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In many social media circles, there has always been a back channel discussion about finding “the next Facebook.” What social media site is destined to replace Facebook as the place where all the cool kids go?
Snapchat as the new Facebook
For much of the past two years, the speculation has been that Snapchat was the next Facebook. It boasted a huge youth demographic, and seemed to be insanely popular with all the cool kids that matter. It literally pioneered the concept of disappearing social media content, and came up with a whole host of new innovations, like Snapchat Stories and Snapchat geofilters. That buzz about Snapchat built to a crescendo ahead of its IPO this year, when many people were willing to ignore the lack of profitability because it had somehow discovered the secret to attracting young millennials.
Facebook disrupts itself
But it’s now clear that Snapchat (Snap Inc. to all you investors out here) is not the next Facebook. Instead, the next Facebook is… (drum roll please) Facebook. Well, not actually Facebook, but Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.
That’s right – Facebook has found that the key to disruptive innovation in the social media space was finding a way to disrupt itself. And the answer it came up with was Instagram.
Exponential growth at Instagram
What has people buzzing now is the extraordinary pace of growth at Instagram. At the end of April, the company released the latest stats about its user base. It now has 700 million users, 400 million of whom are active daily users. And it has grown 100 million users in just the past six months. By way of comparison, Snapchat – the former “next Facebook” – only has 158 million daily users. And, adding insult to injury, Instagram Stories – a blatant copy of Snapchat Stories – now has 200 million daily users, more than ALL of Snapchat.
The pace of growth at Instagram has been so extraordinary that the New York Times even did a feature piece on Instagram, titled appropriately enough, “Why Instagram Is Becoming Facebook’s Next Facebook.” The fundamental thesis – if you want to call it that – was that Instagram had finally reached “escape velocity” and become just like Facebook: Instagram is now something that everybody you know uses at least once per day. Instagram has added so many “must-have” features (like Stories), that it’s now very easy to use for everybody (including your parents). And that’s leading to exponential growth at Instagram.
One interesting nugget from the story was that Instagram actually has a chart that the company discusses at meetings called “Days to Reach the Next 100 Million Users.” That alone is a staggering idea. Most companies would be happy with 1 million customers, maybe 10 million customers. But 100 million?
And Instagram is reaching that goal faster than ever before. It took only four months to go from 600 million to 700 million users, but it took six months to go from 500 million to 600 million, and nine months to go from 400 million to 500 million.
The 80/20 rule at Instagram
Of course, here’s the thing – 80% of Instagram’s users are outside the U.S. It’s easy to think of Instagram as an American innovation made for Americans, but it’s clear that the rest of the world has caught on. And that’s going to change the way Instagram grows. The new features might be those that appeal more to non-Western users for either cultural or technological reasons (the New York Times article cites crappy mobile phone networks in emerging markets as an important factor).
So if you’ve been wondering where the next Facebook was going to come from, it’s been hiding right under your nose. It’s like the famous Sherlock Holmes story where the best place to hide something is in plain sight. And so it was the case with Instagram and its 700 million users!