In­sta­gram chief sees big pic­ture as app at­tracts 800m users

Boosted by its Sto­ries posts and its pos­i­tive ap­proach, the plat­form has big plans, as co-founder Mike Krieger tells

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Business Telegraph - Adrian Weck­ler

In April of this year, In­sta­gram an­nounced that it had 700 mil­lion monthly users. By Septem­ber, that had in­creased to 800 mil­lion, with a stag­ger­ing 500 mil­lion us­ing the ser­vice every day.

Much of that is down to Mike Krieger. With Kevin Sys­trom, he co-founded the ser­vice seven years ago. Although they sold it to Face­book in 2012 for $1bn, they stayed on run­ning the com­pany.

Krieger’s strat­egy has been sim­ple: keep it vis­ual and keep it pos­i­tive. It seems to have worked.

Big­ger than Snapchat and Twit­ter com­bined, In­sta­gram is a world rel­a­tively un­scathed by the rancour, trolls and toxic politics that other so­cial net­works are crit­i­cised for.

Its busi­ness brain is evolv­ing, too. This year it dou­bled the num­ber of ad­ver­tis­ers on the plat­form to two mil­lion. It is now a rou­tine part of the growth plans of thou­sands of Bri­tish and Ir­ish com­pa­nies, par­tic­u­larly in the re­tail, food and hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tors.

Adrian Weck­ler sat down with Krieger at In­sta­gram’s head­quar­ters in Menlo Park, Cal­i­for­nia.

Adrian Weck­ler (AW): When you launched Sto­ries, there was a lot of commentary about how it was re­ally sim­i­lar to Snapchat. What’s your re­sponse to that?

Mike Krieger (MK): We were re­ally trans­par­ent about it, be­cause I think it would have been re­ally disin­gen­u­ous to say we came up with this prod­uct our­selves. They (Snapchat) def­i­nitely came up with this for­mat first. Fli­pogram had a sim­i­lar for­mat as well. Ku­dos to them, they came up with a great for­mat. But I don’t think that’s a rea­son not to have our com­mu­nity able to share in that way. I also think had we just glued some­thing on that didn’t fit with our prod­uct, we’d prob­a­bly be tak­ing it out six months later be­cause it wouldn’t have worked. In­stead, it’s re­ally thrived. I think be­cause it ac­tu­ally fits a need that peo­ple have.

We have a semi-an­nual all­hands meet­ing where Kevin and I talk about In­sta­gram the com­pany. Dur­ing the last one, we talked about in­no­va­tion and the myth of the lone in­ven­tor in the garage with the light-bulb.

This is so prob­lem­atic when you ac­tu­ally look at the his­tory of how things get built.

It’s of­ten about tak­ing ideas and re­com­bin­ing them and ad­ding your own per­spec­tive or spin on it, bring­ing it to a new au­di­ence and help­ing them suc­ceed in that way.

So we en­cour­age our en­gi­neers not to try to come up with the one idea that’s never been done be­fore, but in­stead think about a real-world metaphor for what they’re build­ing. It’s a lit­tle bit like that idea of stand­ing on the shoul­ders of gi­ants, but it’s more like lad­der climb­ing, with ev­ery­body kind of in­no­vat­ing col­lab­o­ra­tively.

AW: What­ever its ori­gin, Sto­ries has been a run­away suc­cess for you. Does that sur­prise you?

MK: It wasn’t a to­tal sur­prise, as we saw that be­hav­iour be­ing hacked into the prod­uct be­fore­hand. Peo­ple were cre­at­ing a bunch of sec­ond ac­counts, which we called Fin­sta­grams, or fake In­sta­grams. They were us­ing those sec­ondary ac­counts to post ef­fec­tively what they would have posted had we had a Sto­ries prod- uct. We would see Fin­sta­grams of over 20 posts a day, whereas on their main feed posts, peo­ple would only post one In­sta­gram a day, be­cause they thought it had to be a good one. So we learned there was this real la­tent de­sire to share more fre­quently. We just were not serv­ing that from the prod­uct, so peo­ple were go­ing out and us­ing Snapchat in­stead.

They were even post­ing things on their In­sta­gram like ‘ hey, I’d share more from this event that I’m at but I can’t be­cause I don’t want to dou­ble in­sta, and here’s where you can get it’. We weren’t try­ing to in­vent a be­hav­iour no­body wanted. It was more like it was a flood­gate of peo­ple who were just wait­ing for a prod­uct that would let them do that.

AW: De­spite its enor­mous scale, In­sta­gram has largely man­aged to re­main re­moved from be­ing iden­ti­fied as a place where news is­sues are played out, some­times ac­ri­mo­niously. Has that been a con­scious strat­egy?

MK: The way I think about it, is it can still be — and it still is — part of those dis­cus­sions. There’s been a lot of po­lit­i­cal up­heaval this year, but there’s a role for In­sta­gram to be both a place where you can fol­low your in­ter­ests and get away from all of that a lit­tle bit. But when you do choose to par­tic­i­pate, it is in that first-per­son way.

There was a Women’s March held here early in the year. And it was re­ally in­ter­est­ing to see what the dif­fer­ent plat­forms had as their con­tent. On Face­book there were ar­ti­cles be­ing writ­ten about it, but on In­sta­gram, it was all peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ing, be­ing there, shar­ing sto­ries. So, by na­ture that ended up be­ing less about back and forth or re­ally re­act­ing to some­thing peo­ple wrote and more like ‘ here’s my role in this demo­cratic process’.

AW: You talk about ‘ kind­ness’ in re­gard to In­sta­gram. Why don’t you have the same troll prob­lem as Twit­ter or Face­book?

MK: We tried to en­cour­age pos­i­tiv­ity from the be­gin­ning and I think the plat­form did that. Ob­vi­ously as you grow to 100 mil­lion and then out to 800 mil­lion peo- ple, not ev­ery­body is nice. That’s fine, be­cause that’s the world. But from the top, Kevin and I have worked both on the tech­nol­ogy side and on the com­mu­nity side, so that we keep as much pos­i­tiv­ity go­ing as long as we can. And that’s ev­ery­thing from do­ing ma­chine learn­ing and nat­u­ral lan­guage pro­cess­ing that hides of­fen­sive com­ments, to ac­tu­ally putting out pos­i­tive mes­sages through the com­mu­nity.

It’s been in­ter­est­ing, though. We had to make a philo­soph­i­cal judg­ment along the lines of ‘who owns the com­ment sec­tion un­der­neath your photos and videos’? On one hand, it’s free speech, be­cause they’re pub­lic spa­ces. But Kevin and I both had this per­spec­tive that when you put your­self out there, you put some­thing out in the world and that com­ment thread is kind of yours. It’s peo­ple com­ing into your space, so your house, your rules.

AW: What about more video or

Our toe-dip into longer video is the fact you can now keep your Sto­ries around for 24 hours

We learned there was this de­sire to share more fre­quently, we just were not serv­ing that...

high def­i­ni­tion video? We’re told end­lessly that video is tak­ing over. Will we see more video op­tions or high def­i­ni­tion video on In­sta­gram soon?

MK: It’s a good ques­tion. Our toe-dip into longer video is the fact that you can now keep your Sto­ries around for 24 hours. It’s ac­tu­ally the first time that videos of longer than a minute have been on In­sta­gram, pe­riod. We’re learn- ing from that to see what kind of things peo­ple do.

What we have right now is a minute. If we in­tro­duce longer video, we have to make it fit into the flow of In­sta­gram in a way that makes sense. I think what might point the way is the peo­ple who use video to­day on In­sta­gram. I meet these dig­i­tal creators who are pro­duc­ing video for In­sta­gram and they’ll of­ten do a short cut for their In­sta­gram feed or for Sto­ries and point to a longer video. Of­ten that lives on other plat­forms be­cause you just can’t post them on In­sta­gram. But the idea of a teaser plus the full piece of con­tent, if you were in­ter­ested in it, might be a fu­ture piece.

AW: In­sta­gram is ar­guably the big­gest plat­form for celebrity so­cial me­dia in­flu­encers, some of whom are get­ting heat for not declar­ing com­mer­cial in­ter­ests. What’s your per­spec­tive?

MK: I think the en­force­ment comes from agen­cies. I’m not fa­mil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion in Europe as much, but in the US, the FTC (Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion) is re­ally start­ing to talk to these in­flu­encers and say ‘ hey, you need to be very trans­par­ent’. We in­tend to help them be trans­par­ent in the way they need to be. We pi­loted branded con­tent tools over the sum­mer and we’re now rolling them out.

But the nice thing about In­sta­gram is its self-se­lect­ed­ness. If some­body goes too over­board and is too com­mer­cial, peo­ple will just un­fol­low. I think that be­comes a self-reg­u­lat­ing thing. It’ll be in­ter­est­ing for other mar­keters, who will no­tice that cer­tain over-thetop ac­counts didn’t get as much reach or likes or en­gage­ment.

Mike Krieger says that video has to fit into the flow of In­sta­gram

Mike Krieger’s strat­egy has been sim­ple — keep it vis­ual and keep it pos­i­tive

Tay­lor Swift and Kylie Jen­ner are two of the most pop­u­lar In­stra­gram users

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