One of the strongest brands on Instagram is VSCO, who’s photo-editing app was influential in establishing the “Instagram aesthetic.” The VSCO Cam app is one of the most popular editing apps for Instagram and is used by teens, professional photographers, and amateurs alike. But what’s even more impressive than their photo filters is how their brand has become one of the most popular hashtags on Instagram – second only to #art. #VSCO is the #1 branded hashtag on Instagram and has been used over 100 million times, which is more than double #OneDirection and #Nike.
With over 30 million monthly active users, VSCO has created the biggest and most engaged community on Instagram. But did you know that VSCO has it’s own photo-sharing platform, similar to Instagram, but with no “likes” or follower count? Here’s a look at how VSCO is blossoming into an authentic, creative community outside of Instagram – and why businesses should start paying attention:
Sometimes (most of the time), it takes a teen or two to keep us in the loop of what’s happenin’ on the interwebs. In my case, even as a self-described “millennial expert,” I had no idea that the VSCO app features a fully functioning social platform, aside from its famed photo-editing capabilities. It took my 15-year-old cousin Samantha to ask me to “follow her grid” to realize that the online VSCO community is an inclusive, full-fledged commune of creatives for anyone to join.
“For a long time, most people have only known us as an editing and photo company, because that’s how we started,” Carter Moore, VSCO’s Community + Partnerships Manager, told me. Moore went on to say that the company’s current community of loyal users came about organically. “When we launched the app, we saw a lot of people rally around it,” he says. “We wanted to show people that there’s a serious way to share photos, and now we’ve really put ourselves behind that, in terms of mobile photography.”
A Fun and Safe Space for Teens
And this is how VSCO has been able to gain a massive following of over 30 million active users per month, according to the company, which of course includes cousin Samantha and her fellow teen friends. And considering that most community members are women under 24, it’s easy to see why the zero-troll space appeals to them. But not all the photography on VSCO is serious; a typical teenagers grid is full of both selfies and Snapchat filters. Avid VSCO user Chloe Hughes, 19, explains that: “For teenagers, their VSCO grid is often the photos that don’t make the Instagram cut, much like with photographers.” And when the VSCO community wants to promote their photos on Instagram, or discover new ones? They turn to the #vsco hashtag.
One of the ways VSCO caters to both professional and young aspiring creatives is through its thoughtful features, which tend to protect the user and their content over all else. With the majority of the platform’s team consisting of artists and photographers, the company’s ethos revolves around a “quality over quantity” strategy, while choosing to promote the most interesting content on the platform.
One of the reasons teenagers like my cousin and Hughes are so into VSCO is that they can be anything they want to be on it, Carter told me. “We intentionally wanted to make a safe space to create. People’s names will always stay on their images, so there’s no content theft.” And according to Hughes, “This leads to an interesting space where millennials and photographers alike can post images freely,” she told me. “Want to get to know a teenager? Stalk their VSCO!” A perfect testament of teens using the platform in an honest way is with the Hall Pass Collection, a genuine look at everyday high school life, encouraged by VSCO.
A look at the platform’s recent redesign shows that users can use their profile — or “grid” — as a place to share photos without likes, comments, or displayed follower counts. So there’s none of the pressure of soliciting engagement the way most content creators feel they need to on most platforms these days. Carter says these design aspects are what VSCO has carefully put in place over the years to make its app fulfilling for all creators to use freely. “Other companies try to build community around nothing, but we really built an organic community around a great concept and expression,” he says. “And we saw a community that valued that quality.”
How Businesses Can Use VSCO Grid
Even branded interactions get the input of the community at VSCO, Moore says. “Even when we collaborate with corporate brands, we involve our community and get them paid.” For example: when Marriott Hotels asked the company to provide photos for its international hotel locations, Moore says, “We helped them find VSCO photographers in each of their cities, and these local photographers gave their perspective in beautiful, local city guides.”
Unlike Instagram, VSCO isn’t filled with brands (yet). Creating a presence on VSCO could help your business stand out as a leader in visual storytelling, while also appealing to a younger audience. Marriott’s Travel Brilliantly grid is a gorgeous collection of travel photography, and an excellent visual content marketing channel for their millennial audience. If your business is trying to connect with teens and young adults, creating a strong brand presence on VSCO could become a key component to your social media marketing strategy.
An Inspiration Platform for the Creative Community
Photographer and avid VSCO user Patrick Michael Chin says VSCO never lost its authentic touch. Having began using the app — like most — as a photo editing tool years ago, Chin describes his current use of VSCO as his main source of inspiration. “The grid is what blew me away; it’s my homepage on my browser,” Chin told me. “It seems that their team spends a lot of time with curation, and rightly so. It makes that grid beautiful. There’s no attachment to followers or likes, which I love. You can just explore to your heart’s desire.”
This sort of artistic freedom is what keeps creative users like Chin plugged into VSCO, whether it’s by posting his own images or just browsing to see what other photographers are doing out there. And with the help of the VSCO curation process, it’s easier than ever to find the type of images you want to be inspired by. “Their social team does a great job of reaching out to the community,” Chin says. “They’re constantly uplifting artists using their products, and they do it in a genuine way.”
Describing the curation at VSCO, Moore says that, “Our curators go through millions of photos a week and identify what’s great, or interesting content.” Of course, this may not always be the most beautiful photo, Moore says, “But it’s an honest image.” Which then gets passed onto the social team, who helps surface it.
And if you’re wondering how you can get your images noticed by the VSCO curators, the best advice Moore has is to create and participate. “Being part of the community is the best place to get discovered,” he advises. “Like my dad used to tell me, ‘What you put into it is what you get out of it.’”
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