Instagram and Discovery

We’ve previously written about Instagram in relation to the topic of website photo galleries but haven’t covered the social network individually.  With the launch of our new venture; You Do It Suet, we found ourselves presented with a choice of social networks to utilize beyond the “big two” Facebook and Twitter to grow our brand.

Instagram was an obvious choice, due to it’s exploding growth (600 million monthly active users) and focus on photos, which fit well with our birding, recycling  and nature themes.  While owned by Facebook (bought in 2012), Instagram has maintained a separate identity, and what we’ve found is that it operates more like a growing social network then their mature, parent behemoth Facebook or the (now) flailing Twitter.

What does a growing social network offer?

Social networks when created enjoy a period of time when the users are a tight knit community.  First users of these new networks relish this close, community feel, and reciprocal following and discovery are encouraged.  These “founding” members want to see their social network grow and succeed, as well as the entire network itself.

To contrast this, mature networks, such as Facebook and Twitter suffer from an aging social network condition that impedes this growth.  Once a community has been expanded beyond the core, users become much more selective with whom they follow, and discovery as a behavior is lessened, as users turn to their existing culled feeds for new content.

When presented with a new follower, users of these mature networks are also much less likely to follow back, in an effort to protect their follower to following ratio, and/or to limit the content in their already robust feed.

Instagram has learned from this past (a problem especially for Twitter) and has successfully built in discovery tools (#hashtags) that encourage users to explore their interests, and not just their feeds.

In addition, even with huge growth and a maturing user base, Instagram still enjoys the “reciprocal” following behavior common with new networks.

What does this mean for small businesses?

These behaviors make building a follower base on Instagram much easier, and quicker than on Facebook or Twitter.  Anecdotally, our follower count on Instagram has rocketed past Twitter, and is quickly closing in on Facebook as our top social network.

This does not mean however that you should abandon Facebook, or Twitter (we’re not) in favor of Instagram, or Snapchat or any new network that may come along.  Rather, you should not be afraid to experiment with new social networks, as the “early days” of those networks can be the key to building a large following, before the malaise of maturity hits and the users of that network stop “discovering”.