On Monday, April 9th morning, Facebook Inc. made its biggest acquisition to date by purchasing Instagram for $1 Billion in cash and stock. Instagram first became available in the iTunes App Store on October 6, 2010 with the official API launching on February 8, 2011. The acquisition announcement comes days after Instagram announced the platform integration for Android devices; previously the platform was only available on iOS devices.

Active, Large User Base

Long gone are the days when people are predominantly using their point-and-shoot or DSLR camera to document day-to-day life. According to a geekaphone infographic, the iPhone is the world’s #1 camera; the 16 GB device holds around 15,500 photos and is in the pockets of over 100 million users. There are over 6,000 photography apps for the iPhone; the largest and arguably most popular being Instagram, a Polaroid-style photo editing mobile application. Photo applications like Instagram streamline the photography experience, allowing you to shoot, edit and share photos with a few clicks of a button.

Instagram founder and CEO Kevin Systrom recently shared that the platform nearly doubled its registered users since December; a jump from 15 million users to 27 million users in a few months. Instagram’s availability on Google’s Android device jumped the number of registered users to over 30 million, with one million users registering in the first 24 hours of availability.

Staying Independent

For Instagram lovers (over 30 million of them) – the platform won’t be going anywhere. Instagram will stay true to form; for now. Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, posted on his Facebook wall that he planned to “build Instagram independently from the social network.” Systrom echoed Zuckerberg’s sentiment in a blog post on the Instagram site saying, “It’s important to be clear that Instagram is not going away. We’ll be working with Facebook to evolve Instagram and build the network.”

This means that Instagram users will be able to continue sharing their photos to other social networks, including Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr, Posterous and Foursquare. Users will also have “the ability to not share your Instagrams on Facebook if you want, and the ability to have followers and follow people separately from your friends on Facebook.”

This is quite a change from the way Zuckerberg typically has run Facebook – as a single product. A TechCrunch article writes “He [Zuckerberg] has always been insistent that everything feed back into Facebook itself.” Instagram running independently from Facebook would be similar to how Google keeps YouTube and Android very separate from Google itself after the initial acquisition was made.

What does this mean for brands and social media teams?
  • Tighter Integration with Facebook Timeline and Open Graph

  • As of early January 2012, Instagram tweaked its’ platform using Facebook’s Photos API allowing users to share photos in full size (example below). Images now appear seamlessly in the Facebook News Feed along with the Instagram caption and a link to the image’s public URL. The Instagram integration with Facebook Timeline gives brands an opportunity to tap into Facebook’s 800 million users that might not be using Instagram. With the Instagram acquisition, it’s quite possible that Facebook will tighten Instagram’s integration with Timeline and continue building the Instagram’s sharing reach outside the mobile platform.

    With Facebook’s Open Graph, 3rd party apps are able to integrate into a user’s Facebook experience. Take Spotify for example; you are now able to share whatever song you are listening to and find out what your Facebook friends are listening to on Spotify directly from the Facebook News Feed and Ticker. Facebook now has the opportunity to expand their open graph with Instagram even further. According to an Inside Facebook article, Facebook and Instagram have been working together on an Open Graph integration for weeks and the recent acquisition will quite possibly allow Instagram to have access to additional APIs and beta features to best optimize Facebook’s Open Graph.

  • Distribution and Exposure

  • With over 30 million users on Instagram, Facebook now has access to each and every one of those individuals. There are Facebook users who don’t currently use Instagram and vice-versa, but now Facebook has access to all users regardless of if he or she has a Facebook profile or not. The acquisition expands both Facebook and Instagram’s reach and increases visibility outside of the respective platforms.

    Instagram was designed for the mobile device and both the iOS and Android versions offer a virtually seamless and beautiful experience. The same is not true for the Facebook mobile app; many users complain about the platform’s current mobile functionality – the app is often inconsistent and sluggish. The acquisition gives Facebook instant access to Instagram’s brilliant talent and IP.

  • Continued Integration of Mobile and Social

  • Currently, Instagram is a mobile application with no set web functionality from the actual platform. While sites like Pingram.me, Webstagram and Statigram allow users to view their Instagram pictures online, users currently can’t edit photos on the web using Instagram. It’s possible that Facebook will expand the Instagram experience beyond mobile to the social space and allow users to edit photos with Instagram filters directly from their Facebook page.

    In June 2011, the Facebook team was testing the idea of a standalone Facebook photo app in competition with Instagram, which the TechCrunch team dubbed as “Path meets Instagram meets Color.” The app essentially would allow uses to browse, filter, edit and publish photos. With the Instagram acquisition, Facebook potentially can do the same thing allowing users to edit entire albums of Facebook photos with Instagram filters all within one platform.

    This acquisition also gives brands an opportunity to fully integrate their social media campaigns moving forward. Typically, brands hold contests specifically on one platform and cross promote on separate platforms, whether that is on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. Facebook acquiring Instagram potentially means that brands no longer will have their content shared in “silos” but instead as one larger social campaign across platforms. Think of the possibilities here – from tagging Facebook friends or fans in Instagram photos to geo-targeting Instagram pictures based on Facebook Places and everything in between.

  • Facebook has Access to your Instagram Data

  • According to Facebook’s current terms of service, the social platform has license to use any content you post on or in connection to Facebook. This means that any time you post a photo from Instagram or upload natively to your Facebook page, Facebook automatically owns the intellectual property. With Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram, the platform will now own all of your Instagram photos, even the ones not published to Facebook. This potentially means Facebook will have access to more data, including your location via mobile.

    In addition to owning your Instagram photos, Facebook will also have access to what you are interested in. Instagram is an interest graph application; users are uploading and sharing visual content that is interesting to them and then self-tagging or categorizing their content. Similar to Pinterest where users associate their “pin” with a specific category or board, Instagram users are classifying their photo content with tags. For example, NBC News posted an image on Instagram including the tags #Instagram and #Facebook in the caption (example below). This categorizes the image and allows other users to quickly notice the image relates to the topic (or interest) of Instagram and Facebook. Users can then click the tag to find other images with the same tag. Now that Facebook has direct access to your Instagram data, the platform will also have your interests via tags saved to their platform’s back end.

  • Visual Storytelling is Key

  • It’s not all about text anymore. Individuals and brands alike need to think visually in order to connect with their community and target audience. It takes more than written words to catch people’s attention and continued interest; take Pinterest’s rapid growth for example. Pinterest takes advantage of the fact that users are attracted to visual data and that images are easier to understand and engage with compared to text. Instagram’s social currency is focused on the visual first and written text second. Users can select from 18 different filters when editing and customizing their photo with less priority on the written copy. Captions are text only and don’t currently allow for hyperlinks.

    In a TechCrunch interview, Systrom said:  “By no means do we think of Instagram as just a photo-sharing service. It’s something that a lot of people lump us into, but we’d like to think of ourselves as a storytelling service. It’s the way you go out in the world and tell a story about your life.” The idea of storytelling ties into Facebook Timeline, where individual users and brands can tell their own story by filling in past information as well as highlighting the best parts of life (or brand’s history).

    Facebook users want to see and interact with images; posts that include a photo album or picture generate about 120% to 180% more engagement than the average post. There are also 250 million photos uploaded on Facebook every day. It’s plain and simple: the brands (and individuals) most successful on Instagram and also on Facebook are the ones who don’t underestimate the power of a photograph.

Summary: More Data + Better Experience for Facebook = More Facebook for Brands

Even if the Instagram experience stays as is, the bottom line is that it opens the door to Facebook for additional data. For brands, this means Facebook potentially becomes smarter, even more relevant and ever present in the lives of millions of social participants. In addition, it gives Facebook more resources—especially in mobile development, which could improve the Facebook experience on mobile devices and tablets leading to even deeper engagement with the platform. For brands that believe that their audience is already on Facebook—the acquisition makes for an even stronger case to be an active part of the Facebook ecosystem.

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This post was compiled by David Armano and Andi Teggart.

Image Credit: ramseymohsen

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