Company / division: Instagram
Analyst firm eMarketer has revised its usage forecasts for Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat for the coming year, and although there’s lots of data there, the point the media has latched onto is that it’s predicting use of the core Facebook app among US teens will fall this year. Though I have to imagine eMarketer is basing all this on some kind of survey of teens (notoriously difficult to do), there’s no mention of any such survey in the article from eMarketer, so I’m curious to know precisely what the foundation is, especially given that falling Facebook use by teens has been talked about for years but never seems to have materialized in a discernible way in Facebook’s reporting. None of this, though, is all that surprising, given that Snapchat and Instagram between them seem to have a lock on teens’ social media use, both driven by the increasingly raw and personal sharing these platforms enable in contrast to the broadcast nature of most Facebook sharing. While Facebook has steadily embraced its identity as a time sink filled with content loosely connected to people you know, these other platforms continue to major on true social interactions and therefore are more appealing to those at a stage of life where that’s the most important aspect of social media. Without Instagram, Facebook would potentially be staring a massive liability in the face at this point given that all its organic efforts to compete with Snapchat have crashed and burned, but with it, the company has managed to participate in rather than merely suffer from this trend among teens. And it’s now seeing the upside at least as much as the downside, with several times the user base of Snapchat overall and nearly equally high engagement. As such, I’m not sure any of these needs to be a worry for Facebook even if it’s true, as long as the trend doesn’t spread to older age groups and lead to broader disengagement from Facebook, and as long as Instagram is able to continue to capture its share of teen social media use.
A year ago today, Instagram debuted its Stories feature, which took Snapchat’s feature of the same name and adapted it slightly, something I criticized at the time in a blog post, arguing that the sheer brazenness of the copying should be beneath Instagram. Whatever the ethical shortcomings of such a move, it’s clear that it’s been very successful, with over 250 million daily users of the feature a year later, and Instagram hasn’t been shy in gloating about its milestones, especially where they make for favorable comparisons versus Snapchat. We’re getting more of that today, with Instagram offering up new data on time spent in its app among different age groups, which again compare nicely with Snapchat’s equivalent metrics. Snap Inc said on its Q1 earnings call that its users spend on average over 30 minutes per day in the app, up from a range of 25-30 minutes described in its S-1 filing a few months earlier. Instagram, meanwhile, says that under-25s now spend an average of 32 minutes in the app per day, while older users spend an average of 24 minutes per day. That’s very close to Snapchat’s numbers, but of course at rather larger scale: Snapchat’s most recent daily active user number was 166 million, whereas Instagram now has 700 million monthly active users, meaning that total time spent on Instagram is vastly higher than on Snapchat. All of this is making life tough for Snapchat, which has grown much more slowly since Instagram’s Stories launched, and which will continue to struggle to convince advertisers that it’s worth spending money on reaching its narrower audiences with inferior ad tools versus reaching Instagram’s much broader and larger audience with better targeting, tracking, and ultimately results.
Instagram is Winning Over Some Big Publishers from Snapchat (Jul 14, 2017)
Instagram Uses AI to Filter Spam and Abusive Comments (Jun 29, 2017)
Instagram is announcing today that it’s now using artificial intelligence to filter spam and abusive comments in the app. Wired has a feature (also linked below) which dives deeper into the background here and makes clear that what Instagram is doing here builds on Facebook’s DeepText AI technology, and that Instagram has been working on it for some time. The spam filter works in nine languages, while the comment moderation technology only works in English for now, but both should clean up the Instagram experience. Importantly, though both spam and harassment are issues on Instagram, neither are as bad there because so many people have private accounts – I haven’t seen an official statement from Instagram on this but some research and testing suggests it’s likely between 30 and 50% of the total number of accounts that are private. Those accounts, in turn, are far less likely to receive either spam or abusive comments, since they’ve explicitly chosen to allow those who might comment to follow them. However, for the rest, and especially for celebrities, brands, and so on, these are likely far bigger issues, so cleaning them up in a way that doesn’t require the same massive investment in manual human moderation as Facebook’s core product is a good thing all around.
Today’s Instagram announcement is ostensibly about the launch of live video replays, a new feature that allows users to save their live videos for 24 hours as an Instagram Story. However, the part most outlets I’ve seen have focused on is the announcement of 250 million daily active users for Instagram Stories as a whole, which is naturally being compared once again with Snapchat’s overall user numbers. That’s always a bit disingenuous because comparing a single feature in an app with 700 monthly active users with daily active user numbers for a standalone app isn’t a like for like comparison – some large number of people who regularly use Instagram as an app might occasionally dip into Stories without ever posting one, while the average Snapchat daily active user spend sover 30 minutes in the app every day, suggesting a very different level of engagement. But this is the inevitable comparison, not just because the Stories feature was copied from Snapchat but also because its launch seems to have come at just the time Snapchat user growth slowed. The reality is that Facebook’s reach is now such across its many apps that it can easily launch new features and services and have them reach this kind of scale, and in the process eat into the time spent in other apps, but I don’t think anyone at Facebook would suggest that Instagram Stories by themselves generate nearly the engagement of Snapchat as an app, and even Instagram as an app likely only generates the same engagement and time spent as Snapchat among a minority of users. But that doesn’t mean Instagram Stories isn’t a huge hit for Instagram and a great way to neutralize the ongoing threat presented by Snapchat as a competitor, especially among the demographics where it hasn’t yet gained wide adoption.
Instagram is apparently cracking down on some of the third party services which exist to artificially inflate follower counts by generating automated likes and comments on other accounts. Several have apparently shut down recently and blamed their closures on Instagram policy decisions, and it appears Instagram’s recent focus has been on these third party services rather than on user accounts that make use of them, which is both more efficient and better for PR – any attempt to target actual accounts risks false positives and a big backlash. But both Instagram and Twitter continue to suffer from a problem with not just what we might call artificial growth but accounts which are entirely automated, usually in order to push products off Instagram itself. Just in the past couple of weeks, my private account has had follow requests from half a dozen clearly pornographic accounts, and although Instagram has shut each one down relatively quickly, the identification of such accounts needs to happen more proactively.
Instagram Launches Selfie Filters (May 16, 2017)
Instagram Launches Uploads From Mobile Web (May 8, 2017)
It’s hard to avoid the sense that Facebook is trying to rain on Twitter’s parade here. It’s announced that Instagram now has 700 million monthly active users, up from 600 million in December, which means it’s added 100 million users in just a little over the time it took Twitter to add nine million. It previously announced that Instagram Stories has 200 million users, up from the 150 million it had shared earlier, and attributed the growth in the core Instagram user base in part to an improved signup flow. But Instagram has also benefited from strong adoption in emerging markets, including Brazil, which is its second largest market after the US, with 45 million users. That’s in marked contrast to Snapchat, which has emphasized primarily mature markets on the basis that emerging markets users have more constrained and expensive bandwidth and would be less likely to use a visually intensive app like Snapchat. And of course Facebook’s other apps continue to grow rapidly too: Messenger and WhatsApp are now both over 1.2 billion, while the core app will likely hit 2 billion in the next quarter or two.
Instagram Adds Folders for its Bookmarking Feature (Apr 17, 2017)
Instagram Stories has been a huge hit, in part because it taps into the same instincts that have driven Snapchat’s massive success: it allows people to share photos and videos in a way that’s more casual and therefore more natural. It’s therefore smart that in advertising the feature in a global campaign, that’s one of the elements the company is focusing on. But an out-of-home campaign like this also suggests Instagram wants to attract new users to the feature and to Instagram, not just ride its existing base in growing adoption of Stories. Note that this story quotes the same 150 million user number we’ve seen for Stories in the past from Facebook – when it reports financial results for Q1 in a few weeks, it’ll be worth looking for an update on that number, to see whether it’s stagnated (or whether growth has slowed).
Update: on April 13th, Facebook announced that Instagram Stories now has 200 million, so looks like growth is still going strong.
Instagram has had buy buttons and other e-commerce features for a while now, but it looks like it will be adding an appointment booking feature soon too, in another attempt to allow company accounts to turn viewing of pictures into actual business. It’s been fascinating to watch how Instagram has been able to turn something as simple as a photo stream into something much more like a shop window for brands, something that was inspired at least in part by how certain merchants in emerging markets were using the platform even before Instagram added these features formally. The headline here mentions Yelp as a target, but of course many of these businesses themselves compete with Amazon and other big online retailers, and so these features also enable smaller businesses to punch somewhat above their weight in that fight.
The ANA represents 1000 large advertisers including many of the largest companies in the US, so what it says definitely counts for something when it comes to advertising policy. And in this case it’s saying that it wants other big tech companies to submit to outside audits alongside Facebook and Google, who have already committed to do so. Strangely, Instagram is on the list anyway, alongside other independent names like Twitter and Snapchat. There really seems to be increasing pressure from advertisers for transparency and consistency, and this was one of the themes of P&G exec Marc Pritchard’s talk a few weeks back in which he called on the ad industry to do better on several fronts.
Just a quick one here to document yet another “borrowed” feature from Snapchat in Instagram: this time, geostickers. No sponsored stickers yet, but given how hard Facebook is currently pushing to find new ways and places to serve up ads in its various properties, those can’t be far behind. The geostickers are pretty limited for now, but no doubt they’ll also spread in time. This doesn’t feel like one of the most important missing pieces in Instagram’s feature set, but no doubt it’ll help Snapchat converts feel a little more at home once it rolls out more fully.
Instagram Stories is stealing Snapchat’s users – TechCrunch (Jan 30, 2017)
This would be very bad news if it turns out to be true – celebrities and those who manage celebrity and other accounts on Snapchat claim they’re seeing a significant reduction in views of their Stories on Snapchat as a result of both Instagram’s launch of its own Stories feature and Snapchat’s move to kill the Auto-Advance feature for Stories in its own app. This kind of thing is always worth taking with a pinch of salt – the ranges discussed here are very broad, and some of the data might be outliers – but the trend seems to be consistently downward, and is backed up by some app download data as well. The positive spin from Snap here would be that it’s actually focusing engagement more by only showing users the Stories they actually choose to see, but I’m not sure investors will buy that. Again, any day now we should have some real data from Snap to go on to evaluate engagement and usage, but this is another specific concern they’ll need to address in the S-1 filing. In the meantime, more evidence that Facebook and Instagram’s strategy here is paying off, and that when Facebook broadly launches its own Stories feature the impact could be even more severe.
Inside Instagram’s reinvention – Recode (Jan 23, 2017)
This is a great little profile of Instagram, with lots of little tidbits of information. There are several overarching themes: the mimicking of Snapchat features is definitely one of them, but the broader context is that Instagram is generally moving really fast to ship new features, which is particularly striking given that Kevin Weil, who runs product, came from Twitter, a company that often seems paralyzed by indecision when it comes to tweaking functions. The whole piece reinforces the sense that Instagram is the vehicle through which Facebook is both iterating more quickly and trying to compete more directly with Snapchat, while the evolution within the core Facebook product is slower and more deliberate.