Though Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) is the world's biggest social network, its Instagram subsidiary now seems to be the most influential. The photo-sharing site's asymmetrical nature means posts reach a broader audience than they would on Facebook, and it's growing much faster than the company's main platform.
Instagram passed 1 billion monthly active users in June 2018 -- just nine months after it reached 800 million -- and has spawned its own culture, complete with memes, influencers, and terms like FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). The app is also influencing the broader culture in a number of ways, and any investor would be wise to pay attention to such a social media phenomenon. Owning Facebook stock would seem to be the most obvious way for investors to benefit -- but there are other ways.
Investors often think of the beauty industry as a dull, defensive, slow-growth business -- it's a part of the household products sector that has seen little growth or innovation over the years. But Instagram is driving some change here.
Millennials, the "selfie generation," have become avid consumers of makeup and beauty products, thanks in part to the broadcasting effects of Instagram. The perfectly-put-together portrait style popularized on the app has even been derisively dubbed "Instagram Face." Celebrities like Kylie Jenner and Rihanna have capitalized on the trend by launching their own beauty brands, but Instagram's influence is also propping up legacy cosmetics companies.
The share price of Estee Lauder (NYSE:EL), the 73-year-old global giant, has risen 76% over the last three years, and the company just delivered another impressive quarterly report. At a time when many bricks-and-mortar retailers are struggling, salon and cosmetics chain Ulta Beauty (NASDAQ:ULTA) is fast opening up stores, and its shares have more than tripled in the last five years. Sales of luxury beauty products have been growing particularly fast, driving excellent performance for companies like Estee Lauder and Coty (NYSE: COTY).
According to Orbis Research, the global cosmetics market is expected to grow at an annual rate of 7.1% over the next five years, outpacing broader economic growth, to $805 billion. Considering the premium that Instagram places on appearances, that trend is likely to continue.
According to online travel agency Expedia (NASDAQ:EXPE), the No. 1 criteria millennials consider when choosing a destination isn't price, nearby attractions, or cultural experiences, but how Instagrammable the place is. Two-thirds of the young adult generation surveyed listed that factor as their top concern.
Hotels, resorts, and travel companies now regularly work with Instagram influencers to make images of their destinations inspire envy in those who see them on social media -- because that emotion is leading to a whole lot of bookings.
Whether Instagram's popularity is in this case more of a cause or an effect, millennials prefer to spend money on experiences rather than on things. In previous generations, "keeping up with the Joneses" referred to making home improvements or acquiring new "toys." Today, it means taking an exotic beach vacation so you can post the pics where everyone can see them.
The travel sector is diverse and massive, but the easiest way for investors to take advantage of this trend is by holding shares of booking platforms Booking Holdings (NASDAQ:BKNG) and Expedia, which between them have something close to a duopoly in their segment of the industry. Hotel operators and airlines may be worth investigating as well, especially those savvy enough to take advantage of the Instagram trend. And Airbnb would also be an intriguing play, if it goes public.
Another area where the millennial preference for spending money on experiences is having an impact is in the entertainment sector, boosting interest in events like concerts. Nothing inspires FOMO like party-and-music festivals -- events like Coachella have exploded in popularity with the help of social media platforms like Instagram, which act as a marketing engine for them.
Brands fully admit to using such events to market to young adult consumers, and the influence of Instagram on concerts, music festivals, and gatherings like Burning Man is at times controversial. Organizers have focused on visual spectacles to appeal to the Instagram audience, and Burning Man's CEO has decried its influence on that anti-corporate gathering.
Investors can get exposure to that growth through Live Nation Entertainment (NYSE:LYV), the Ticketmaster parent whose shares have nearly tripled over the past three years, or Eventbrite (NYSE:EB), a newly public competitor that tends to focus on smaller events, rather than working with the big venues that Ticketmaster has contracts with.
Investors should be mindful that these trends won't necessarily make all of these stocks winners; competitive dynamics within industries will likely prove more important than the broad tailwind of Instagram culture. Therefore, the best approach may be to buy a basket of stocks in one or more of the social-photo-supported industries discussed above.
By doing so, investors can take advantage of Wall Street's focus on short-term numbers, and its occasional inability to recognize the implications of broader cultural trends -- or to see the forest for the trees.