How Instagram has become a "community" for more than 500 million users

Instagram has without a doubt had a successful year. This summer, the social media giant reached 500 million users – a “thrill” because it’s a feat not a lot of apps have actually reached, said Charles Porch, the company’s head of global creative programs. 

“I think what’s happened on Instagram is that we’ve really become this community that’s organizing around shared interests and shared passions,” Porch told “CBS This Morning” Thursday. “People are really forming these really strong ties and it keeps propelling the community forward, and it’s really helping the growth on the platform.”

Instagram has also became a major platform for sharing news, from the tragic shooting at an Orlando nightclub to the historic presidential election.

For example, Instagram account “theworldwidetribe” puts a face to the refugee crisis. Jaz O’Hara, a British fashion student, started the account by capturing life inside a refugee camp in France. Now with over 20,000 followers, O’Hara has documented the needs of refugees all over the Middle East and Europe.

UPDATE from @kelsas in Turkey: We have now delivered 425 more blankets to people living in the rural areas outside Izmir. This brings the total number of blankets delivered to 2,000! At just under £5 each (they are huge and thick..this little babe can't even pick one up haha), we've spent the whole fundraiser pot... but there are new families arriving from Syria every day. Mattresses to sleep on are still needed and these cost £5 each too. We need at least another 1,000. Instead of a pressie, consider buying someone a mattress or blanket for Christmas this year. It will only cost you £5 and it might just allow one of these Syrian cuties and their parents the good night's sleep they so desperately deserve ☺️ the link is in my bio 👌🏽❤️

A photo posted by Jaz O'Hara | Worldwide Tribe (@theworldwidetribe) on

Part 2/3 "The smugglers squeezed me into the back of a truck with 40 others and we crossed the Sahara desert to the Libyan coast. We had no food and no water. I didn’t eat for 12 days but I didn’t feel hungry, just desperately thirsty. The smugglers made all of us share one bottle of water a day. They put petrol in it so you could only drink a little bit at a time, to stop us from gulping it down in desperate thirst. I thought I was going to die in that truck but I made it to the sea, 8 months pregnant. Here, on the Libyan coast, I slept on the floor on a huge warehouse with many many other people. I had not seen a doctor for my entire pregnancy. The only water we had was very dirty. I didn’t know what would be better, to drink it and help my desperate thirst, or not to drink it because it was so unclean. Finally we were given some food here, pasta. We all ate from one plate. We were so hungry we burnt our hands on the food, within seconds it was gone. One morning it was finally my turn and I was packed onto oldest, scariest looking boat I have ever seen. I can’t swim. We got on with no food and no water, and any belongings we had left were thrown overboard to make more space for other passengers. It was too full for me to sit down. My body was heavy and tired, everything hurt. Many people were crying but I just felt numb, I had to keep moving forward. It had to get better than this. It couldn’t get worse. But then it did. We had been out at sea for two days when the contractions started. At first I tried to hold it in, but before long I could not help but scream in pain. I didn’t know what to do. I tried to stop them coming, but I had to push. I was so so scared. Some of the women on the boat held my hand and stroked my hair. They helped me give birth to my boys. The men didn’t know where to look! The boys were so tiny. I had no towel, nothing to wrap them in, nothing at all. We continued to float aimlessly in the sea as I held my new babies in my arms, totally helpless, praying for a miracle, praying to be saved."

A photo posted by Jaz O'Hara | Worldwide Tribe (@theworldwidetribe) on

Of its 500 million active users, over 80 percent are from outside the U.S. That includes perhaps one of the most famous global celebrities: Pope Francis. Instagram founder Kevin Systrom personally pitched the idea to the Vatican.

“We went to the pope and we said, ‘You know, we really think Instagram would be a great tool for you and when we went in for the conversation with the folks at the Vatican, they really understood that Instagram is a new visual language,” Porch said.

But the Pope still falls much behind the most popular Instagram users in terms of followers. Porch accredits Selena Gomez’s number-one rank — with over 103 million followers — to her authenticity.

“She really creates a two-way conversation with her fans. She’s posting these photos, she’s interacting in comments and she’s been a very frequent poster,” Porch explained.

Selena also holds the record for most-liked Instagram photo — one of her sipping a bottle of Coke with a line from one of her songs on the label. But she also noted it was a paid advertisement, writing “#ad” in the caption.

when your lyrics are on the bottle 😛 #ad

A photo posted by Selena Gomez (@selenagomez) on

As for hateful, nasty comments, Porch said Instagram has a number of features and tools that help control them.

“We really want Instagram to be a safe place. We want it to be a place where you can really truly express yourself,” Porch said.