You’ll have woken up today to the news that Facebook is buying Instagram for $1billion.
You’ll have seen the feedback flying in, some of it outraged.
No matter where you stand on the issue, it’s important to understand the reason for the outrage, because it informs everything that we do as marketers.
I’m willing to be that people aren’t outraged because Instagram has been sold.
I’ll also wager that the relationship that people have to the service isn’t just about the sharing of images into a bought in community.
Much of Instagram’s attraction is its niche status.
Yes, you can share photos on Facebook easily enough.
But Instagram (and many other services like it, PicPlz being my favourite) give you an added layer to practice a little bit of your own artistry.
These are slightly geeky, but there’s a huge community that revels in this niche geekiness.
These photo services designed for more than the point-and-shoot brigade.
They’re designed for people who want to give a little time and love to their digital footprint. Who want to invest something of themselves and not just share pictures of kittens looking adorable.
Niche communities are highly attractive in social capital terms.
It’s easier to build your profile in a smaller community than it is in a global one.
The more profile you have, the higher your social capital and the more likely it is that your content will get rewarded by the community with shares/retweets/links etc.
We’ve seen this with the rise and fall of Flickr. Once upon a time, it was all about the Yahoo! service. However, it got too big and blew itself out as users struggled to get their heads above the parapets.
Niche communities are also attractive alternatives to the big name corporates.
Many people (me included) have a love-hate relationship with Facebook and the way that the platform works (especially with its privacy controls).
And since it’s been around for a while now, it’s matured as a platform. It’s a ‘safe’ option. It’s the place to go to because everyone else is there, not necessarily the place to go to because you want to.
So when Facebook buys Instagram, all of the apple carts are upset.
The Facebook haters complain. The people who like exploring niches and almost forgotten corners of the web get upset because they’re sucked into the big corporate Zuckerberg baby blob.
For marketers, this underlines one very important point.
Some people will ‘get you’ because they ‘get you’. Free jazz, for example. They’ll probably never leave you, so long as you don’t sell out on your ideals.
Other people will ‘get you’ by virtue of your utility. Think the postal service. People will stay with you because you’re useful, but won’t emotionally invest.
And a third bunch will ‘get you’ because you allow them to do something or say something about themselves in the process. Instagram, Draw Me, Waze and so on. They adore the fact that you enable them to do something different.
Facebook/Instagram won’t lose the middle portion of users – who are probably the most numerous anyway.
But they’ll take a lot of heat from the other two. And it’s these two groups who could make or break the future of the Instagram brand because they’ll be the ones shouting loudest…
So the moral of the story is this…
Know your audience and know why they’re with you.
And, if you’re about to sell out to a corporate blue blob, don’t spring it on everyone.
Especially when your valuation is based on the number of photos that your users – your supporters, your community – have taken. On the number of people that they’ve got on board through word of mouth.
You would be nothing without your users.
And users don’t often like nasty surprises…
Neil Hopkins is a Marketing and Branding Theorist at heart, and a Marketing Communications Manager by day. His blog – interacter – is the primary location he shares insight and information relating to marketing, branding and advertising strategy.
You can follow Neil on Twitter, circle him (like an escaped bull) on Google+ or track him down in any number of other ways.