Instagram’s CEO Tells Us Who His Favorite Users Are Now That There Are 300 Million of Them

Kevin Systrom on the future of his platform

Kevin Systrom is presiding over the next-generation of social media, an era he helped spark with Instagram, and now the highly stylized sharing app has 300 million users, many of them younger than 35 years old. Instagram has become an obsession for celebrities and brands, and it is yet another channel for aspiring social media stars to find an audience.

The company announced its big user milestone this week, and Systrom (Adweek's Hot List Digital Executive of the Year) recently agreed to answer a few questions, via email, about the future of the photo- and video-sharing app, owned by Facebook. Here's what he had to say about his growing advertising business and the talent that populates the platform, including his favorite Instagrammers.

The Instagram team is so hands-on with its approach to advertising, and you personally vet all ads. What is the key for a brand to be successful on Instagram and for you to like their work?

We want every ad on Instagram to tell a story and inspire people. We get most excited when we see a brand extend their voice in a way that captures the creativity and authenticity of the Instagram experience. Our process will scale as more advertisers come onto Instagram. Our goal with working closely with advertisers is not to change or influence their direction but to share insights that help make each photo and video feel at home on Instagram.

Mark Zuckerberg predicted Facebook will be almost all video in five years. Could you see a similar path on Instagram?

Whether it's an ad or organic content, video provides a new creative dimension for storytelling on Instagram. Video lets people convey the power and beauty in a moment through sight, sound and motion. Brands, musicians and public figures were among the first to embrace video on Instagram, and we've been impressed with how brands have extended their reach with video ads. We're just getting started.

Who are your favorite Instagrammers whose success could be attributed to the platform? How important are they to a vibrant community?

It amazes me how the Instagram community celebrates and supports each other and their passions. These Instagrammers bring a dimension of craft and creativity to the Instagram experience, and we wouldn't be the same without them.

Who pops to mind?

Hong Yi (@redhongyi), an artist, has found her primary fan base through Instagram and has since been picked up by media all over the world. Kathy Ryan (@kathyryan1) is the director of photography at The New York Times Magazine. Her Instagram feed is a love letter to The New York Times building in Manhattan. Aperture just published a book of her images, and they are truly exceptional.

Who else?

Jon Lowenstein (@jonlowenstein) is a photographer who came to the South Side of Chicago on an assignment 15 years ago and decided to make the neighborhood his home. He had been photographing his local community for years as a side project but never found an audience for it until he started sharing them on Instagram. Now he has an engaged audience who follows his work everywhere—whether he's sharing everyday photos from the South Side or when he was off on assignment covering Ferguson, Mo. There's this amazing movement happening on Instagram where photojournalists in particular regions around the world are forming shared accounts where they publish images that celebrate everyday life. It began with @everydayafrica and has now grown to include dozens of accounts, from @everydayiran and @everydaysrilanka to @everydayUSA (launched this summer by former AP photographer and TIME's 2013 Instagram Photographer of the Year, David Guttenfelter, @dguttenfelder).