Interaction Through Photo

Meghan Bourne: 6106974 & Elizabeth Westgate: 6000250


Piictu, the photo-communication app for iPhone and Android, is a social tool used for photo conversations and gaming.  It links users through public topics where they are encouraged to browse the photostream, make photo-comments, add their own photos to existing topics, or create topics of their own. Piictu’s gameability truly sets it apart from other photo-sharing apps like Instagram, as global users are challenged to find photos matching or related to topics, experiences, or brands. This builds off of today’s current trends of memes or fan-vidding, which allow user-generated content to influence brands around the world. Through Piictu, users are encouraged to act as company ambassadors and communicate with other users around the world about their shared interest in brands. At launch, Piictu attracted over 100,000 users with over 300,000 photos uploaded and after 8 weeks, the app had over 130,000 users


Piictu is a photo-sharing and communication app co-founded by Noah and Jonathan Slimak in 2011 based out of New York City[i].  It is available both for Android devices and Apple iPhones. This app encourages photo-conversations as all photos are uploaded to relevant topics called streams, and comments are made as photos themselves. Piictu describes itself as a photo gaming tool[ii], which connects individuals to their friends and greater community through interactive picture streaming, photo replies, photo comments, and photo challenges[iii]. Piictu also encourages creativity as users can either start their own photo-conversations or interpret topics posed by other users in their own way[iv].

Piictu defies the norms of traditional photo-sharing apps by encouraging collaboration around ideas, interests and experiences rather than acting as a mere documentation tool[v]. Responses are live and public, allowing for the app to expand outside of friend groups and local communities. By using only photos, Piictu allows for idea generation and interaction in the simplest and quickest medium available - as the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words” and Piictu’s philosophy revolves around this sentiment[vi].

Recently, there has been a growing trend in the microblogging world towards picture streams that Piictu saw as an opportunity to capitalize on.[vii] What Piictu allows for (that differentiates itself from traditional blogging and microblogging) is its ability to be completely social, shareable, traceable, and gameable[viii]. This “gameability” is what essentially makes Piictu different than other photo-sharing apps like Instagram. Piictu goes beyond tradition, using ‘piics’ as a “method of interaction, transmitting a message as part of a story, game or conversation.[ix]” With Piictu, individuals are able to discover new pictures and users based on their mutual interests and enter a world where connection via gaming and creativity is encouraged.

Market Trends and Implications

Piictu’s Co-Founders were inspired to create the app after identifying an overwhelming market factor in communication and interaction: visual culture. The idea of communicating through pictures is the basis for other photo-sharing applications like, for example, the extremely popular Instagram. However, more than this, Piictu is aligned with several external trends that have emerged in our increasingly technological, innovation-fueled world. Piictu’s accommodation of these growing trends is what will make it such a compelling social media tool in the future. Piictu has been able to differentiate itself from Instagram and the like by incorporating and emphasizing the following trends in communication:

1.  Gaming – One of the most important aspects of Piictu is the fact that it has been able to play off of the growth of the interactive components of the gaming industry. In order to capture and keep the attention of consumers, Piictu offers an arena for users to create their own picture-based games, which encourage creativity and involvement. For example, a number sequence game could be played in which one individual uploads a photo of a one dollar bill, and someone may respond with a birthday cake with a lit #2 candle (the child’s age), and so on[x]. This has created a greater incentive for involvement, and in fact users of Piictu spend more than 2.5 minutes each time they open the app and this is 1.5 times the industry standard[xi]!

2. Memes – Anyone who frequents blogs will be well aware of the current “Meme” trend that has swept the Internet. Piictu perfectly appeals to this trend and meme-lovers, as memes are a great way to communicate through pictures – and this is exactly what Piictu is all about. Meme boards and photo streams are therefore a common aspect of Piictu[xii].

3. Smartphones with Cameras – The majority of mobile phone users today own Smartphones that have built in cameras and Piictu has obviously built itself based on their ubiquity[xiii]. Since individuals constantly have a camera on their person to take photos, co-founder Noah Slimak claims that there has been a shift in the purpose of photos  and the way they are used. He states,  "In the past, photos were more objects of memory, trying to preserve a moment for posterity. Today, photos are used more as objects of interaction, serving their purpose as part of a check in, status update or step in a scavenger hunt.[xiv]”  Piictu realizes that people have the constant ability to share their experiences via photo and has capitalized on this by allowing for rapid photo responses and photo comments to

Communication Objectives and Synergies

One of the most amazing things about Piictu is the opportunity it has to complement other tools of the marketing mix. In terms of communication objectives, Piictu has the potential to create awareness, stimulate a want or desire, build brand resonance and relationship, stimulate word of mouth, and create a sense of brand community. As a marketing tool, Piictu is able to help brands by engaging both potential and current customers. Through gaming initiatives, groups of photos built around one topic (which could be a company, brand, or product), and branded storytelling boards (i.e. “My Day Powered by Red Bull”) Piictu can allow companies to elicit user-generated and user-solicited content[xv]. It is the perfect venue for engaging customers visually and encouraging them to submit original photos that will directly connect them to a company or brand. In terms of target audience, Piictu is also a great way to encourage brand enthusiasts to share their personal love for a brand, connect with other brand ambassadors, and compel others (an untapped target market) to take notice. Companies may be able to use this type of interaction in order to increase customer satisfaction rates as these “evangelists” of sorts become more personally involved and word of mouth is stimulated[xvi].

In terms of synergies, Piictu allows for users to also follow the streams of friends as individuals are able to share their photo streams with other the social media mediums of Facebook and Twitter[xvii]. Furthermore, Piictu can be used in congruence with Instagram. Although Piictu itself does not incorporate filters, photos can be previously edited through Instagram and then uploaded with Piictu if users want this feature[xviii]. It would also be wise for Piictu to create a synergy with Tumblr, in which individuals could consistently update their blogs with their photo streams.

Check out Piictu's Elevator Pitch for a better idea of how it works:

Risks and Barriers

There are two main risks to Piictu; the first is that the photo sharing app market is highly saturated, which could allow competitors to either retain or steal market share and the second is that, due to the ever increasing number of competitors, Piictu must better communicate its diversity to gain a critical mass of users.

Photo sharing apps have become a part of users’ everyday life.  Online blogs and Facebook accounts initially started the trend and now these webpages are becoming secondary to mobile apps like Instagram.  Piictu must remain relevant to consumers in order to stand out from competition.

Photovine is a photo-sharing app by Google and Slide that came out just after Piictu was launched. Google’s Slide employees claimed to had never seen Piictu’s planning process when they released the very similar Photovine app just months after Piictu’s launch.  However, Photovine did not last long on the market. Google pulled both Photovine and its creator Slide due to the fact that users simply were not adopting it. Photovine could not keep up with the likes of Instagram.  So why did Piictu survive? With a sleek and clean look, Piictu is simply easier to use as compared to Photovine’s cluttered and cartoonish interface[xix].  Another attribute of Piictu that Photovine lacked was support for users.  Piictu helped confused users streamline their learning and understanding of the app with informational help services.

Similar apps like Color, a video sharing app, and Tracks, a story photo-sharing app, provide continual competition for Piictu and continue to challenge the app in establishing a critical mass of users[xx].

However, the largest competitor Piictu has to-date is Instagram.  Co-Founder Jonathan Slimak does not believe that Instagram is competition as Instagram remains solely a photo-sharing app whereas Piictu is about “photo interaction[xxi]”.  The largest drawback with Instagram is that uploaded photos remain publicly unavailable and therefore untapped by all users.  Even though there are over 1 billion photos on Instagram, there is no way to find all of them[xxii]. The only ways users can view Instagram uploads are through their followers, searched hashtags, or the 24-featured photos under explore.  On the contrary, Piictu allows users to find others with similar interests and tastes[xxiii]. Photo chains or streams leave users with tons of new photos that are discoverable daily and lend to a higher degree of engagement, as streams are viewable, sharable, and accessible by all[xxiv]. As one of the Co-founds said: Piictu is “not about color, composition or filters, it’s about the message; it’s communicating and how the picture fits it into the context[xxv].”

Other potential threats to Piictu surround privacy, as streams remain public.  Piictu is not currently concerned about this as it continues to focus on the gaming element, leaving users nearly anonymous. So, where is Piictu moving in the future?  They are hoping to improve upon location difficulties[xxvi] of the app as well as continuing to pursue the sense of fun users have when utilizing pictures to create dynamic, ongoing conversations.

Brand Uses

As previously mentioned, it is quite easy to see how companies and brands can partner with Piictu to create a platform for consumers to engage in user-generated content sharing[xxvii]. As more and more brands become involved, Piictu can finance this currently free app for the future. Piictu is the best way for companies to access global consumers and get them engaged visually[xxviii] with their products and services.

An airline company such as Delta Airlines could use Piictu by creating a stream called “Travel Destinations.” There, users would upload their scenic travel pictures for a chance to win a flight to a certain specified (or perhaps selected) destination.  Many other brands could use Piictu for contest giveaways; however, there are also opportunities for brands with immense followings such as Nike to take engagement one step further by having consumers act as ambassadors for the brand[xxix]. Nike could create a stream called “Do-ing it in my Kicks” where users could upload all the things they “do” (playing off their slogan ‘Nike, Just Do It’) while wearing a pair of Nikes.  For brands, the possibilities are endless with Piictu: it has created a way to filter photos by topic, interest group, or activity, forging a clear path for companies towards their ideal target markets.  































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