Instagram Billion Dollar Pivot

Instagram was launched in October 2010 as a simple photo-sharing app. Before that happened, the creators of the app (Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger) were building something with a completely different premise (location based check-in) and different name (Burbn).  It wasn’t until they noticed Burbn users ignored the check-in functionality of the app all together and were hooked on a less focal feature, photo sharing, that they changed direction.

Today, Instagram is home to 60,000,000 photo uploads…every day.

The average photo uploaded from a mobile device to Instagram is 2-3 MB, depending on the phone. Because of the nature of Instagram as a photo-centric social channel, every upload consumes more data than a Facebook or Twitter post, consisting primarily of text.  When you factor in the daily upload figure, well, that’s over 120,000 GB of data sent to Instagram daily.

The people sending and sharing those photos on Instagram are doing it on-the-go, all the time, anywhere they capture a moment worth sharing.  Often times, that’s at a business when they’re eating dinner or at a venue while they’re watching in awe as their favorite team or artist puts on a performance they won’t want to forget.  By providing them with a way of off-loading that data from their mobile phone’s monthly plan, business owners can help remove two major “barriers to entry” of an Instagram upload.

  1. Cost: People are more likely to upload photos (or even video) to Instagram if they don’t have to worry about potential data charges they may face for exceeding their monthly limit. After all, Instagram is a free app, so in a perfect world, using it shouldn’t cost them anything.
  2. Availability: Cell phone reception varies based on different carriers, geographic location, and the overall density of users in a given space.  You’ve probably experienced this problem at the last concert or sports event you attended when 20,000+ other people all reached for their pockets at the same time.

The solution here, in case you didn’t know, is to offer free WiFi at your business or venue.  By allowing your customers or guests to connect to your guest WiFi network, you remove any concerns over the cost of sharing.  By implementing an enterprise grade infrastructure, you can rely on bandwidth throttling and other basic tools to ensure everyone gets their slice of the WiFi pie.  By enabling these people to upload and share from your venue, you may reap ancillary benefits like your location being tagged in their content.  Other benefits exist too, and we’d be happy to tell you about them if you’re curious.  The main takeaway here is that if you give a customer something that will make them happy, they’re more likely to come back.  It’s simple, but it’s the truth.  WiFi makes customers happy.

So why should your business, or “brand”, care about whether customers can upload a photo or not?

According to a business intelligence report we acquired from L2 Think Tank, Instagram had 150,000,000 Monthly Active Users in January 2014.  As impressive as that may seem, it’s even more impressive in comparison to the other major social networks.

  • It took Facebook 5 years to reach 150 million monthly users.
  • It took Twitter 6 years to reach 150 million monthly users.

…it only took Instagram 3 years.

Instagram User Growth

Instagram User Growth provided by Scott Galloway and Pau Sabria, co-authors of the 2014 L2 Instagram Intelligence Report.

Allow us to share some more insightful data with you, directly from Instagram, that may explain why this is something we care about.

As of July 2014, Instagram has…

  • 200,000,000 Monthly Active Users
  • 1,600,000,000 Daily Likes
  • 20,000,000,000 Overall Photos Shared

Between January to July of this year, they’ve added 50 MILLION more users!  Not only are more and more people posting pictures on Instagram, but so are brands. Last year at this time, 63% of “prestige” brands used the platform. Today, it’s 93%.  So what’s the reason why so many big brands are making a commitment to Instagram as one of their social channels?

Instagram has 15X higher engagement than Facebook.

Another study by Forrester Research dives deeper into social media engagement and came to the same conclusion.  At a 4.21% engagement rate per follower for top brands, Instagram is king.  Pretty convincing if you ask us.  When it comes to Twitter, Instagram has 2.5 more total videos shared on the platform than Vine, which is Twitter’s native video app.

Last year, Instagram grew more than any other top mobile app.  In 2014, it appears the trend will continue.

2014 L2 Instagram Intelligence Report.

Data provided by Scott Galloway and Pau Sabria, co-authors of the 2014 L2 Instagram Intelligence Report.

As it continues to grow and gain more users, the ways in which people and brands use Instagram will continue to evolve.  Writers are using it to announce a book release and the International Space Station is using it to share out-of-this-world pictures.  Ikea is pushing the limits of Instagram’s functionality and using it to revolutionize their digital shopping experience by creating unique product-specific accounts.
Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 4.12.53 PMScreen Shot 2014-07-29 at 4.11.58 PMScreen Shot 2014-07-29 at 4.11.19 PMThe picture above is the first ever Instagram from space, and unique content like that is part of the reason the International Space Station (ISS) has amassed 120,000 Instagram followers since launching their account in January 2014.  That photo has 10,000+ likes on Instagram.  The ISS Facebook page launched in 2010 and currently has 801,500 likes.  On average, their posts only see 1,500 likes.

It’s amazing to see how effective Instagram can be for a business or brand, but if you take the time to analyze the growth of Instagram usage at live events, the numbers are staggering.

In a blog post earlier this year, Radha Subramanyam (EVP of Clear Channel Media and Entertainment) shared metrics related to Instagram usage and data consumption at three major live events she was a part of.


In December 2013, the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball Tour generated over 4 billion social media impressions.  Instagram accounted for 1.32 billion of those impressions.  Here’s how the overall social engagement was shared across different channels during the tour.

iHeartRadio Jingle Ball Social Media Engagement

A breakdown of how 4 billion social impressions were divided during the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball tour in 2013.

At Super Bowl XLVIII this year at Metlife Stadium, Verizon Wireless reported 1.6 times more data consumption among fans than last years Super Bowl in New Orleans.  624 GB of total data was used by fans during the game.  According to the official Metlife Stadium press kit, this was accomplished by increasing the total amount of free WiFi access points from 622 to 850 in preparation for the event and provisioning 4X more bandwidth.  This trend of facilitating data consumption at stadiums is one that’s bound to continue.  According to TechCrunch, the new Levi’s Stadium in San Fransisco has an NFL record-setting 1,000 WiFi access points.

The final statistic shared by Radha is the most indicative of Instagram’s emergence.  In 2012, the photo sharing app accounted for less than 1% of all social media activity at the iHeartRadio Music Festival.

In 2013, Instagram accounted for 23% of all social media activity at the festival.  

Inspired by her post, we decided to investigate how much more popular Instagram has become at six other popular music festivals.

Here’s what we found:
governors ball

As you can see, Instagram usage at live events is growing aggressively year over year.  This growth is attributable to the emergence of WiFi at these events, allowing audiences to connect, as well as the popularity of Instagram as a social media platform.  As a business owner, you cannot control what your customers take pictures of, or upload.  You can’t control how often they do it, or if they even tag your location.  But you can give them free WiFi, and in doing so, remove any mental or physical barriers to the point-click-upload behavior that’s becoming more and more normal.

Will Instagram bring more loyalty, revenue or social media engagement to your business?  If you ask us, the answer is yes.  In reality, however, there is only one way to find out, and we’re here to help.