How photo sharing is impacting the cultural industries (Cybercultural 6-17-2019)

Note: a new feature debuting today is ‘Takeaways’, a bullet point list at the end of this article summarizing key points for cultural sectors.

Last week Mary Meeker delivered her annual Internet Trends report and as usual it was chock full of useful data. This slide was one of a number that caught my eye:

Instagram is the app that teens flock to these days, not Facebook or Twitter. But aside from its cool factor, Instagram is increasingly being used in the cultural industries – as both a branding and communications tool.

Last week a PubTechConnect event was held at New York University, featuring a panel entitled ‘Book Lovers on the Internet: Connecting with Readers in Digital Ways’. The panelists were asked at one point about “which social media platform was best for books discussion.”

Two of the panelists – Cristina Arreola, the senior books editor at Bustle; and Jane K. Lee, senior manager of content and community at Epic Reads – said Instagram. Arreola said that Instagram has “the most reach” for Bustle, an online magazine for millennial women that has ‘Books’ as one of its primary categories. Bustle also runs a digital book club.

Instagram is a key tool for independent bookstores too, mainly for community-building. More on this later in the newsletter.

Meeker data points

First, let’s review some of the other key statistics from Mary Meeker’s internet trends report.

The following slide doesn’t mention Instagram explicitly, but it does get to why Instagram is so important now:

So even though Twitter is primarily a textual app, images / video / other media now accounts for over half of all tweet impressions. That statistic tells us a lot about how to get attention these days on social media.

The shift to an image-based social media culture helps explain Instagram’s rapid rise. The following Meeker slide shows that Instagram has grown from zero to a billion users in well under a decade.

Incidentally, before Instagram founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger pivoted to mobile photo sharing in October 2010, they presented their previous product – a location-based social network called Burbn – at the ReadWriteWeb Mobile Summit in early May 2010. In my keynote presentation at that event, I discussed Burbn. Here’s the relevant slide:

You can see the beginnings of what would become Instagram in those screenshots. Indeed when Systrom reached out to RWW in September 2010 about the upcoming launch of Instagram, he called it “a natural evolution of Burbn.” Although clearly they decided to embrace app culture, rather than stick with the mobile browser (which history has proven them right on).

Anyway, back to the present. Since the October 2010 pivot, Instagram has continued to evolve its product:

Stories – a mix of edited images, video and cartoon-like graphics – have been the trendiest feature of Instagram over the past year or two. Although as you can see, Meeker has identified commerce is an emerging use case. That will be something for those cultural sectors that sell a product – like books and music – to track closely. But for now I want to focus on the community aspects of Instagram.

Instagram as communications tool

The #bookstagram tag on Instagram is where many users post what they’re reading, often in an elaborately staged photo or video.

As the above ‘top photos’ show, it’s about more than simply photographing a book. The people who use this tag are trying to communicate something about themselves via their photo – how the book makes them feel, what the choice of book says about their status, what it reveals about their personality, etc. Even the Instagram “influencers” who are paid to post (often without revealing it) are trying to convey a human emotion that the book represents.

At the NYU PubTechConnect event, the book industry panelists gave some tips on how to give book photos that necessary “human touch”:

“@heyitsfranklin2 always makes sure his hand is holding the book in the photo. @j_zimms notes that personal pronouns in the caption gives a sense of relation.”

Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom told Meeker last month that “Instagram has always been a communication platform, not an image sharing tool.” Further, he claims that “Instagram’s inherent feedback systems help users continuously improve communication skills.”

The only thing I’d quibble about there is the word “improve.” Arguably, Instagram’s algorithms have increased the narcissism of society and given people (and particularly teenagers) unrealistic expectations about the world around them. But regardless, I think Systrom is right that Instagram is indeed a communication tool now – for better and for worse. And for that reason, it’s a tool that cultural sectors need to master.

Instagram as community builder

It’s not just book publishers that should be using Instagram more. Independent bookstores can get a lot out of it too, according to a Vox article last December:

“Ryan Raffaelli, a Harvard Business School professor who has studied the resurgence of independent bookstores, tells me the key to indie bookstores’ growth in the digital era is building community, which they’re well-poised to do thanks to “strong and deep” ties to their neighbors.”

Rafaelli continues:

“You have a new generation of [book] buyer who thinks about building community not only in terms of a local community, a physical space, but also an online community. And a lot of the independent booksellers capture this and understand this.”

This is something one of my local indie bookstores, Unity Books in Wellington, understands. A recent, rather playful, post illustrates this well:


In summary, here are the learnings for cultural sectors from today’s newsletter:

  • Image and video are the primary formats for social media nowadays, as indicated by Mary Meeker’s statistics and Instagram’s continued steep growth.

  • Best practices include adding a ‘human touch’ to Instagram posts and making it personal (not corporate).

  • Whatever your cultural sector, get practicing on your image editing and Instagram story creating capabilities; I myself have been playing around with Canva, to try and apply this to Cybercultural’s marketing.

  • Indie bookstores need to focus on Instagram as a community building tool. Other retailers of cultural products should do this too.

  • Watch out for further development of Instagram as a commerce driver over 2019 and beyond (I’ll keep an eye on this for future Cybercultural editions).

Tracking 👀

  • Video promo of Spotify’s new UI, featuring prominent placing for podcasts. 🎧

  • Artnet: The Cleveland Museum of Art’s initiative, an interactive three-room experience (and app) called the ARTLENS Gallery, is one of the more comprehensive projects in the museum-tech sphere. 🎨

  • Refinery29, another site aimed at millennial women, has partnered with Eko to produce several ‘choose-your-own-adventure’-style interactive video series. 📹

  • Archive of Our Own (AO3), a database for fanfiction containing nearly 5M contributions, has 350 volunteer “tag wranglers” who sort tags better than any AI is able to (via Techmeme) 🤖

Data Points 📊

  • According to new National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) member statistics, in 2018 annual US music publishing revenues hit $3.33bn, up 11.78% year-on-year. 💰

  • Deloitte: Gaming > TV for teen $$; NY Post: “About 53% of people born between 1983 and 1996 now pay for gaming services, versus 51% who pay for television.” 🎮

  • Piracy increasing, due to “stream-rippers.” MusicWatch estimates “there are 17 million stream-rippers in the US during 2018, up from 15 million in 2017.” 🏴‍☠️

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