Instagram now has more than 500 million monthly active users, and its tilt toward video has not only driven higher engagement but is also helping Instagrammers break into the entertainment biz.

Over the last six months, aggregate time people spent watching video on the Facebook-owned platform increased 150%, according to the company (although it wouldn’t provide actual figures on video viewing). One big reason: Instagram’s expansion of the maximum video length from 15 to 60 seconds this spring.

“It’s the year of video,” said Liz Perle, Instagram’s community manager for emerging trends and youth culture. “I am seeing a lot of creators switching to video… In terms of emerging creators, there’s a huge runway for them to reach new audiences.”

According to Instagram, which was exclusively a photo-sharing service when Facebook snapped it up for $1 billion in 2012, over 300 million people use the service every day. Of its more than 500 million monthly active users, it has added 100 million within the past nine months.

“Instagram is now probably the first entry point for our audience into social, where kids can start participating in social media,” said Paula Kaplan, ‎head of talent and live content for AwesomenessTV, which targets Gen Z viewers.

The ability to post video up to 60 seconds in length has made Instagram an even more valuable tool for scouting digital-native talent, according to Kaplan, who spent more than 20 years at Viacom’s Nickelodeon before joining AwesomenessTV last year. “I feel like when Instagram added videos, it helped it become more participatory – that’s very different than just seeing a picture,” she said.

Through Instagram, AwesomenessTV discovered and signed several creators including Jay Versace and Jiffpom, a Pomerian with 2.5 million followers on Instagram.

However, while Instagram has proven it can pull in huge numbers and foster actively engaged communities, it still falls short in one key area: helping creators make money. Instagram doesn’t share ad revenue with creators and has no near-term plans to do so.

By contrast, Google’s YouTube has a well-established revenue-sharing program for creators, and Facebook recently launched a similar program. And now Twitter’s Vine is adding ways for creators to sell ads against in video content.

Instagram is a money machine: In 2016, it is projected to generate $3.2 billion in advertising revenue, according to estimates by Wall Street analyst firm Credit Suisse. Facebook doesn’t break out financial info for Instagram in its earnings reports.

Regardless of whether Instagram creators directly or indirectly profit from their reach on the service, it’s an essential social platform, said Raymond Braun, who previously led LGBT outreach efforts for YouTube before starting his own company, RWB Media, last year focusing on influencer marketing and advocacy.

“Anyone who creates online video needs to be on Instagram,” said Braun. “Instagram is an amazing place especially for emerging creators, because of the discoverability of content and community.” He recently launched “#VisibleMe,” a campaign encouraging LGBTQ youth to share their stories, on Instagram and other platforms.

“In this day and age, when there are so many platforms, Instagram is this visual-first platform – that’s definitely how younger people communicate,” Braun said. “It’s also accessible. You don’t need editing software, lighting, or fancy cameras.”

One fast-rising star on Instagram is Summer Boissiere (pictured above), known online as Summerella. The 20-year-old Atlanta singer-comedian has 1.5 million followers on the platform, attracting more than 1 million of those in the past six months.

“I just started making silly videos, and people just started following me,” she said. “Instagram is the biggest social network for me. After them is everybody else.”

Last year, Summerella released “11 Something,” an original pop song that cracked into the top 25 on Billboard, iTunes and Amazon charts. On Monday, she posted clips from a new song, “Pull Up,” with one garnering more than 67,000 views on Instagram in less than 24 hours. “I credit Instagram for creating her audience and fanbase,” said her mom, Kimberly, who is Summerella’s manager.


Another up-and-comer is Lorenzo Cromwell, who has racked up 773,000 followers in the past year for his short comedy sketches after he caught the eye of several celebs who have given him shout outs, including Sean “Diddy” Combs, Chris Brown and athletes like New York Giants player Odell Beckham Jr. “Rihanna just the other day liked my video and commented on it,” he enthused, “and Justin Bieber just followed me.”

Cromwell, 21, doesn’t have an agent, but his Instagram posts have already led to a meeting with BET and other potential projects. “I definitely see this as a gateway to the entertainment industry,” said the Queens, N.Y., native.

It’s worth pointing out that a recent video of him singing along to Rihanna has nearly double the views on Facebook (1.17 million) than on Instagram (515,000).

At VidCon this week, for the second year in a row, Instagram will host an official “creators lounge” inside the Anaheim Convention Center centered around video experiences. Its video tools for creators include Hyperlapse, which captures high-quality time-lapse videos, and Boomerang, launched last October, which takes a burst of photos and stitches them together into a video that plays forward and backward. And in February, Instagram finally added a video view count to show users to see how many times people have watched a video.

“We are the place where content creators and their fans can communicate and share around their content — that’s really what our platform has that is very special,” said Perle.