Seven unexpected ways Instagram changed the world

Following a tumultuous week and the arrival of a new boss, do you know what impact Instagram has had so far?
8 October 2018

Instagram has proved very popular among consumers. But how is it changing the world?Source: Shutterstock

In the past few weeks, the two original founders of Instagram left the tech company and were replaced by Facebook exec Adam Mosseri. The change of leadership is another milestone moment for the app which earlier in the year announced it had hit the golden one billion monthly active users mark.

With many of us spending on average 53 minutes a day on the photo-sharing app, its impact on our day to day lives has been significant.

And I don’t just mean the number of people who refuse to take a bite of their meal until they’ve taken the perfect #brunchgoals snap. It’s created sub-genres, businesses, and careers and disrupted whole industries.

It diversified beauty standards

Instagram has received its fair share of criticism when it comes to affecting young people’s mental health. Some blame the amount of filtered, edited images presenting unrealistic expectations of beauty.

But there is a flip side. In giving consumers such an accessible platform, a more diverse vision of beauty can be shared. People are no longer reliant on traditional media broadcasting a narrow definition of beauty.

From users sharing their unfiltered pimples, stretch marks and scars to the rise in plus size, trans and disabled influencers, efforts are being made to break beauty taboos. These diverse representations earn likes and followings, causing brands to take note. In 2016 CoverGirl hit the headlines for hiring their first ever CoverBoy, social media star James Charles.

It turned flat lays into a phenomenon

Still life shots have always been popular, but Instagram has made the #flatlay trend go mainstream. The hashtag will currently bring up 5.3m results on Instagram and we’ve all become familiar with scrolling through these artfully arranged, overhead product shots.

There is something about the simple and oh-so visually pleasing flatly which really lends itself to an Instagram grid – its simplicity standing out in a sea of selfies. Now dedicated accounts like @flatlay and @flatlays share their favorites with thousands of flatlay-loving followers and countless how-to articles provide tips on how to achieve the perfect shot.

It created entire social brands

As brands have jumped on the social media marketing bandwagon, there have been some standout success stories. The savviest early adopters have been able to create brands entirely on Instagram.

Watch brand Daniel Wellington is a perfect example, using the platform to advertise their product and bypassing traditional advertising. Using their budget to gift watches to influencers resulted in a flood of posts.

The hype translated to sales and they became Europe’s fastest growing company between 2013 and 2015.

Frank Body is another example. The ground coffee body scrub made regular and distinctive influencer appearances, creating a buzz that turned into a US$20 million global beauty brand and a spot on the Forbes 30 under 30 list for co-founder Jess Hatzis.

She told Forbes: “We really saw an opportunity to launch a great product through social media, with smaller barriers to entry than ever before. We wouldn’t have the business we have today had it not been for our ability to leverage platforms like Instagram and Facebook.”

It changed the way we travel

Instagram is a treasure trove for travel inspiration. Within the palm of our hand, we can see pictures of the most idyllic spots from around the world. And it would seem our holiday habits are changing as a result.

Whether it’s using the app to research the best places to go before we travel, or choosing a particular spot because we want to recreate a picture perfect post, ‘Instagram tourism’ is making an impact. In 2016, China opened the world’s highest and longest glass bottom bridge.

It had to be closed just 13 days later after thousands of tourists flocked to get their shot for the ‘gram. Tourism companies are willing to invest in their social strategies to cash in on this influence. @australia currently has 3.2m followers thanks to its stunning mix of commissioned photography, UGC and witty captions.

Nick Henderson, Tourism Australia’s global manager of social media told CNN: We’ve seen that Instagram can play a role in people’s decision-making process on where to travel. Places like Rottnest Island in Western Australia and the lavender farms in Tasmania have seen significant growth in visitation, partly as a result of their ‘Instagramability'”.

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Bridestowe Lavender#tasmania #tasmanialavender #lavender

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It sparked food trends

In London’s hip borough of Hackney, you’ll find Palm Vaults, a cafe that has fully grasped the benefit of providing maximum Instagram opportunity. Potted plants hang over marble tables, full of pastel-colored lattes and flower-topped granola.

Its an influencer’s paradise and in attracting them, they receive plenty of free advertising.

Other venues have followed suit and while I have no stats at my disposal, I can guess that the number of neon signs, flower walls, and millennial pink plates have risen considerably.

In general, the rule tends to be that the things that stand out succeed. Avocado on toast no longer makes the cut. Think matcha lattes, charcoal activated croissants, Acai bowls, and rainbow bagels.

It mobilized Activism

With an emphasis on all things visual and direct access to millions, Instagram has helped bring worthy causes to life. Imagery is incredibly powerful and many activists are using it as a storytelling device to spread their message far and wide, inspiring others to get involved.

It also gives influential individuals direct access to their followers to deliver undiluted messages of support. Like Justin Beiber’s Insta announcement of his support for the #blacklivesmatter movement.

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We’re talking about black history, so let’s talk about people making history right now. Janet Mock is an American journalist and writer, and a prominent trans activist. She grew up in Honolulu and California, making her way to New York to get her masters degree in journalism. She says that without her smile and MA no one would have listened to her, and “The ‘pretty privilege’ can give you access to spaces, just like your able body gives you access. But it makes impossible beauty standards for many other trans girls who are struggling with that right now.”⠀ —-⠀ Here’s what @rachelstefshef has to say about her books: ⠀ “Reading Janet Mock’s ‘Redefining Realness’ (and ‘Surpassing Certainty’) was a huge turning point for me; her story is filled with a resilience and light that calls people in – not just to the experience of being trans, but to the experience of being alive. It changed the way I want to show up for our community and reminded me I have so much more to learn. I cannot recommend her books enough!”⠀ —-⠀ Phenomenal woman indeed. For Inspiring queer fiction check out the #linkinbio⠀ —-⠀ 📸 by the woman herself @janetmock. #queerbooks #lgbtbooks #transbooks #blackhistorymonth #bhm #trans #transgender #queer #transpoc #blacktrans #nonfiction #books #bookstagram #booknerd #booksubscription #friyay #friday #yay #happy #weekend #janetmock #blacklivesmatter #queerblacklivesmatter #translivesmatter

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Through this awareness building, causes are finding they are being discovered by new audiences. The #postboxselfie campaign was credited for mobilizing marriage equality voters in Australia last year.

In sharing their voting moment, it was a fun and encouraging way to connect with a young audience who, despite supporting marriage equality, were thought to be reluctant to vote.

It created a new breed of influencer

Bloggers were already popular in 2010, but Instagram gave them a platform to distribute short and sweet updates. With one image and a caption, they were able to make bitesize content which could be published more regularly for more frequent conversations with their followers.

Some used this to complement their blog content, some switched to Instagram completely, while others found social fame on Insta alone. The app has undoubtedly propelled the influencer movement and turned some personalities into social celebrities.

Beauty influencer Huda Katta topped this year’s Instagram rich list. She has 27.7m followers and her own beauty line, Huda Beauty which gives fans a chance to buy into her Insta perfect look with products like the #FauxFilter Foundation.

When fashion influencer Chiara Ferragni married earlier this year it was in a lavish ceremony, two haute couture Dior gowns, with a follow-up feature in Vogue.

Even less established are now able to earn a living through brand collaborations on Instagram. The next phase? Virtual influencers like Shudu Gram and Miquela Sousa, created digitally, who live on Instagram alone.