Facebook — like so many other Internet sites — has been blocked in China by government censors for years. But Facebook-owned Instagram, beloved by photographers and selfie-addicts alike around the globe, has so far managed to avoid any major scrutiny.
Since Facebook took Instagram under its wing in 2012, Facebook HQ has been quiet about Instagram’s milestones in the Chinese market. The last time we heard “Instagram” and “China” spoken in the same sentence by an insider was as far back as November 2011, when Instagram founder Kevin Systrom divulged at TechCrunch Disrupt Beijing that his app was picking up 100,000 users in China per week.
It’s impossible to exactly identify how Instagram is faring among China’s 700 million smartphone and tablet users, but we can put Instagram’s growth into perspective with the aid of market researcher App Annie. Instagram ranked 312th in Apple’s App Store in China on the day of Systrom’s Disrupt appearance in late 2011 and has since climbed to a 66th overall rank.
Thanks to Weibo, Major news events pushed Instagram into viral adoption in the United States. Hurricane Sandy in 2012 was Instagram’s defining moment. The app was at the center of social media attention as it served up-to-date, user-generated images that drove users to the platform by the masses.
Recently in China, an apparent suicide was documented via Instagram and republished to Weibo, a tragedy that caught the public’s attention through Chinese online media and brought more Chinese users to the photo-sharing service.
In the wider sense, opinion leaders and celebrities are also propelling Instagram’s growth in the region via their re-shares to Weibo. Many of these include Chinese celebrities (and Internet celebrities) like Ling Jia Lu, Sun Fei Fei, and Zhang Xin Yuan, with hundreds of thousands of followers, as well as Beijing and Shanghai elites like Bao Bao Wan or one-time Beijing expat “beijingemily” who’s picked up 200,000 users (mostly from China).
Why it’s HOT: Although Instagram doesn’t have the same monstrous user base in China as WeChat or Weibo, its tremendous growth in a country known for its strict government censorship is an amazing feat. It truly proves the power of the consumers’ demand for social media and image sharing, especially in helping it survive and thrive in such a market. For marketers, we must decide for our brands whether to utilize platforms with larger users or the platforms that are hot (in download trends) and might more efficiently appeal to the impressions of a niche audience.
Furthermore, I also found it hot that Instagram’s growth in China is attributed to the same way that Twitter grew in popularity in the U.S. Has a formula for growing new social media platforms been found? In this case, live-sharing events with pictures and celebrity interactions has helped Twitter in the U.S. and Instagram in China overcome all odds. That’s something to think about!