According to Instagram’s statistics from September 2015, over 400 million people use the social media platform, which shares more than 80 million photos per day.
The venture of creating a social media platform based on images took co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger on a journey that they said had already far exceeded their initial expectations.
“While milestones like this [over 400 million users] are important, what really excites us is the way that visual communication makes the world feel a little bit smaller to every one of us,” they said in a official statement.
According to Instagram Company, more than 75 percent of people using the app live outside the US, with half of the last 100 million to join coming from Europe and Asia.
According to the same source, the countries with more Instagrammers for the time being are Japan and Indonesia.
As is also the case with many other social media platforms, Instagram is
currently blocked in mainland China under the rules implemented by the Ministry of Public Security, the so-called “Great Firewall of China,” that prevents access to websites considered dangerous for Chinese citizens.
In Macau, the number of Instagram users is growing quickly, with the Macau hashtag reaching around 1.6 million posts on the platform.
Among many of the users, especially long-term users, are creative people, designers, photographers, architects as well as some new companies and local businesses.
The Times spoke with some local Instagram users, like Varun Thota (username: @vnthota) who is a product designer. Mr Thota’s work requires him to move between Macau and Hong Kong and this constant travel makes his lifestyle quite “fast-paced”; #photography #design #fitness #technology and #innovation are his favorite hashtags.
Varun started to use Instagram back in 2010, making him one of the first to try the app. Given the fact that he works in the field and is a self-confessed fan of technology, he was “pushed” to try it.
In 2012, Varun learned about the “Instameets,” meetings between Instagrammers, usually to develop an idea or to go around together to take photographs. From there, his interest in the platform grew.
Although he admits that his account ‘look’ changed over the time, Varun says that his Instagram “is still about the photography and about the place he lives in or he is visiting, mostly Hong Kong and Macau.” When he uses the app he tries to capture a moment that he liked and witnessed.
At the same time, Instagram for him became “a creative tool, and a way to express myself with no constraints.”
Although there are “no constraints” in terms of creation, the designer does follow a kind of “routine” for his posts. “Usually I post two times a day in a story telling way. One in the morning on my way to work, and another on the evening on my return home.”
In the search for better quality and to improve the look of his “Instagram feed” he also decided to recently put down the mobile phone and start to use a camera. As he mentioned, the fact that he started working for brands was also a decisive factor in that choice for the “pursuit of higher quality images.”
With about 73,200 people following his account, Varun says the reasons for having so many people “following” are usually related to two things: first, the level of interaction with the community, and second, with the highlight that the same community gives of what you do. “There are meetups in Hong Kong, there are meetups in Macau, I talk to people, I share my views in comments and that helps to build up [followers].”
The owner of #mytoyplane, a series of photographs where a flying airplane is the center-piece and portrayed like a toy in which a layer effect is used to create the illusion of real interaction, considers his turning point when Instagram started to feature
him on their website as a potentially interesting account to follow. “That was the boom. Either way, it is really hard to know who is actually following and why, apart from the friends. Most of the other followers are suggestions from other users. I was suggested a couple of times by different users.”
Regarding the advertising system that is commonly seen in the app, Varun says Instagram is “for sure one of the methods of advertising products that companies should look into. It’s a very different type of advertising, more targeted and choosing the photographers by their style. I think artistically it can really help the brand to expand.”
@eloadefly is the account name of another of the popular local Instagrammers. Eloa is an architecture student in Macau with a great interest in photography related to architecture and urban landscapes.
Eloa sees himself and a “tester,” someone that nurtures an interest in new things, exploring new possibilities, in particular on social media platforms.
After he heard about Instagram and its growing popularity approximately four years ago, he started to use the app. “Like any typical person I started to use it randomly, minus the selfies,” he told the Times.
“I was mostly taking pictures of things that I found interesting until one weekend I was looking for things to do in Hong Kong and I saw there was an ‘Instameet’ to meet people with this interest and go to a few places to take photos. I decided to attend that meeting where there were about forty people, three of them from Macau.”
The organizers of these ‘Instameeets’ found the idea interesting and decided that the next one would take place in Macau. “Since then we have been in touch and meeting more people and organizing and attending Instameets everywhere possible,” Eloa said. “As things get more serious and people start to look more to your account you start to filter things, get rid of things that don’t look so good and add new ones with better quality. The more you surround yourself with interesting people the more you evolve,” he said.
Initially, Eloa’s account was very private but things evolved as he began to be approached by brands that were interested in marketing him. “Things stopped being that personal.” Nowadays Eloa considers his account a “public platform and a portfolio.”
The 29,400 followers of Eloa’s account means little in his opinion: “Instagram has the strategy of suggesting users to new accounts or people that might be interested and through that you get easily thousands of followers.”
How many of these are the so-called “ghost followers”? Eloa has his own belief on the figures, saying “anyone with tens of thousands of followers in reality doesn’t have that many. In average you have about 5 percent of the total amount are actually real followers that would probably interact with you or really be interested in what you are doing.”
Another of the issues regarding followers is that “people are actually purchasing followers,” which in his opinion is the worst part of the Instagram community.
As for his posts, Eloa says that he always tries to portray his side of the story, his view of a place or event, which most of the time does not match with the “tourism image” of Macau that people are used to seeing. “It’s a personal perspective. I want people to be able to see what place where I’m standing really looks like. That is actually what interests me also in the accounts that I follow.”
“I use other people’s accounts to travel by them maybe, to places that I might never have the chance to visit or live in. I try to get that perspective from a local.”
Similarly to Varun, Eloa steered away from mobile phone camera and looked for something “more professional.” He made the decision after his first exhibition of his photographs when he realized that he needed a camera capable of capturing higher quality images. “The phone has advantages as it always travels with you, but if you are really interested in getting quality you need to shoot with a real camera,” he said.
Regarding the advertising on Instagram, Eloa said that there are good and bad sides of it: “It is good because people get to be paid for their work and for their skills, many times by the offering of gears and equipment that are expensive if you need to buy them. On the [other] hand, is the fact that all of it’s becoming [commercial], the passion is disappearing and the idea of being able to share a moment and the passion for photography is disappearing in exchange for such a business. It’s getting too commercial […] But I think it’s mostly good for companies to understand that nowadays things are not always about banners hanging on buildings. Social media is really powerful and is something that you need to tap into.”
To learn more about the commercial opportunities afforded by social media, the Times spoke to Phoebe Lai, partner at the local shop selling whole foods and cold pressed juices. The shop has its own Instagram account @greensmacau, using it to promote awareness of the products they carry.
“We have been using Instagram since we opened about 2 years ago and we feel that [it] is really beneficial to have it because our business is all about being fresh, colorful and healthy and that is the idea we convey with our layout being colorful and energetic,” Phoebe Lai said.
“Our ‘feed’ is much more like a lifestyle, where we show the products in a way of informing about them and interest people to enroll on healthy living and if they do, they will come to the shop to try it,” she added.
Another of the particularities of Greens’ Instagram is that the photos try to portray a little of Macau, often being taken in a city landmark.
Phoebe Lai explained that this is due to the fact that the shop is so close to Macau heritage that they try to take advantage of that cross-promotion, use of colors, and sunlight.
The businesswoman sees advantages in the simplicity of the Instagram feed that shows only images and that can easily be filtered via hashtags. She added that this “helps to keep people more focused on what they are looking for and not so messy like in Facebook where everything mixes together. We find it a great tool.”