Instant Camera + Telegram = Instagram!
Instagram feeds the most receptive of human senses: vision. From beautiful scenery shots by National Geographic to selfies by Kim Kardashian and delicious food by Hemsley & Hemsley, people can’t get enough of the easy-to-use, scroll-through bright and shiny image world.
When the app launched in 2010, the founders could not possibly have imagined the impact which their work would have on the current media and social landscape. Initially regarded as ‘Twitter for stupid people’, because communication had been further stripped down to just images, Instagram now reports over 150 million monthly active users and was acquired by Facebook for $1billion in 2012.
Instagram is now considered the single biggest marketing and advertising opportunity for fashion and beauty products, and for good reason too!
Instagram’s role as a front line voyeurism tool allows us to literally see the world through others’ eyes, however it is chosen to be portrayed.
Thanks to the expanding choice of filters and editing tools, users can elect to completely alter the mood and look of their images.
From melancholic black and white shots to sun-kissed glowing pouts, there is a filter to suit every occasion and every character, allowing users and companies to create a ‘brand’ with the style of photos they upload.
As men and women all over the world scroll through their feed, beautiful images of perfect skin, peachy pouts and vibrant nail colours attract the eye and the interest of those who can quickly and easily find out where they too can buy their object of desire.
Interestingly, Instagram now not only serves as a platform for attracting customers, it is inspiration for new products which promise to achieve ‘a flawless Instagram filter complexion’ going even further to prove that the line between filtered and real is ever blurring.
With a new emphasis on beauty, the products that promise to enhance it and make consumers more ‘gram ready have seen exponential growth. From pastel hair chalks to recreate Chloe Norgaard’s locks to lip glosses promising Kylie Kardashian lips, users can easily find the way to recreate their ideal look.
Coupled with Pinterest, a whole platform of ‘see-buy’ marketing has laid solid foundations from which to monetise users’ desires to achieve a certain look and lifestyle associated with it, through their favourite accounts.
Who doesn’t remember the #NoMakeUpSelfie phenomenon (244,651 posts)?
And the #IWokeUpLikeThis barricade (1,256,788 posts)?
It’s fair to say the hashtag had a real revival with the advent of Instagram and so much of the focus has been on beauty.
Despite the filter options and editing powers, Instagram has also fed into a newer thirst for genuine content.
#Beauty has nearly 84,000,000 posts but #NoFilter has over 126,000,000! These numbers are mind-boggling and they highlight the unexpected contradiction that lies at the heart of Instagram - of wanting to portray a genuinely perfect image of daily life, without the need for a filter.
Whilst some accounts represent a dreamscape of far-away lands and backstage beauty trends that most users will not relate to but like to ‘like’, some other users have turned themselves into true Instagram phenomenons by carefully curating their daily life ‘feed’ on the app.
Take #TheBlondeSalad, Chiara Ferragni, an Italian girl my age who has turned her online presence and almost 4 million online followers into a veritable multi-million dollar business. She has 11 people working for her and is worth $8M, being listed in last year’s Forbes 30 under 30 list.
Choice is Key
With so many users, so many hashtags and every single marketing and advertising campaign trying to get a slice of the action, users have a continuous stream of images to choose from. Instagram gives potential clients a real choice of what they want to see in their stream as much as it gives brands the most immediate feedback on their products possible.
A quick Google of ‘instagram’s best beauty accounts’ will bring up articles from fashion’s most heavyweight glossies listing their choice of ‘insider’ accounts, giving users a pointer on how best to curate their own content.
Unlike Facebook, there are very few adverts forced upon the daily scroll through images (and long may that continue!). Instead, beauty trends and beauty brands are communicating with their audiences through organic reach.
The power that Instagram holds over its audience is that the audience itself chooses its product, not vice-versa. Different people have different ideas of beauty and Instagram offers the most democratic portrayal of beauty out there. Do you aspire to look like Doutzen Kroes in a bikini? Prefer men with tattoos? Opt for cartoon nail art? Choose organic beauty products? No problem - there is a profile that reflects that.
Users can choose to follow, unfollow, like or regram those things they want as part of their own personal style magazine, thus quickly giving brands and products an idea of how much their audience is engaging with what they post, in real time.
Sites like Liketoknow.it have really cashed in on this, allowing users to shop their instagram likes and favourite posts.
And the smartest brands are working with aspirational Instagrammers who embody their ethos, to organically seed their products to their preferred audience. Genius.
So there is choice, a great representation of different beauty ideals, minimal ‘forced’ advertising, captivating images, and the possibility of sharing your vision with the world. All wonderful attributes of an app that has, in some ways, reduced us to narcissistic photo takers who are increasingly removed from the present moment as they strive for the perfect ‘shot’.
Tragic individuals have actually lost their lives in trying to take dangerous selfies, and I never fail to collide with at least one person a day who is so lost in their phone screen they literally fail to walk like a proper adult on a pavement. Has Instagram forced us into beauty and perfection obsessed zombies? Will the children of today ever have a shoebox of photographs, as I do, so hideous that I wonder how more people didn’t think I was a teenage boy?
Generation Y and some of generation X are busy bringing more realistic portrayals of life before filters and editing tools, with #TBT and #FBF throwback images which generation Z unfortunately can only replicate by ‘throwing back’ to last week’s highly edited beach shot.
This heightened obsession with beauty and an ideal portrayal raises some questions. Does it mean it’s up to parents now more than ever, to educate children on the importance of individualism and authenticity over perfection?
Did Kim Kardashian really publish a book of selfies called ‘Selfish’ in a non-ironic way? Did a publishing house ACTUALLY pay her money for this book? And did people pay for it with money earned in honest tax-paying jobs? Answers to some of these questions are probably only clear with a lot of hindsight and a long hard look at society’s moral fibre.
What’s certain is that Instagram celebrates individuality, offers a platform for self-expression and gives everybody the option to like, follow and comment on whatever they please, which has influenced the world of beauty in making it more democratic, more approachable and ultimately, more beautiful.