instagram, hailed by the startup community as one of those great UX iphone app success stories and having grown to 13 million users within 13 months, has transformed into something greater than just a simple photo-sharing app (as was, arguably, originally intended by its creators). i, a staunch believer that any chick with a DSLR will claim herself as a photographer, too, became enamored by the simplicity of sharing photos, especially with filters that can make a picture of your dog’s tight coils on the lawn look like a photo hanging in some soho art gallery. and now i have gotten to a point where i do not look at any picture unless it is through one of instagram’s 17 magical filters.
like any platform that has reached critical mass in user size, there is a scale of user “influence” or “visibility” ranging from casual (user has average followers of 20 to 100, linearly correlated with the number of bikini pics she has shared on Facebook), as well as the “super user” (user has average followers exceeding a thousand). a “super user” doesn’t necessarily mean the user is brilliant at choosing the best filter over a particular photo that will invoke the strongest emotions in the viewer or the user (with a great fundamental understanding of human behavior) shares great soft core pornography (i view my soft core porn #nofilter, but to each his own), but could mean that the user simply has great visibility in the real world (i.e. celebrity status, famous athlete). but what is so great about having more instagram followers? why should i care?
Your “e-peen” and why it matters
well, obviously the greater your digital social presence means the bigger your “e-peen“. wasn’t this the entire purpose of the internet? to write a xanga entry solely for the most e-props, to create a youtube video to get more views than rebecca black’s critically acclaimed “friday” (republican candidate rick perry actually just surpassed “friday” with his “strong”, not by the number of views, but by the number of dislikes–perhaps one rare example of any publicity not being good publicity), or to make a Facebook account to get the most pokes?
the real power and influence that is derived from having a greater reach with your digital social presence is you may have a slightly marginal (perhaps seemingly immaterial) higher probability of persuading a follower to make a purchase somewhere. and the entity that ultimately sold to your follower would, ideally, attribute that sale to you (marginally). given that premise, anybody can grow their influence and eventually get paid to create buzz or generate publicity (i.e. john mayer’s tweet about words with friends helped popularize the game). like other aspects of legacy industries, the internet is slowly tearing down the barriers once reserved for celebrities and athletic endorsements–anyone with a large enough “e-peen” will get noticed.
Taking care of your “e-peen” and reaching “super user” status
so how do we increase the size of our “e-peen”? for instagram (and similarly, twitter), the steps appear to be the following:
1) hash tag your picture. the most popular hash tag is #iphoneography. also choose times of day where your target audience is awake and will most likely come across your photo.
2) like other people’s pictures so that your existence can be acknowledged by others and those who view their pictures.
3) lather, rinse, repeat.
however, with the above formula, it soon becomes a full time job to reach “super user” status (which it undoubtedly is, as major corporations have hired tech savvy marketers for the sole purpose of taking care of its “e-peen”). the effort involved from growing from casual to “super user” also is self selecting: those not willing to invest the time and effort will not reap the benefits of having a large “e-peen” (note that it is hotly debatable whether or not these benefits are even worth the user’s time and effort to increase his/her social influence, especially given higher opportunity cost of working a 9-5 or anything else). additionally, the higher the percentage of “super users” to casual users may slightly reduce the marginal benefit in the pursuit of a larger “e-peen” as the limited attention of users are to be split among more sponsored content.
the phenomenon of using these content sharing platforms to influence others have ushered in a wave of startups with the intent of helping users measure the length, girth, and yaw their “e-peen” (i.e. klout, crowdbooster) by providing colorful charts, infographs, and dials. and, according to klout, it appears that my “e-peen” has a healthy reach, one that i am satisfied with (it has definitely reached your eyes if you are reading this right now).
Content sharing and advertising value
the balance in the user base between casual users and “super users” is also important to the net value that the platform provides. a network where every user follows every other user (where everyone is a “super user”) creates too much noise and will not provide value to anyone. a network comprised solely of casual users is ripe for “harvesting” by an entity who finds this content generation valuable (in most cases, advertisers and marketers) and “super users” will naturally arise to take advantage of this wealth of data.
would any content sharing platform inherently devolve into a race and competition to get the biggest “e-peen”? what if you could measure all of your aim, QQ, msn, gchat messages? would banner ads start showing up in my sms/text messages? would i hear a commercial when checking my voicemail (honestly, though, who still uses voicemail)? would all conversation, which is the heart of content sharing, boil down to thinly veiled product pitches, shameless advertisements, and promotions?
conversely, how much would mankind demand to get paid to allow this future to exist?