How Instagram builds a world of love with just photos

The economics of world building are hard

I used to think that Instagram is just a photo uploading app and I now realize that how mistaken I really was. It’s easy to assume that – you can upload a picture, tag your friends, and shoot it out. But if Instagram was just that, it wouldn’t be so successful and everywhere at this point. Social media platforms like Instagram follow the same rules of world building that our real world uses. It is the same economics of supply and demand.

This idea ventured into my mind a few weeks back and has been incubating since. It appears that the strategies used to grow a social media platform to a behemoth like Instagram are almost the same strategies that you would use to build a real world. Or a Facebook group. Or the culture of your company.  Are these strategies simple to follow? Yes. Are these difficult to implement? Absolutely.

But Instagram has another unique challenge that was their value prop to the world. It was going to be about photos. It would build a world about moments of real life, frozen in time but open to consumption in real time.

Love as a commodity 

Any self respective developer can build a decent photo sharing app today but they wouldn’t be able to reach the status of Instagram. First mover advantage? No, that’s a myth. How did Instagram succeed when there were already a lot of photo sharing platforms available?

When civilizations spawned, they always did around river banks. The fertile lands around rivers and the newly discovered agricultural acumen of a few clever folks meant they could now produce surplus food which could feed the entire tribe.  The one who controlled the food became an influencer. Now they suddenly had something that could be used for the benefit of the tribe and the tribe enjoyed this benefit by building an economy. Now that you don’t have to worry about being fed and I still do, how about I build a hut for you in exchange for some produce for me and my family? Food is a commodity, building a hut is a service offered in exchange for that commodity.

In Instagram the value addition is the moments of real life frozen in time. Your best friend posting pictures of his birthday party is giving you a chance to see what really happened. As you were out of town, you couldn’t attend. But now you knew how the party was like. It satisfied you somewhat of the void you felt by missing out on your best friend’s birthday party. That is the value that picture provided to you. You double tapped that picture and your friend came to know that you and other people loved the candid shot of him blowing those candles. He felt gratified. This exchange of satisfaction for gratification is how the economics of supply and demand work in an Instagram world. Their commodity is not harvest from a farm.

Their service is instant gratification that you are validated. Their commodity is the picture of your birthday party that you uploaded.

You see a good pair of shoes on Instagram. You want to buy them. You see someone on a trip to Hawaii. You want to take that trip too. It’s People magazine on your phone covering everyone know.  Instagram economy works on the fact that you are interested in the visual documentation of the life of your friends.

Building Instagram for rookies:

Now that you know the psychology and economics of Instagram, how would you build your own social media app? Find answer to these questions:

  • What is the psychological commodity? (The picture of your friends, celebrities, and other influencers)
  • Who will create that psychological commodity?  (Like your friends, celebrities, and other other influencers)
  • Who will consume this commodity? ( Like in our example, you will do because you are interested in it)
  • What service will the consumer offer in return of this commodity? (In Instagram, it’s likes and comments, y’all)
  • Is the demand (your interest in those pictures) higher than the supply (pictures being uploaded to satisfy said interest)? It is only in this scenario that you can always have a supply of producers making farm fresh harvest for your needy eyes.

And that’s how you build a social media giant!  

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