Point. Shoot. Tap to Upload.
You can’t play games, create pages, join groups, chat, video chat, view trending topics, read the news or follow links to third-party websites. You can’t even upload photos from your computer through a web-client. Yet, Instagram is an integral part in the lives of over 400 million people, and is gaining new users every day.
With so many restrictions, what on Earth makes this app so popular?
Two reasons: It’s a simple design that takes advantage of the mobile platform, and it exploits the fact that people love to promote themselves.
When the company came along in 2010, the social media marketplace needed a change. Facebook was crowded and stale, Twitter was difficult to understand for lay people not engaged in the digital sphere every day, and LinkedIn, well, LinkedIn wasn’t really a household name yet. Instagram launched with a beautifully simple premise – an app to share the photos you’re already taking every day on your smartphone. That’s it. No pokes, prods, direct messaging, writing on walls, character counts or other clutter involved, and nothing to distract the user from the overall purpose of the app. It was simply a place to share a photo of your morning coffee, a beautiful sunset or a funny road sign for your friends to see.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “I can share my photos on Facebook! Twitter lets me upload photos, too!” And that’s certainly true. Every social network has its own approach to photos and in the visual world we currently reside in, they would be remiss if there wasn’t a method for allowing users to share photos. But, the difference is, on other social networks, photos are just content. Another thing for users to post, in between complaints about sports games, political discussion and links to funny cat videos. They’re important, yes, but not the priority. No other network has embraced photos as the cornerstone of the user’s experience like Instagram has. Photos not only drive the network, photos are the network.
Simplicity starts at login. Users are met with a single vertically scrolling news feed that only displays photos and the user who posted them. No clutter, no external links taking you away from the experience. The feed auto-loads new photos when you reach the bottom and will populate every photo from the time you joined the network. This keeps a user’s attention and draws them further into the experience (endless scrolling is sneakily addicting). A double-tap to like feature and large comment bubble makes engaging with content quick and easy, and the search function couldn’t be easier to use.
Next, it’s about knowing your market. People love to talk about themselves and what’s going on in their lives, and Instagram knew this. By eliminating live-chat options, games and groups, it reduced the distractions found on other sites and forced users to focus on their own lives and the experiences they were capturing on their camera phones every day. That funny face your dog makes every morning, a particularly impressive sports car you walked by on the way to work, or even a simple motivational graphic that caught your eye one time. The whole experience became about sharing YOUR life, YOUR experiences and YOUR greatness. The content was already there, Instagram just gave us an interactive space to proudly display it.
Before you know it, the constraints that seem like barriers to entry actually end up enhancing the user experience by highlighting each individual and displaying their personality. Clearly, it worked. Instagram now boasts over 400 million users and is the single largest photo sharing platform on the planet.
That’s all well and good, but what’s the message we can learn from here?
Isn’t it obvious? Sometimes, less is more.
It sounds cliche, but, you know, cliches exist for a reason. Slow things down a little, and focus on what makes you great. If you’re a small business, don’t try to grow too quickly. Focus on your core product, the employees helping you achieve your goals and how you can improve upon what you already do well. Here at Nickerson, we try to do the same with our clients. We help identify each business’ strengths, and we do our best to help enhance those areas of expertise.
So, in the words of Paul Rudd in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, “Do less. You’re trying too hard. Do less. Don’t do anything!”