By Hannah Ledden
Instagram. Like many other social networking sites it has become a big part of daily life. You would have to go far to find someone who doesn’t use the site, or at least know about it. But like anything in the technology age, crazes come and go, with only a few things hanging on for the duration. So has Instagram reached its peak, or is it permanently installed as the key way to interact and promote?
Without realising it, we Instagram addicts are all subjected to numerous posts on a daily basis, which either show how great the newest beauty products are or the best place to buy those seemingly sold out festival tickets. Many argue that this suggests a negative side to the popular picture-sharing app, turning it into more of a marketplace than creative platform.
So does this bring an end to trusting the content you see – if the sole purpose behind it was the large pay cheque?
With humble beginnings as a small start-up for budding photographers, Instagram has risen, culminating in a sale to Facebook worth $1 billion back in 2012. It’s certainly a success story, not only in the world of social media. It is now used by everyone, from the regular Joe posting holiday pictures to major companies promoting their latest products.
Recently, however, the site has shifted its focus to ‘micro-influencers’, people with a moderate following who promote products or brands to grow awareness – for a fee. Instagrammers with even a relatively modest following of a few thousand people can now make a significant income from a few sponsored posts per week.
We can’t all reach the number of followers held on the most popular pages, such as that of Kim Kardashian West, who just celebrated reaching 100 million followers, or US pop-star Selena Gomez, who holds the crown with a whopping 120 million. But that doesn’t mean we can’t all sign up and create our own online profiles in the millions – after all, Instagram boasts 600 million users worldwide.
“The benefits of social media for business growth are exponential.”
While the army of so-called micro influencers are in the shadows of Instagram-leaders such as Kardashian West, they have found a new use for the site: to promote their work in the way of an interactive CV, and to interact with like-minded creatives.
Holistic health coach Melissa Rosenstock, 42, from Santa Monica in California is one business owner using social media to grow her brand. “I am new to the entrepreneurial world, so having access to marketing at my fingertips is a great thing,” she said. “The benefits of social media for business growth are exponential, due to the vast amount of people using these platforms whom are seeking something – to learn, grow, achieve or buy.”
It seems this is bringing the site back to its original use, as explained by co-founder Kevin Systrom. “For the idea to be a hit we knew we had to focus on being really good at one thing,” explained Systrom. “People loved the way it made their photographs unique and how it’s not bogged down with personal information or a list of friends and interests,” he told Fortune.
“We looked at is as instant telegrams when a new picture was posted which is where the name came from.”
This is exactly the element that has drawn many creatives to focus their personal marketing to the site, where new work and content can be viewed by the masses, for free, almost instantly. And alongside occasionally advertising the work of other businesses or brands as a brand ambassador, many focus on using the site as a platform for their own careers.
Photographer and budding filmmaker Richard Murphy, 27, is one of those who uses Instagram to promote his work. A current following of 15.1k shows the success Murphy, originally from Nottingham but living in London, is having on the platform.
“Instagram is my primary way of sharing photos and videos,” he said. “I use hashtags to share my work for the change to be featured on other pages, or I make use of the Instagram stories feature to reach out to a wider audience.”
Richard is one Instagram community member who disagrees with the ‘selling culture’ where brand ambassadors promote numerous products as a means of income. “People who promote products that they don’t believe in, or don’t use, send out a false advertisement to their followers. Content creators should only promote products that they can properly support or that fit with their personal brand.”
He is proud to say that his hard work has paid off, and that he’s beginning to receive invitations to work with brands and companies after garnering publicity through Instagram. “I recently sold one of my images for a couple of thousand pounds to a tourist company. Companies reach out to work with me because their brands fit with the style of my work, which is something I would be interested in because it makes sense with my brand.”
“Something in a niche industry gets a great reception.”
Melissa has a similar view to Richard on the topic of brand ambassadors who don’t use or believe in the products they are selling. “I take issue with that because I personally think that lacks moral and ethical vibes. If someone is promoting something for their financial benefit that they don’t even use, then I think that screams unauthentic,” she said.
“I strongly value authenticity as well as moral and ethical values, so that is why I have a really big issue with people who use Instagram like this,” Melissa adds.
Parkour athlete Eric Moor, 21, from Slough is another creative making a name for himself on the photo sharing site. A following in the excess of 31,000 regularly view his videos and pictures showing his training and current work projects.
Moor suggests that Instagram is in fact becoming a saturated community with many people trying to repeat the success of others. “There is definitely a lot of people on Instagram trying to do the same thing, like photographers, but something in a niche industry gets a great reception and ends up with a much larger following.”
As with any success, there comes a point where other people want to reap the rewards – without the commitment. Having work copied or replicated is a problem both Eric and Richard have encountered. “This has happened to me a few times and the worst one was where my image was stolen by someone and posted on one of the biggest pages on Instagram and that guy got all the praise,” explained Richard.
Adds Eric: “There isn’t much you can really do to stop it happening but Instagram does let you put watermarks on your original content but I don’t see much use in that, people still find a way.”
It seems the use of Instagram has had a beneficial effect on both men’s careers. They would argue against the opinion that Instagram is drying up. “Instagram is definitely not past its prime,” says Richard. “It is definitely still growing with more features continuously being added. There is a lot of content on the site now but that just means you need to be unique and stand out from the crowd.”
It seems across many industries, from the sports world to creatives, that social media age shows no sign of slowing up in helping people succeed. There is no doubt that in time to come there will be further developments and people may move on but in the immediate future, the road to success includes getting online.
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