The – hidden – power inside Instagram? A strong community management


A lot has been said and written since the acquisition of Instagram by Facebook: about Facebook’s objectives, about the business model of startups selling “their users as products” and its potential sustainability; about Facebook strengthening a dominant position, about users data given without previous permission, about future implications for marketing, and so on.

In the jungle of the debates surrounding that acquisition, a couple of articles analyzed aspects of what lead Instagram to such a sky-rocketting success.

Among the success factors mentioned, let’s recap the most significative ones, inspired by Ann Handley’s article and augmented with my own filters:

- the power of visual story-telling
- a sense of intimacy mixed to universality
- a true unique mobile experience
- the power of the emotional connection
- some technical easy-to-use tricks, aka filters!, making any amateur feel like kind of a pro, but also giving new support to true photographers
- the ability to share with other networks
- the ability to augment pictures with geolocation data and any other data embodied in #hashtags.
- of course, all the “social glue magical features“, such as the ability of following, liking, commenting, mentioning, sharing, #hashtaging.

Many of the above mentioned elements are explained in this excellent article of the NYT, particularly in this statement: “You see that in Instagram. It’s not a technology triumph. It’s a design and psychology triumph.

But at my great surprise, I never read any mention of a crucial element in Instagram success, in my opinion: a strong community management!

To me, Instagram is a model of community management.

Here are some key elements that make Instagram more than an app, but a vibrant community:

- shared values:
love of photography, of visual communication, of beauty, exchange, empowerement, to name only a few.
- existence, names and community managers for sub-communities:
@igerssuisse, for example, or #teamrebels. All sub-communities related to a country or region have their own account , hashtag, community manager. They tend to emerge freely, and thus have all their own specificities. They highlight members (their pictures!) in their region/country, they often run contests, related Facebook pages with lots of information, provide helpful information, they organize meetings, and so on. In Switzerland, for example, there are 2 dynamic community managers for the country, running the account @igerssuisse, a Facebook Page , Twitter account and Google+ page. And as sub-sub communities, you can find local Instagram communities, such as @IgersGeneva, @igersZürich, @igersvalais, etc…
- a community manager, @philgonzalez, playing a central role in the dynamics of the community (and its fast growing rate, too, I am sure):
He, Phil Gonzalez, is at the heart of the community dynamics, which, in turn, spilled further by its own. You just have to turn to the website “Instagramers” to understand the work behind, sustaining the Instagram users community: practical help, contests, gatherings (with a specific name “the Instameets”), with slogans such as “Let’s Instagram the World”.
- a name for the community members:
the “Instagramers” or “IGers”, strenghtening the identification to the community
- gatherings:
one of the glue of the community identity stems from numerous meetings “in real life”, called “instameets”, largely publicized on Instagram, obviously through pictures and tags! But having people meet, share a passion, tricks, wander together and taking pictures, then sharing them plays a big role in the community feeling, loyalty and growth.
- contests:
hubs, themes, many contests have blossomed, relying, as any contest, partly on the gaming trigger.
- members empowering and rewarding:
By following closely their community members, commenting, liking, highlighting their pictures (in some specific occasions), the community managers feed the – uncounscious – need of recognition (love?).

Of course, at the heart of the mechanics, there’s the technology and particularly the power of #hashtags, allowing to curate, gather, highlight, communicate, integrate, etc…

Another striking element to me is the volunteer-based work, but just as you can see in many communities. And this is maybe also a reflection-worthy element, if you’re in the community management activity: how to leverage and/or empower the community members strongly enough for them to become volunteer and help the community – and in the end become the strongest evangelists?

I just wanted to highlight a phenomenon mainly ignored (from outside of the community at least) and that could be helpful for any community manager.

As a side note, and in the light of the previously listed main elements of Instagram community management, I just wonder if it has been valuated and rewarded in the transaction..?! Maybe Phil Gonzalez would like to add a word? Or anyone knowing more about it?

Also, I would be glad to have you comment here about this discussion and other aspects of the community management that have maybe been undervalued.

To finish, it was funny to follow the saga of the acquisition on different platforms, from “the outside” (as already related at the beginning of the article) and from the “inside”, to emphasize the feeling of community!

The story can therefore be told with different angles (as it is true for any story) and fueled with different emotions. I first took notice of the news on Instagram, via the image shared at the top, and saw there the first, mainly hot! , reactions! Then I turned to Twitter and Facebook for more factual and less emotional information.

Here, 2 reactions, from which some tempered quickly :)

Update, April 23:

Here’s the answer of Phil Gonzalez on Twitter: