Why Facebook Bought Instagram: The Secret Ingredient

One word: Kids. I haven’t validated the stats yet, but here’s anecdotal evidence from a flock of 13-year-old seventh graders. I first learned of Instagram from my daughter, an avid iPhone user, about seven months ago. I couldn’t figure out the attraction. She filled me in:

  1. Many of her friends don’t use Facebook. More accurately, many of her friends are NOT ALLOWED to use Facebook; forbidden by their parents. Parents ban Facebook because they fear predators or time-sucks. Those same parents don’t realize their kids will simply find an alternative. Especially when they give their kids smartphones with data plans.
  2. All of her friends have iPhones, almost universally.
  3. Instagram was easy to use, much simpler and more immediate than Facebook’s iPhone app. Teenagers crave immediate feedback and validation.

I’ll add a fourth factor:

  • Kids crave an alternate social playground that their uncool parents don’t occupy. And all us uncool parents are by now on Facebook, as are all the grandparents. And when we’re allowed to link to our kids, we’re tagging our kids in photos, posting on their wall messages with cute smiley’s, etc. Can you imagine anything worse for a 13-year-old than public posts from their parents – which their friends can see?
    (Here’s my post from 2006 on this effect on MySpace: MySpace is Dead – Parents Stop Worrying )

Facebook figured out that they risked losing a large and growing user base – the tweens who constantly look for the “next big thing”, and so bought Instagram to pull that user base into the fold.  I predict this will be a constant initiative for Facebook — as it matures, every year or so it will need to acquire younger businesses who bring in new or younger user bases, eventually folding them into the Facebook master site.  This is probably their best bet to avoid the fate of Friendster, MySpace, AOL, Yahoo, etc.

[Updated May 31, 2012 from Los Angeles Times:  “Some teens aren’t liking Facebook as much as older users“:

Facebook itself is no longer an adolescent. At 8, it’s getting long in the tooth for a social network. And for some teens, the novelty has worn off.

“Facebook is just not the big fad anymore,” said Kim Franklin, a 15-year-old from Gaithersburg, Md., who does not have a Facebook account and prefers social media site Tumblr. “It was like everybody was constantly on there, but now not so much.”

I rest my case, so far…]

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2 Responses to Why Facebook Bought Instagram: The Secret Ingredient

  1. Minter Dial says:

    Great counter intuitive reason, that I certainly didn’t read anywhere else, Ken. Similarly, and at least, theoretically, only 13+ can get onto Facebook and for this reason I saw a bunch of the younger kids on Twitter where there is no age limit.

    The fact that Instagram is/was free meant that kids did not need to buy it on itunes (another parental filter in most cases).

    To follow your reasoning, I’d have to believe that there would be clusters of kids who, by oral word of mouth, discovered Instagram together. I certainly would be interested to see a breakdown of the 30 million (now 40 million) users.

  2. Tricia Christensen says:

    Interesting post, Ken. I wonder if any of the “cool” sites of the future would refuse to sell to the parental Facebook due to principles (along the lines of musicians who refuse to let an established record company sell their music.) It seems that if they want to stay hip, they ‘d rather not be in the fold. Of course, they’d be leaving buckets of cash on the table……

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