The Social Media Phenomenon

The Social Media Phenomenon

In seventh grade I got a Facebook so I could talk to all my friends from California who I’d met at summer camp. It was two years before Facebook got “big” across the US and only a subset of people I knew back home (in Alaska) had even heard of Facebook – most people were still using Myspace.

Now, almost ten years later, life without Facebook seems unthinkable. It’s how we plan events, organize school projects, stay in touch with distant family members, declare the seriousness of our relationships, and keep up with news articles. For people with smartphones, Facebook takes up probably not just one but two of the apps on your phones (if you use Facebook Messenger). Your little sister is on it, your great uncle is on it, and your cat might even have a Facebook page. We have so much of our lives on Facebook that we can’t switch platforms now because most of us will lose ten years of life/messages/photos and cat videos.

Anyone who keeps up with social media knows that Facebook is far from the only platform out there, though it’s certainly the most inclusive. Tumblr exists for sharing posts and writing blogs under pseudonyms. Snapchat is great for sending ten second videos of people doing stupid things at parties. LinkedIn is for all the recruiting and business conversations. Twitter is… well… now how most of us will follow the ongoings of our (future) president in the United States. Instagram is where you post photos of your breakfast and selfies.


Right now I’m completely obsessed with Instagram, and this is why:

  • A substantial amount of profiles are public, so you’re looking at photos of strangers (or as I call them: future friends) and strangers are looking at your photos
  • You don’t have to rely on celebrity status to get noticed
  • All it is are photos and captions. Photos are infinitely more relatable than that post your friend from high school made about finding out her boyfriend of 6 months cheated on her.
  • It’s a non-reciprocal platform – unless your profile is private you don’t have to ‘accept’ anyone or follow anyone back
  • It’s a data miner’s and psychologist’s dream. There is so much information out there, so many people responding to things, and there’s been very little research done to figure out what works and why it does.
  • It’s possible to monetize a social media account as a totally normal human (i.e. you don’t have to be rich/famous/well-known)

I’ve decided that I want to do a study on Instagram. This is inspired partially by my love for statistics, and partially by a coworker’s wife who is an “Influencer” (I’ll explain that later) who recently got their honeymoon largely paid for because she’s good at Instagram and blogging.

As of December 15, 2016 there are 600 million instagram users, which is a lot of people. When I go to Google Scholar and search for ‘Instagram’ I can only find around 200k articles about it, most are related to marketing for large companies or to social media and self esteem. In contrast, searching for ‘Facebook’ yields 5.57 million articles. That’s 27x the amount of research that has been done on Instagram.

When you look at articles for ‘How to be good at Instagram’ in the top results you end up with articles that suggest you “Look for puddles after the rain“. A recent article I found detailed a guy’s foray into becoming an influencer, but he stopped at three weeks and also had the backing of a major news organization. The details were sketchy at best (he describes gaining followers, but not the types of followers, or specific details) and if you go to his Instagram feed now, it’s blown up because of the article.

What I’m saying is that there aren’t a lot of solid ways for an Instagram beginner to actually find out what they can do with Instagram. Whether you’re in charge of your company’s account or you just want to be better at it for your friends – it doesn’t hurt to be more informed. There are people who are very obviously good at it, but few people telling you how to effectively grow a following (or how to even find people who you want to follow). I want to change that.

Questions are more than welcome, though right now I can’t promise that I’ll be able to answer all of them – hopefully I will in a few months.

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