Instagram Tops 300M Users, Adds Verified Badges, Goes After Spammy Accounts

By David Cohen 

Instagram300M650Filter this: Instagram topped the 300 million user mark, co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom revealed in a blog post, in which he also announced that the Facebook-owned photo- and video-sharing network was adding verified badges for celebrities, athletes and brands, as well as deactivating spammy accounts.

Systrom wrote in the blog post:

We’re proud to announce that there are now more than 300 million Instagrammers. Over the past four years, what began as two friends with a dream has grown into a global community that shares more than 70 million photos and videos each day. Instagram is home to creativity in all of its forms, a place where you can find everything from images of the Nile River to the newest look from Herschel Supply or a peek inside the mind of Taylor Swift.

We’re thrilled to watch this community thrive and witness the amazing connections people make over shared passions and journeys.

As Instagram gets bigger, we’re focused on helping you discover photos and videos from people who you care about, whether it’s a friend or your favorite musician. Last month, we launched a people tab on the explore page, which highlights interesting accounts to follow, and we also launched improvements to search. Yet people ask, “When it comes to public figures and brands, how do I know that the people I discover on Instagram are really who they say they are? How do I know that this person really is Tony Hawk?”

Today, we’re excited to announce verified badges for celebrities, athletes and brands, making it easier for you to connect with the authentic accounts you’re looking for. These badges will start rolling out over the coming days.

Finally, as more people join, keeping Instagram authentic is critical — it’s a place where real people share real moments. We’re committed to doing everything possible to keep Instagram free from the fake and spammy accounts that plague much of the Web, and that’s why we’re finishing up some important work that began earlier this year.

We’ve been deactivating spammy accounts from Instagram on an ongoing basis to improve your experience. As part of this effort, we will be deleting these accounts forever, so they will no longer be included in follower counts. This means that some of you will see a change in your follower count.

Most of you won’t see any impact. If you’re one of those who will see a correction, you will receive a notification in the app directing you to additional information.

Systrom appeared on CNBC’s Squawk Alley Wednesday morning, where he spoke with Julia Boorstin, and highlights included:

A big part of our community is international. About 70 percent of our community is outside of the U.S. And that’s pretty astonishing for a company that’s about four years old. So most of the growth is international. But yes, we’re seeing a lot of people coming in in the fashion world, a lot of people coming in the youthful teens world, and a lot of people internationally, as well.

The way we look at the market is that we’re not competing against other tech companies for ad dollars. We’re competing against print and TV. We are selling brand advertising that shifts perceptions, for instance, like Chobani. Chobani did a really wonderful yogurt campaign on Instagram to shift perceptions away from the fact that they were just yogurt. And they had a seven-point incremental lift on shifting that perception through a brand advertisement on Instagram. That’s the type of thing you typically see in a magazine or on TV. If you look at those markets, they are very, very large. And I think that’s what we’re going after. So you can see where we’re headed.

Let’s also remember that Facebook today makes a large proportion of its money on direct-response advertising, and Instagram up to this point has been significantly brand advertising, so they’re two very different markets right now. But I think you’ll see intersections in the future that are very interesting.

There’s a possibility that we could do something outside of just advertising. We’ve considered it over time. One of the earliest requested features was to do premium filters, where a brand could sponsor a filter. It’s just not in our wheelhouse. It doesn’t feel Instagrammy in the way that the high-quality brand ads do. When you open up a Vogue magazine and you flip through and you see beautiful advertising and beautiful content, that’s the type of feeling we want to evoke. So we’ve stayed away from some of the other stuff up until now. But I won’t count it out.

Authenticity is really key. When you open up Instagram, you need to know that you’re seeing the real Tony Hawk, the real Taylor Swift, the real Burberry. And it’s really important for businesses, as well. There are a lot of knock-off accounts on the Internet — not just on Instagram, but around the world on other services — that are trying to take attention away from brands. So with this move of verified badges, we wanted to make sure that we could both verify accounts like, for instance, Burberry I mentioned before so that you know you’re following the real, authentic Burberry. It’s very important for us to do this especially as we introduce advertising to make sure that you see the real one.

Market researcher eMarketer estimated that Instagram has 52.5 million monthly active users in the U.S., or about one-sixth of all smartphone users in the country, adding that 78.8 percent of those users are between the ages of 12 and 34. Principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson said in an email to AllFacebook:

With 300 million monthly users, Instagram’s audience is becoming very attractive to marketers, especially brand advertisers, and its rapid growth will only make it more appealing. Instagram’s ad business is still very new and has a lot of growing up to do — for example, its targeting capabilities are still very limited — but the company’s new authentication initiatives send a message to the ad community that their followers will be real entities and that the impressions they receive will not be fakes or bots.

Readers: Are you one of the 300 million-plus Instagram users?

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