Instagram without the filter: a growing community on and offline

Emily Wienberg is currently Morrissey & Company’s PR intern. She is a senior studying public relations at Boston University.

As an Android mobile device user, I haven’t had the pleasure of personally using Instagram (yet) but have enjoyed following the company and its staggering growth through other users and its activity on social media. At the beginning of March, Instagram hit 25 million users while only employing nine team members, so that theoretically, each employee manages 2.8 million users. To give you some perspective, 2.8 million people live in Jamaica. For a start-up that hasn’t even celebrated its second birthday, that’s impressive. It’s worth noting that Pinterest, another fast growing start-up focusing on visuals, boasts almost 11 million users, and only has 21 employees on the team.

However, since early March, Instagram has hired three more employees and has most likely collected a few more million users. Of those three employees, two are cited as joining the Community department at Instagram. A few years ago, a community manager or associate position was a rarity in business, but today these jobs are much more popular and require a certain type of person, according to a description by BostonInno. Especially for start-ups, it can pay to have someone that loves your company to convince other people to love it too. Instagram’s early investment in hiring people to build community and to keep the social aspect a priority speaks volumes about the kind of company Instagram is.

And that’s just it. That’s why Instagram is succeeding and growing – they get what it means to build and foster a community. Here are some communities that have spawned from the photo sharing application:

  • In October 2011, the East Gallery at Brick Lane in London hosted the first ever exhibit of Instagram photos in the UK. The event was organized by London Instagrammers, a community of people who work to connect users in real life, and have communities all over the world.
  • Tiffany & Co. asked its community to use Instagram to take pictures that exemplified love and use the hashtag “trueloveinpictures” and then created a microsite to display users’ photos.
  • Musician Jason Mraz asked fans to snap pictures using Instagram that described visually his new song “I Won’t Give Up.” Mraz then chose 25 of his favorites and put them on display at the Animazing Gallery in New York City.

Photo by sarzola1 for Jason Mraz's Instagram contest

  • Another high-end brand, Burberry was one of the first brands to jump on the Instagram bandwagon. It posts behind-the-scene pictures of models at photo shoots, historic moments in the company’s history, shots from fashion events, and images of London.

Burberry model Cara Delevingne on set

These are just a few of the many ways people are using Instagram to connect, share, and build community. And take it from Instagram’s new community team member Dan Toffey who gets the importance of building a community to see a product succeed: “Seeing intimate glimpses of everyday life through the lens of someone not just on the other side of town, but on the other side of the world, is really exciting.”

Instagram is connecting people around the globe through photos that are constantly being shared on social networks. I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of Instagram to Android devices, and am looking forward to joining an already established and successful online community.