Call me crazy, but the conspiracy theorist in me doesn’t believe that Mark Zuckerberg was staying up late at night concerned about Instagram’s 27 million users instantaneously closing their Facebook accounts and making Instagram their primary social network. If he was, he wouldn’t have agreed to let Instagram maintain a separate business unit. Contrary to many people’s spin, fear of Instagram is not what spurred their billion dollar acquisition by Facebook.
It’s illustrative to understand that Facebook’s stock value is predicated on their ability to infiltrate search. They are already the #1 site (by a large margin) of photographic content, and one would think that concern for competition would put Pinterest in their crosshairs before Instagram. Their competition isn’t some start-up company – it is Google.
So how does the Instagram acquisition help Facebook to compete against Google?
Instagram built up a 27 million strong network of mobile users (in fact just iPhone users) without a reasonable web interface. To generalize, mobile users are younger and younger users attract older users. In theory, Instagram solidifies a key demographic for the future if Pinterest doesn’t find a way to mitigate the huge risk that they expose their users to.
Secondly, Pinterest is a house of cards. Their growth has slowed, their co-founder Paul Sciarra just bolted and their users remain personally liable for the copyrighted content that almost all of them share. Despite news that they are the #3 social network by user count – the entire platform is a couple of lawsuits away from becoming MySpace. Instagram could be well-poised to be the fall-back platform for these users.
Finally, Facebook’s audience is mammoth and Pinterest has successfully co-opted that audience to make it the #3 social network. There is no reason to believe that with a better (derivative) online platform coupled with its Android launch that Instagram couldn’t gain a much larger audience, particularly when copyright concerns present with Pinterest.
This acquisition is a shrewd, forward-thinking move by Facebook. It shows a company that isn’t content acquiescing to its present state. But don’t make the mistake of thinking of this as a means to neutralize a huge competitor for photography audience. It’s not. It’s a move to shore up a key audience in the impending cold war against Google.