Instagram Adds Trending Locations, Here’s How They Work

Making yourself #trend is harder than it looks

At first, Instagram was the app for picture people. Photographers who saw the app’s potential early on in its life cycle, like David Guttenfelder and Michael Christopher Brown, gained hundreds of thousands of followers. News organizations like National Geographic and Time jumped on, and brought millions more eyes to their photography. And, of course, there has always been a healthy amount of pictures from brunch.

Now, Instagram is trying to make the Explore page live up to its name, by adding trending locations and hashtags. The search feature has been expanded, so when you search “Grand Canyon,” you’re shown mix of popular tags and locations. Instagram will also curate “interesting accounts and places” and display them on the top of the Explore page. On Day 1 of the new update, they’ve featured “Towering Rocks” (photos from America’s various canyons) and “Extreme Athletes” (accounts of surfers and BMX bikers).

Instagram’s trending locations as of June 23. Screenshot

I am not a surfer or a BMX biker, nor am I writing from a canyon, but I wanted to see if I could make an impact on a trending location. Luckily, I am writing from a relatively large town, New York City, and a trending location (Bryant Park) was a convenient 10-minute walk away.

Before I left, I checked the Top Posts at Bryant Park, and found that I had my work cut out for me. The Top Posts have 13,367 likes, 1,115 likes and 920 likes. I have a staunch following of 366, and average 20-30 likes per photos. In other words, I consider myself an average Instagram user. Yet I am on a mission to #trend.

I arrived at #bryantpark. It’s a hot day, and a humid day. People are laying out, taking in the sun. Snapchat reports from fellow #millenials tell me it’s 92 degrees out.

I snap three pictures and upload them, tagging my location, and using popular hashtags like #TrendersOfInstagram, #BryantPark and #NYC. In nine minutes I garnered eight likes. Five minutes after that, a new follower and four new likes. My three photos are firmly at the top of the Bryant Park location page’s recent posts.

My attempt to trend on Instagram. In the photo on the right, the top row of recent photos were my posts. Screenshot

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who acquired Instagram for $1 billion in 2012, wrote that the Instagram update makes it “even easier to experience what the world is seeing.” It’s clear that Instagram wants users to explore past their own feed and use the app to follow large events, like the release of the Batman: Arkham Knight video game or National Pink Day. Arkham Knight was surprisingly the first hashtagged event on my Explore page, so either Instagram knows I’m a nerd, or they’re trying to diversify their audience when it comes to trending hashtags.

Instagram’s Explore page used to be a tiled wall of photos from friends and people Instagram thought you would like, based on the people and topics you followed. This change is a huge step for Instagram to be used as much more than a photo-sharing app. Users can follow citizen and professional journalists as they cover national news events, and content creators can be seen with greater ease. Instagrammers known for their views on social justice, like Ruddy Roye, can enter long passages of text to add to worldwide discussion, untethered from Twitter’s infamous 140-character limit. Location services and tagging become more powerful, threatening apps like Foursquare’s Swarm. Instead of trial-and-error searching for the hashtags associated with an event, popular tags will become more visible and easier to track.

But on the other side of the coin, Instagram is image-driven, and it’s more difficult for pundits and average users to weigh in on news than it is on Twitter. Plus, there’s still no comparable utility to Twitter’s retweet.

As of press time, I have not #trended. It seems Top Posts are reserved for the big accounts like @nyc (563k followers) and chef @danielboulud(86k followers), who snagged the top two spots at Bryant Park. Yet I post on, as do millions of other Instagram users, all hoping for our time to #trend.