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6 Key Lessons from Instagram's Shocking Growth

In accordance with today's business trends, many companies place a strong emphasis on effective social media management. This means not only having accounts on social sites, but paid advertisements as well.

According to a recent ProOpinion poll, over 40 percent of businesses market themselves on Facebook, a platform often perceived as being the most universally used. Many organizations are branching out even further, however, as an increasing number of companies are advertising on Twitter and LinkedIn, and 21.4 percent promote posts on the photo-sharing app Instagram.

The latter social channel has recently become popular among businesses looking to gain exposure, mostly due to its exponential growth over the past five years. Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger wrote in a post on Backchannel that the app has gained 400 million users since its debut in 2010. Instagrammers are located all around the globe and collectively post about 80 million photographs and videos every day.

Not only are these growth figures impressive, they're almost unheard of in today's cutthroat digital startup world. What can businesses learn from Instagram's success? Here are six key lessons to take from the app's shocking growth.

1. Remember you're a startup
All too often, companies that experience immediate success forget they're still green, and that beginner's luck can quickly fade away. When startups grow too fast, they can exhaust their means, and eventually crumble under a lack of preparation. According to ReadWrite, Instagram kept its startup status in perspective even as the app started to take off.

For much of its existence, Instagram had just 13 employees and operated in a modest San Francisco office space that once housed Twitter. This gave the company plenty of room to grow and evolve, which meant that during its initial years the app transformed quite a bit and was able to become the user-friendly photo sharing platform it is today. The source noted that Krieger and his business partner Kevin Systrom kept the focus on optimizing the app rather than driving up revenue or increasing its workforce, a strategy that ultimately proved to be quite lucrative. In other words: Slow and steady wins the race. 

2. Have a unique purpose 
Creating something one-of-a-kind is no easy feat, but building a company that doesn't offer a unique product or fresh perspective is like setting up for failure. Part of Instagram's success came from its founders identifying and filling a hole in the social media market : While there were plenty of sites where users could share words, there wasn't yet a channel completely devoted to visual storytelling. Boostlikes noted that Instagram essentially leveraged the public's fascination with photography and films into its user-driven app. 

When streamlining your business plan, pay attention to what's missing in your industry. And make sure your vision isn't too complicated. Systrom explained to Fast Company that startup owners should be able to explain what their product is in under 30 seconds. If your elevator pitch exceeds this window of time, it's too complicated to grow at a rapid rate. 

3. Don't overcomplicate your interface 
One reason Instagram gained so many users in such a short period of time is that it's aesthetically pleasing and refreshingly simple to operate. Once users create their accounts, they're presented with an easy-to-use program that focuses on just one element: beautifully edited images.

Unlike other social sites, Instagram doesn't clog news feeds with unnecessary icons and call-to-actions, which ReadWrite explained helped fuel its success. Users feel more connected to the purpose of the app - sharing photos - than they do distracted by the app's numerous functions. Avoid dressing up your interface too many options and task bars - clean and concise is always more effective. 

4. Be selective in your hiring 
Choosing the right startup team is crucial for the success of young companies, especially in the early stages of growth and development. In a 2011 video for This Week in Startups, Systrom explained that he purposefully sought candidates based on passion as opposed to skill alone. He emphasized that passion and intelligence often go hand in hand, and he knew he wanted an enthusiastic workforce with excellent critical thinking skills. 

"We're not into brain teasers or anything like that. We just want to work through problems with people. That's really what matters at the end of the day is if you can sit down with someone and work through a tough technical problem together," Systrom explained in the video. 

5. Gain celebrity followers
Another reason Instagram became wildly successful is because its user base includes the rich and famous. While getting superstars on your startup's bandwagon is easier said than done, it's a necessary step toward achieving rapid growth. 

Celebrities not only enjoy Instagram for the same reasons the rest of the world does, but also because it allows them to connect with fans on a personal level. Stars often use the app to post casual pictures, like them eating dinner or getting ready for events, which help them appear more accessible and interesting. They also take advantage of the exposure Instagram offers to promote their brands and stay relevant. Conversely, fans enjoy being able to follow a wide range of celebs and gain sneak-peeks into their daily lives. Boostlikes explained that the app's ability to essentially forge relationships between the famous and their followers helps it stay successful. 

6. Impact your industry 
Instagram's not only become a massive success in and of itself, but the app has also had a hand in transforming many aspects of its industry. For example, it's been a factor in the quality of cell phone cameras. Boostlikes noted that camera apps were rather rudimentary and grainy when they first emerged, and weren't intended to replace regular cameras.

Once Instagram became popular, however, people started to see their cell phones as primary photo-taking devices rather than gadgets to use in a pinch. This has encouraged phone manufacturers to continue developing photo-taking features, and competition among companies has resulted in some truly high-caliber phone cameras. 

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