Instagram turned five recently, so we thought this would be a good time to take a look back at some of its more notable moments and how it's evolved since 2010. How has the platform grown into one of the largest and most important social networks? How have brands found their place there? And what might be next for Instagram?
A photo-sharing social media platform is born
Instagram launched on Oct. 6, 2010, and by December of that same year it had already reached 1 million users. The hashtags that Instagram is so well-known for now weren't introduced until January 2011. Their original purpose remains the same: to help users share and discover their photos with one another.
By June 2011, Instagram was up to 5 million users. The launch of version 2.0, which included many of the filters and other features we know and love today, doubled that number to 10 million users by the end of September 2011.
One of Instagram's most popular hashtags, #TBT (Throwback Thursday), started being used in 2011, but its popularity really took off in 2012 when more celebrities and influencers began participating.
You may also remember 2012 as the year Instagram joined the Facebook family, and users grew to 30 million. This is also when the Explore tab and web profiles were launched, but Instagram took a hit in popularity with miscommunication around its new TOS (terms of service) in December of that year. Users interpreted it to mean Instagram would allow their photos to be sold and reused without their permission, but Instagram listened to user concerns and clarified its intentions to build a business model that matched the user experience.
And that has worked out well. In 2013, Instagram added video capabilities (contributing to the video content marketing heyday of today) and direct messaging, as well as its first ads in the US. The platform grew rapidly, reaching 300 million users in 2014 and 400 million users as of last month.
That makes it one of the largest social networks in the world, after just five short years.
Brands and ads are thriving on Instagram
One of the reasons Instagram has been so successful is that it's been able to serve individuals as well as brands without sacrificing its creative ethos.
Michael Kors was the first brand to advertise on Instagram in 2013, working to create photos that fit the feel of the app and didn't intrude on user experience.
Since then, thousands of brands across every industry have increased their presence on the platform and experimented with different forms of advertising.
Instagram now offers several ad products, all of them focused on bringing the highest-quality content to the right users at the right time. This year, Instagram announced the next step in its advertising program: self-service ads, which are now available for anyone who wants to try them. This is a big step forward in opening up advertising opportunities to smaller brands and agencies.
The most successful brands use Instagram to connect with users in a way that feels natural for the platform. People use Instagram to share beautiful, memorable images of their lives. Brands have to find a way to fit in with that in a way that doesn't feel intrusive. Users reward those who have figured out how to do this in a way that seems effortless and natural and will quickly unfollow a brand whose content seems jarring, needy, or too salesy.
Instagram now and in the future
Where does Instagram go next? How do they get to 500 million users? This year, Instagram starting accommodating non-square images. Instagram reports that 20% of all photos uploaded to the platform are not square, so this change allows users even more room for creativity, one of the main reasons Instagram has been so successful. Instagram thrives because of its obsessive focus on creativity, flexibility, and simplicity.
Creativity. Above all else, Instagram is a (if not the) place to showcase your most creative, best self. More than anywhere else on the Web, Instagram rewards beautiful, unique, artistic imagery. It's a haven for artists, photographers, creators, anyone who wants to make a statement. If Instagram continues to support its community with the space and tools to share creative works, it will continue to grow.
Flexibility. As Instagram has grown, it has expanded the kinds of media it supports. For example, it now has video and non-square photos. It's still focused exclusively on visual media, but it now accommodates other visual formats beyond the simple square photograph, giving users the flexibility to upload content in the format that best fits the subject.
Simplicity. Instagram doesn't do a lot of different things, and that's good. You can post an image or a short video. You can like or comment on other posts. If you want, you can privately share images with one or a few people. And that's basically it. And that's why it's so brilliant. Instagram is the cleanest, simplest, best way to share photographs from your phone. It's not complicated and it shouldn't be. If Instagram sticks to that core principle of simplicity, it'll continue to be successful.
If Instagram sticks to those principles, it'll continue to grow at a healthy pace. Maybe we'll see it at a billion users in another five years. Either way, happy fifth birthday, Instagram! We can't wait to see what's next.