Money Models For Instagram

January 7th, 2013

I work in advertising. I like advertising. It’s disappointing to me that a great social network and web service like Instagram can’t find a better way to monetize its product than advertising.

At the tail end of 2012 everyone freaked out that IG would be selling our photos because they updated their terms of service with some clumsy language. Instagram heard all the complaints, promised they wouldn’t be selling our images and issued a statement that included the following:

“Let’s say a business wanted to promote their account to gain more followers and Instagram was able to feature them in some way. In order to help make a more relevant and useful promotion, it would be helpful to see which of the people you follow also follow this business.”

Seriously? Booooooring. It’s just more, “Your friend Matt follows Sharpie. You may like to see Sharpie’s photos.” The same unimaginative stuff that litters Facebook. (Sharpie does actually have a pretty great IG feed).

I’m grossed out that we can’t find better ways for these services to make money so I decided to do some thinking.

Here are my ideas for how Instagram can monetize itself.

1. Charge For Use
Charge $1 or $10 per year. Or let me pay what I think it’s worth like Radiohead did with In Rainbows and Cards Against Humanity did with their recent holiday expansion pack. I did an anecdotal survey of the people who sit within earshot of me and 4/5 said they would pay to use it.

Some say there are other photo apps out there that they would use. My answer to that is that Instagram isn’t about taking photos in isolation. It’s about a channel that I can tune into to see my friends and family around the world. The same way that I used to flip on the television to see what was on, I now fire up Instagram to see what people are doing from Sydney to Portland and Boston to London. I’d pay for that.
2. Guarantee That Jay Z will see my photo
Sign a contract with Jay Z and other notable people and let a limited number of Instagram users populate a feed that these celebrities see. Jay can comment or like the photo if he wants, but no matter what you’ll get notification that he saw your image. I’d say that’s worth $5, $10 or $20 depending on the circumstance.

3. Digital Frame in the Oval Office
Similar to #2, but this is a frame that President Barack Obama will see every day. For a price your photo will show up there. Imagine your photo in the most powerful room in the world reminding our world leaders of what’s happening all over our planet.

Your Instagram right over Obama’s shoulder for the right price.

4. Digital Boards In Exotic Places
Instagram could put screens in random awesome places. They could put them on top of mountains, in stadiums and in Times Square. Then you can pay to have your photo displayed on those boards. Cameras will take a photo of your photo with in the amazing surroundings and provide you with an image you can share everywhere.

A billboard in the mountains would display your work of art for a small price.

Those are my first four ideas. Do you have any others? Post them in comments or tweet them with #IGCanMakeMoneyBy.

Dan Viens is a Digital Strategist at Wieden+Kennedy. He lives in Portland with a baby, a wife and a dog.

A Torrent of Downton

January 6th, 2013

When it comes to defying international broadcast schedules there are thousands of Americans as powerful as First Lady Michelle Obama.

First Lady Michelle Obama loves Downton

As Season Three of Downton Abbey makes its US premiere this evening this very powerful group, along with Mrs. Obama, has already seen the episode.

These Internet citizens’ secret power that makes them equal to Mrs. Obama? Bit torrent.

Fox News pretended to be up in arms when The First Lady supposedly asked the show’s producers for an early copy so she could watch the show after its UK airing in November.

Though Michelle had to “pull strings”, everyone else just needed an online search and a bit torrent client to download it. As simple as it is illegal.

With the series airing in the UK on ITV last November, it is in as much online supply as it is demand from voracious Internet savvy US fans.

Knowing this has made the current media tour the Downton cast as welcome as it is curious. The media blitz coincides with the US premiere, but many of the show’s biggest fans have already seen the entire season.

These fans already know the secrets the actors guard in their interviews. These netizens already know the answers to the questions the daytime TV hosts are asking.

This is another example of secrets being a thing of the past in our connected world.

The producers of Downton Abbey are happily ignoring this because the ven diagram of Downton fans and bit torrent users likely doesn’t have a significant overlap. However, this voracious appetite and search for media further shows that when people want to see something a minor illegality will not stop them.

I hope this continues to bring more creative distribution worldwide from content producers.

Because once something is anywhere, if people want it, it will be everywhere.

That includes Earl of Grantham and his family’s dealings.

Polarize This

November 8th, 2012

I voted Tuesday. I watched the election results unfold on television. I read the news today. And I saw my friends’ angry, elated, jubilant and irrational posts on Facebook.

After taking in all the evidence I’ve decided that we are not a country that is distinctly divided they\ way many have been espousing and feeling today.

We have too many points of view and too much in common to be divided into two groups.

It is an illusion that I fit neatly in a camp with those who voted on my half. It is a farce that I am diametrically opposed to those who voted for the other candidate. We are far to culturally rich and diverse a nation to buy into the lie that we are a people cut in half.

We are not.

What we are is a nation with too few options.

When every key belief on budgets, civil rights, the lives of unborn children, the funding of public broadcasting, the plight of undocumented workers, our pursuit of terrorists and our relationship with China has to fit together in one of two boxes as though each issue can be neatly connected to the others in a logical jigsaw puzzle we are forced to unfairly choose one of only two sides. All too often that results in scorn for those on the other side.

That leads to the belief that you are one or the other. You are like me or you’re not. You are with me or you are against me.


Where was that divided nation on Sept. 12, 2001. Less than a year removed from our most divisive election in modern history. We united around horrific tragedy as one nation.

Where were the stark divisions when Hurricane Sandy tore through the northeast last week and people around the nation responded with millions of dollars in donations.

Where was that bright line between us last February when 177 million people tuned in to the Super Bowl to watch the exact same thing at the exact same time throughout every size of home in every corner of this Great Nation.

It wasn’t there because it doesn’t exist. It’s a false premise.

We aren’t neat. We rarely have consensus. But it is impossible for me to believe that half of us want the country to go off a cliff and the other half doesn’t.

If you put two orange juice and Dr. Pepper on a table then half are grabbing OJ and the other half will go for the Dr. Maybe the OJ clan will scorn the soda fans for all the sugar they’re drinking. Maybe the Dr. Pepper drinkers will laugh at how boring the juice guzzlers are.

Add in some guava juice, maybe some Pellegrino, grape juice, Sunny D, water, champagne and Guinness and it’s a much different experience. People have options, there are more camps and fewer rivals – maybe someone even makes mimosas.

When you have two sides, you pick one. It doesn’t mean your story ends there. It doesn’t mean we are hopelessly divided.

It means I have more options when it comes to ESPNs than political parties.

I’m not going to call my neighbor evil for watching ESPNews and I’m sure as hell not going to believe those who voted differently than me are all terrible people who share nothing with me.

I’ve got 800 channels. If someone on the other side came over I know we’d find something to watch. If not we could find a YouTube video of someone getting hit in the nuts. We all love that.

Here’s Malcolm Gladwell talking about how many choices Americans like to have in their spaghetti sauce.

Google and Les Paul Make Great Internet

June 9th, 2011

Today’s Google Doodle is great Internet. With an incredibly simple execution that let’s a user strum a guitar, record their music and share it with the world, Google put all that drives today’s Internet on display for the world to mess with.

Here’s why it’s great and what everyone who creates digital communication (myself included) should strive for.

1. It’s dead simple
You move your mouse up and down and it works. You press a button and it records. It gives you a link and you can share it. There’s not opt ins, no privacy concerns, no extraneous steps.

2. It let’s everyone be creative
So much of what we do online is about making, creating and mashing up. With a ridiculously low barrier to entry everyone can play.

3. Record and Share
So simple and absolute genius. As I was strumming I said to myself, “It would be cool to share what I’m doing and see what some real guitar players can do here.” Then I saw the button and was totally impressed. It turns this execution not just into a time waster, but a game to see what you can do and who can do better. Sharing is how the Internet works and it’s working perfectly here.

4. Automatic Distribution
It’s not like Google needs more traffic, but they guarantee themselves more on their homepage today though the sharing of the doodle. They made something awesome. People like it so they shout about it by sharing their work. Same as a great dish at a restaurant or a great band at a club. Do cool stuff that people can have fun with and they’ll tell their friends.

5. It doesn’t take itself to seriously
Google has fun with its logo all the time. That’s nothing new, but when it lets people actually play with it and mess around with its identity, it fully embodies the hacking spirit of the web. People like to make stuff and mess with hierarchy. You can do both with the Google Doodle. It shows that something that is serious business, Google and search, can be damn fun. It shows that Internet is serious business but we can have a very good time with it.

It’s phenomenal that something so simple can accomplish all this. I think it’s a new benchmark.

What do you think? What are some other examples of executions that embody the spirit of the web this well.

I want my apps word of mouth

March 24th, 2011

Apps are like bands. Word of mouth is always a better way of hearing about one than through media coverage.

When it’s word of mouth it feels cool like your friend is helping you discover something. When it’s media coverage it feels like the machine is telling you about something that is already guaranteed to be big.

When it’s word of mouth it’s Instagram, memolaneThe Situationist, TV On The Radio or Portugal The Man. When it’s news it’s Path or Color, Arctic Monkeys or Kings of Leon.

Instagram feels like you’re involved in a community of people discovering just how something works and figuring out what makes it cool or forgettable. It’s the same as a band you hear about through word of mouth. There is some collective ownership of the people who catch them on the way up.

Color, its $40 million funding and its “leaked” pitch deck feel like overplay on the radio and a Rolling Stone cover.

This notion feels directly in line with what Lucius Kwok wrote last week about The Slow Company Movement on Felt Tip blog. “The idea behind the Slow Company movement is that instead of trying to be the first or to get the most mindshare or market share of any company in your vertical, you try to make something that people genuinely find useful and are willing to pay for it.”

The bands that play the bars, get a following and then grow from there, discover who they really are and learn about their fans. Phish is a great example. Love them or hate them, they know their fans and they’ve been packing arenas for nearly 20 years. Apps that come out quietly rather than launch, give themselves the opportunity to be discovered and grow a fanbase that is proud to share the app with their friends seem to have a better chance at longterm success. Facebook seems to be a reasonable example of this model.

Young bands that sign the record contract get distracted from the real work of becoming a great band. The contract may bring some initial cash, but is also exposes the band to a lot of people at once, many of whom may not be the right audience at all. The same thing can be said about a big TechCrunch article that becomes a distraction for an app or web service that is just trying to walk, but all of a sudden is expected to fly.

It’s as though my first interaction with Color has to be a reaction to what’s been written and what’s expected from the app that got more money from Sequoia than Google did. Whereas my first experience with Instagram is just me hearing about something new and taking time to discover what it’s all about.

With Color, the conversation is – “This app got $40 million. There’s a lot of hype. I don’t get it.”

With Instagram, the conversation is – “I’ve heard good things about this. It’s a rad way to take cool pictures and share them. My friends should check this out.”

Both of these conversations may be right or wrong. It just seems to me that developing a groundswell of users to become advocates of your app is a better way of “launching” than coming out as the next big thing with a bunch of dollars behind you.

Color may be a great app. It’s just a question if we’ll give it time to mature.

What do you think? Do you see the parallels? Any other examples of bands or apps?

Young+Stupid at W+K

November 15th, 2010

I got my first crack at the Wieden+Kennedy blog last week. I chose to write about keeping a young perspective and walking into work stupid everyday. Staying young was inspired by my mother in law who just went all in on an iPhone, iPad and MacBook Pro. The stupid part is a core tenet at W+K.

Feedback on the blog has been great. You can read it here.

Do your thing and do it well

August 20th, 2010

Last weekend a friend of mine tried to open a beer with a Swiss Army Knife bottle opener. She failed. I’m sure the opener works, but I was left with the thought that sometimes when something tries to be everything, it often isn’t as good as its competition which is focused on doing one thing really well. The latter category includes bottle openers and Foursquare. The former, Facebook Places.

Facebook Places is interesting and may become a juggernaut. I’m a digital optimist so I’ll be using it. However, before we declare Foursquare and Gowalla goners there are a few things worth thinking about.

  1. The Facebook Places check ins will litter your feed. If this catches on, expect to see streams of check ins throughout your newsfeed. FB has done a good job of organizing birthday wishes and check ins by multiple people at the same place to be under one item, but if everyone starts checking in it could get ugly.
  2. Typically people have a smaller group of friends on foursquare and these are people whom they actually want to know where they are. With hundreds of friends on facebook, we all know there are many we don’t know that well or don’t really care about, let alone want to know where we are. Part of the beauty of Foursquare and the other check in apps are the smaller groups of friends with whom you can have an ongoing conversation. Read the rest of this entry »

Gandhi Via PPT

July 30th, 2010

Last night Renny Gleeson from W+K Portland tweeted, “think how much further his thinking would have spread had Gandhi leveraged powerpoint.” No doubt Renny was making a comment on how common and overused a tool Powerpoint has become for conveying thoughts, plans and ideas in the modern day. These points were raised in this distressing NYTimes piece about Powerpoint usage in the military.

I was sitting at the Oakland airport waiting for a delayed flight when I read the above tweet so I decided to take a crack at conveying Gandhi’s teachings in a 10 slide Powerpoint deck. Let me know what you think and what you would change.

Defending Foursquare

June 17th, 2010

Time Magazine’s inclusion of Foursquare on its list of the 50 Worst Inventions is incredibly short sighted and a perfect example of someone (in this case a stumbling media entity) not understanding new technology or giving it a proper opportunity to mature. The 50 Worst list is questionable for many reasons, not the least of which is that somehow none of Time Life’s country music box sets or complementary infomercials made the list.

Foursquare, the geo-location social gaming app, is on the list alongside other inventions such as Agent Orange, subprime mortgages and DDT. The writer, Kristi Olloffson, calls it, “Just another tool tapping into a generation of narcissism, with which you can earn badges for checking into your local Starbucks more than anyone else.”

Narcissism is the easy out on Foursquare the same way calling Boulder a hippie town is a tired reference that has remnants of truth, but misses a much bigger more exciting story. The same way a deeper look at Boulder reveals it to be a hotbed for startups, a deeper look at Foursquare shows its value goes well beyond narcissism and gets into gaming between friends, group communication where shouts from the app turn into mass text messages and multiple opportunities for jokes that come in the form of tips, to dos and venue names.

One of Time Life's classic offerings.

My guess is that Olloffson spent very little time with Foursquare or could just use some friends who are a bit more creative.

My check in at a posh hotel or the DMV can be viewed as narcissistic the way Oloffson sees it or can be seen as an opportunity for each of my Foursquare friends to interact with me. The app’s potential and power go far beyond boastful chest pounding and lie in its ability to bring fun and meaningful interactions to our everyday common experiences.

When I check in to a new restaurant, I can look at the tips for help on what to order. A check in at a coffee shop, can entice a nearby friend to join me (Squarendipity). A celebratory check in on my first day on the job can draw encouraging shouts of, “Good Luck.” When I check in to a far away airport I can laugh at the hilarious tip or to do left by friends to greet me.

Many people think Foursquare’s potential can only be reached when real world benefits derived from a users’ check ins become the norm. The real world benefits usually proposed are a free beer or bagel for the mayor of an establishment. Read the rest of this entry »


June 7th, 2010

The second slide of my spark at Ignite Boulder 10 included a picture of adorable baby foxes. When they hit the screen, the sold out crowd of 875 people at the Boulder Theater oohed and cooed. They were with me and I knew the next 4 minutes and 45 seconds would be a great ride for the 876 of us.

From the moment I stepped on stage until Andrew Hyde handed me my Ignite Boulder trophy of excellence, the energy from the crowd was palpable and electric. I told myself to completely embrace that and enjoy it because that feeling doesn’t come around often. I succeeded.

In the many times I ran through my spark before the event, time whipped by. When I walked on stage I was confident, but unsure how it would go down. Then there were laughs, cheers and the support of my friends down front and everything slowed down.

As I went through the spark, I felt a comfort and ease that I rarely feel on a regular day. As I watch the YouTube video, it goes by fast, but on that night I felt like I had all the time in the world to deliver my message.

That message is that it’s time to move beyond debate on settled issues. Those issues range from the serious, like global warming and carbon emissions to the slightly absurd like no longer naming events Paloozas. Once we put these aside, I believe we can tackle important and world shaping issues more effectively together as a global community.

The crowd responded with laughter, cheers, applause, many nice words later and some wonderful tweets over the following week. In return I offer my profound thanks for the incredible support and energy they provided me with that night. Those five minutes on stage are something I will be able to tap into for a long time when I need a little extra to get me through a hard day or major challenge.

Boulder brings it when it comes to collaboration and motivation for ideas and taking risks. Ignite Boulder brings that all together. I am glad to have been a part of it and certainly hope to do it again.