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Monday, August 1

Instagram, The $50 Billion Grand Slam Driving Facebook's Future: The Forbes Cover Story


With 9.6 million Twitter followers, 79-year-old Pope Francis might be the most surprising breakout star of the social media age. Keen to reach a younger generation, the pontiff summoned a person with a platform that rivals even the Catholic Church when it comes to Millennial members: Kevin Systrom, CEO of the photo-sharing app Instagram, which has more than 500 million users, including 63% of U.S. Millennials. Ever the shrewd pitchman, Systrom, 32, brought a gift to their February meeting at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, something that was both thoughtful and promotional: a booklet of ten Instagram images–a peaceful protest, refugees, a lunar eclipse–touching on themes close to the pope’s heart. “He mentioned how when he talks to children they don’t necessarily speak his language, but they will show him pictures on their phones, and how that’s the most powerful way of communicating,” says Systrom, who readily admits he isn’t “as religious as a lot of people in the world.”

But the two found themselves singing from the same visual hymnbook. Three weeks later Systrom was again on a flight to Rome. “When I saw the pope the second time, he was like, ‘Keviiinnn!,’ as if we had gone to college together, like we played at the same golf club or something,” he says. As the 6-foot-5 Systrom, clad in an Italian suit, stood over him, the pope officially joined Instagram as @franciscus, posting an image of himself kneeling, with the caption “Pray for me” in nine languages. It’s been “liked” 327,000 times.

Since then Instagram has become the place to get an intimate look inside the Holy See. A world that was previously cloistered and out of reach now shows @franciscus blessing dogs at St. Peter’s Square, comforting the sick, walking alongside African refugees and even smiling for selfies with worshippers. In just four months he’s amassed 2.9 million followers, or nearly a third of his Twitter audience, which he’s been cultivating for about four years.

Once seen as a pricey acquisition, Instagram has become a multibillion-dollar company that will propel Facebook for years to come. And the deal recently made cofounder Kevin Systrom a billionaire. (Ethan Pines for Forbes)
Almost as telling is how many Facebook  followers the pope has: zero. He still hasn’t debuted there, content to message his flock via Twitter and to share his life–and reach Millennials–via Instagram.

And that suits Mark Zuckerberg just fine. When Zuckerberg decided to shell out nearly $1 billion in 2012 to buy the photo-sharing app, which had just 30 million users, it was widely seen as a sign of a new Silicon Valley bubble. But he appears to have outsmarted everyone once again. In the four years since the purchase, Instagram has become one of the fastest-growing platforms of all time, with about as many users as Twitter (310 million), Snapchat (100-million-plus) and Pinterest (100 million) combined.

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