in a world where great content is at the heart of online relationships and brands.

In other words: It's not just a network of shared photographs, but a platform built on the shared experiences of visual stories. The images on Instagram are at once intimate and broadly appealing, at once personal and universal. The platform allows you to create visual stories with an artfulness and elegance and a special kind of significance that inspires true connection between the people and brands active there.

As Om Malik writes at GigaOM, Instagram created a platform "built on emotion." Instagram's growth is fueled by the richness of its platform more than anything else.

To its fans, Instagram is a social network that many value enough to potentially pay to access. Yet it was purchased by a network many would never pay to access. And that, I suppose, is the nature of irony.

As the saying goes: If you're not paying for it, you're not the customer—you're the product.

Photo credit of "Thoughts on this?": Jill Foster via Instagram
Photo credit of "Either You Rock or You Suck": Ann Handley via Instagram

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Ann Handley is chief content officer of MarketingProfs, author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content, and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules. Ann co-founded, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.

Twitter: @MarketingProfs and @AnnHandley.

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  • by Tinu Mon Apr 9, 2012 via blog

    Best analogy about this so far. Very much sums up both how I feel as a user and how I view the deal from a business strategy perspective. I think of all the data and perspective Facebook can gain. I'm happy for the Instagram that it worked out. It doesn't matter how tiny a drop of pee gets in your lemonade - no one wants to drink something tainted. Which also makes me wonder if FB knows it has effectively devalued Instagram by buying it, which will later give them grounds to reverse their position and close it. The only way I see this working out is if they leave Instragram exactly how it is, and just gain value from the data and share patterns. Don't see that happening though.

  • by David Meerman Scott Tue Apr 10, 2012 via blog

    I'm worried too Ann. My greatest fear is that they make us use the FB mobile interface and cut off access to other social sites like Twitter. It won't happen right away but in, say, 2 years time anything is possible. Love your analogy of the bad marriage!

    BTW -- Your capcha code for me below is WTFW (!!) What the F&^% is right in this acquisition!

  • by Ann Handley Tue Apr 10, 2012 via blog

    Exactly, David! Like you, I have a hard time picturing a scenario where Instagram maintains its independence and autonomy as a social network, especially given the $1B price tag. (Funny WTFW comment...)

  • by Ann Handley Tue Apr 10, 2012 via blog

    Agree with your here, Tinu. I just don't see Facebook being hands-off, either... and to be fair to them, I'm not sure any of us have any right to expect as much. (See last line of my post here - ha.) But perhaps we're being pessimistic. I sure hope so.

  • by mesha Wed Jul 11, 2012 via blog

    follow @_daniellebradley :)

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