A big shift is underway for Instagram as the photo and video-sharing network is still discovering all of the possible roles it plays for users and businesses, and works out its monetization strategy. Kevin Systrom was quoted in a TechCrunch piece recently, outlining some of the ways that Instagram is pushing the boundaries as an e-commerce marketing platform as well as a Twitter-like functionality of covering world events.
Asia is at the forefront of social media, with users innovating on platforms across various countries and testing new functionality. As the user bases for services such as Instagram increase in the fast-growing Asian market, the company will take more notice of these novel uses and begin to tailor the app to such use cases. It is similar to how Twitter's users (rather than the service) created the use of the hashtag as a way to organize and search tweets.
As the CEO of Bubbly, a social media startup based in Southeast Asia, I've watched Instagram's Asian users utilize this communication channel that brings together one-to-many sharing with rich media in very unique ways. The cultural import of Asia is increasing, and I've seen firsthand a number of trends that germinated in Asia and then crossed the Pacific to explode in the U.S. I believe these Instagram usage behaviors will follow suit.
Sharing real time experiences and how Instagram can challenge Twitter
So far, many of Instagram's use cases are tied to documenting less serious experiences -- food, sunsets, dogs in the park and so on -- but it will only take a small leap to move into serious news and world events. As larger populations gain access to smartphones and high-quality cameras, then Instagram will supplant Twitter by using rich media and text instead of just text. Its comment format is already easier for promoting discussion than Twitter's, while it retains the same follower model that allows people to share widely and publicly. Not to mention the stronger impact a visual element can have over just straight text.
Here are a few examples of ways Instagram is already being used for real-life events to either bring communities together, or report on events and crises:
A common usage for Instagram in Asia are community-building "photowalks," where a club or company plans a scenic walk for people to gather and participate in while taking pictures of whatever catches their eye along the way. These photos are then uploaded with a specific hashtag for the event. The purpose of these can range from honing photography skills, building brand awareness or just bringing groups of people together. For example, there's a specific group that travels around Indonesia called Tamasya Hati that has become so well-known that big brands are getting involved and sponsoring their activities. Photowalks are growing in popularity significantly across Asia and they're a cool example of the intersection of social media and the physical world, which can be very appealing to potential advertisers.
Recently, there was a horrific typhoon in the Philippines that devastated the region and its people, and Instagram was used to alert users of conditions and document damage. CNN even used the service's video function to record the storm's powerful winds and the destruction they caused at the moment it happened. The service played a similar role during another awful typhoon in the Philippines last year. Instagram allows anyone with a smartphone to instantly become a broadcasting camera crew. The same way that Twitter became the go-to place in emergency situations to get the pulse of real-time events, Instagram's combination of this same immediacy and the power of visuals will make it a more desirable source in the future.
Americans are even starting to tap into this trend by using Instagram as an outlet for quick news delivery, turning it into more of an infotainment experience. Today, people prefer receiving news in small doses due to shrinking attention spans, which makes Instagram's 15-second video abilities a perfect platform for this type of information distribution.
The new approach to e-commerce that can outshine Pinterest
All across Asia, entrepreneurs and small businesses are creating "Instagram Online Shops," where they post pictures of products and contact information for purchases. Particularly common in the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, China, Singapore and Japan, this practice takes a whole new approach to e-commerce and the channels of communication between businesses and customers.
When you compare it to Pinterest, Instagram is more of a tool for e-commerce businesses rather than for the masses to like, share and organize their favorite goods. It's also more targeted than Pinterest. If Instagram were to add clipping and photo organization into the app (which would not be a huge step), they could very easily compete with Pinterest.
Going beyond Pinterest through user collaboration
Just as Pinterest is used as a source of inspiration for people to create things of their own, users in Asia have found ways to tap into Instagram's platform for the same purpose as well as introduce a way to involve others. In Asia, the ability to scroll through Instagram photos of your favorite artists makes it a great source for inspiration for creating your own art, but people are also using the service to collaborate with others to create communal artwork. A person or business can post a photo with a specific hashtag and then others take that photo, alter it, and re-post for the next person to adjust. This can be used for personal expression or to promote a business or event.
Whether it's a small business, news corporation, big box retailer, or major brand name, people should start paying attention to these rising trends in Asia so they don't miss their opportunity to scoop the market in America.