One social media app that has taken the market by storm is Instagram, a photo sharing service that allows you to apply filters to your images and publish them across various forms of social media. In August 2011 Instagram reached 150 million uploaded photos, coming just nine months after the app launched. This statistic is even more impressive when you consider that the app is only available on iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches. In December 2011 Apple named Instagram the “iPhone App of the Year,” further proving Instagram’s success.

I was immediately taken by Instagram when I started using the app last August. I enjoyed being able to upload pictures of scenery, food, and other random photos to Instagram instead of flooding my Facebook timeline. The app’s filtering and editing options are amusing, and can even become a bit addictive. Instagram allows you to follow your friends and celebrities, like and comment on pictures, and tag Instagram users in photos. You also have the capability of tagging places or themes in your pictures. For instance, you may take a picture at Disney World and use the tag: #disneyworld. You may also want to use the theme: #princess. When you click on or search any tag you are taken to a page showcasing other photos with the same tag. It’s an interesting way to see how other users have captured the same landscape or interpret the same theme.

#disneyworld Instagram tag

But Instagram isn’t just about sharing and viewing photos. The social aspect seems to have caught on as well. There are many stories of users meeting new friends through the app, and even examples of people coordinating Instagram user gatherings, or “instameets.” The app seems to cross countless boundaries and appeal to a wide array of people, even politicians.

However, there are some critics of Instagram. Many photographers and photojournalists claim the app ruins the integrity of photos, particularly in journalism. They believe editing photos is unethical; and that true photographers develop their craft and are able to effectively capture a scene without doctoring it. One news corporation heavily present on Instagram is CNN. They have accounts for The Situation Room, CNN iReport, and CNN Public Relations. Their iReport program has often attracted criticism because of its’ reliance on reports and images from the untrained public. Judy Walgren, director of photography at the San Francisco Chronicle, has noted, “There are certainly hardcore ethical issue(s) that photojournalism staff are trained in that the average reader is not.”

CNN iReport's Instagram account

So what does this have to do with PR? Well, I believe the app could be a very effective tool for certain organizations. Instagram even has a support center specifically designed for businesses; and they have listed several of their notable business users.  Restaurants could upload pictures of their tasty dishes, clothing stores may want to publish a photo of their “look of the week,” etc. The possibilites are endless with Instagram; and as a PR professional, every worthy outlet should be explored.