Vishal Shah, Instagram VP and head of product.
Vishal Shah, Instagram VP and head of product.

‘Instagram’s aim is to enable Indian biz to leverage the social network’

In an interview with Mint, Vishal Shah, VP (product) at Instagram, talks about Facebook-owned photo and video sharing app’s plans for India

Photo and video sharing app Instagram is one of the most popular social networks in India, counting 69 million users according to database company, Statista. Researcher e-Marketer estimates that the Facebook-owned app will earn more than $15 billion in ad revenue this year, up from $9.1 billion in 2018, though Facebook itself doesn’t provide a break-up of its earnings. Instagram has made a number of product innovations and plans to roll out a shopping feature in India in the future. At the forefront of these product innovations is Vishal Shah, Instagram’s vice-president and head of product. On a recent visit to India, he spoke about Instagram’s plans for India. Edited excerpts:

What are the key growth areas for Instagram in India?

So, we’re focused on a few different areas. One is around creators, people who create content as their primary passion whether it’s for business, a hobby, whatever. We have launched a new initiative—Born on Instagram—to discover creators all across India. This programme will showcase creators in big and regional cities, and give them collaboration and mentorship opportunities. This will roll out in 15 cities. The second is businesses. We have seen businesses of all sizes who leverage Instagram to drive awareness, increase customers and share their Story among a highly engaged audience. So, our focus is how do we enable businesses to best leverage Instagram. So, we are letting businesses in their ads use interactive tools. I believe the future of advertising, especially in Stories, is about interactivity, not just about content consumption. So that’s a second thing that we’re focused on. The third is around safety and well-being and specifically helping people feel comfortable sharing on Instagram but also tell stories that aren’t necessarily always told, especially in mass media via a partnership with Yuvaa, a youth media platform.

What do you think of India as a market for Instagram?

India is an incredibly important market for us where Instagram is gaining strong momentum. Much like Indian culture, passions pursued by Instagrammers here are the most diverse and represent urban and regional trends. This, combined with the way people freely express themselves on the platform, creates an amazing opportunity for creators and businesses . It also has a growing population of young people who are excited to engage with their interests and engage with each other. I think the shopping commerce opportunity is fantastic here, a lot of entrepreneurs and small businesses are thinking about how best to tell their Story.

When will ‘Shopping on Instagram’ be available in India?

So, we have shopping in India today, where people can link from the pictures or photos of the post or the videos to their website for people to actually purchase them. What we’re testing in the US right now—and it’s in a very small beta—is for people to check out and buy directly on Instagram. The reason we are rolling that out very slowly is because of consumer trust. So, if people have a bad experience with even one brand, when they buy directly on Instagram, they’re not going to buy from any other brand. So, it’s important for us to get the integrations rights before we roll out more broadly, not just to other markets, but even to more brands in the US.

Do you see Instagram as the future growth driver for Facebook?

Both platforms are growing. But Instagram is coming from a smaller base and of course, growing faster and has been, you know, an important part of the business. But I do think they serve slightly different needs. Facebook is a place for you to connect with everyone that you know. And therefore, there’s things that we can build on top of that. Instagram, we think of as a place for the people you care the most about your closest friends. Also, the products have differences that end up manifesting themselves in the way people experience them. So, if one is on Facebook, you are a friend with someone, which means if I’m friends with you, then we’re friends with each other. On Instagram, it’s asymmetric. What I mean by that is I can follow you. You don’t have to follow me. That’s one key difference. The other is that you don’t need your real name to be on Instagram. You can have whatever account you want. Instagram is a younger, newer, mobile-only platform which I think is an important part of our DNA.

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