Why Is Instagram So Addictive?

The Next Web alerted us to a Cambridge University Master’s candidate’s dissertation on the highly addictive Instagram and the behaviors of its users.

Full disclosure: our appreciation and love for Instagram is still strong. With 5 Million users (on the iPhone-only platform) at last count, the photo-sharing app continues to captivate users, brands and media properties alike. Granted, the latter two are still just starting to experiment and determine what role it can best play in their communications strategy.  And we have not yet seen any user engagement/user metrics, i.e., how much time users are spending on the platform to date, how many photos are submitted on a daily/weekly basis by the average users, how has this increased/decreased over time, etc.). But the fact that Instagram continues to represent a significant opportunity is clear.

On the note of engagement, our curiosity was caught by a recent piece by The Next Web, informing us of a Cambridge University student’s 80-page dissertation analyzing how Instagram has become the phenomenon it has become. Master’s candidate Zachary McCune spent over 4 months examining the behavior of those that use the app (observation), conducting open-ended surveys, as well as conducting ethnographic research at a London ‘InstaMeet.’ While his observations and insights are detailed in the full dissertation itself, we can cull some key findings from his executive summary:

  • Popular, successful Instagram users must both publish content (photos) and interact/comment on the images of other users (engage)
  • Simple, wordless ‘likes’ constitute the majority of interactions – however, the longer the comment, the likelier the photographer is to respond to it
  • Instagram photos can be grouped/categorized around common genres (i.e., landscapes, sunsets, cats…), but the point of pride comes in unique representations of each shot, unique vantage points and perspectives, etc.
  • Users often times use multiple enhancement apps for the constitution of a single image
  • As visible at the London meetup, there is a near-equal gender split, as well as wide variety of ages and professions represented

There are some key motivations emerging for why people love to use Instagram – while none of these are mutually exclusive:

  • Sharing, documentation, seeing (the world and life through another’s perspective), community, creativity and therapy….
  • Perhaps the most surprising is this last motivation, therapy. McCune observed that people use Instagram because they develop a sense of well-being from the instant community and validation that engagement with their (and other’s) photos generates. That empowerment and validation is agnostic to age, physique, profession, life stage and even geography
So there you have it, quite possibly, the first dissertation conducted on Instagram. We’re excited to further explore the potential of the platform, both for branding and individual use cases. Additionally, we’d love to learn more about the engagement metrics observed by Instagram themselves around their user base. In the meantime, we’ll now view our Instagram obsession through the lens of ‘therapy.’
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