Crucially, Instagram provides much more context—and conversation fodder—than a random string of 10 digits. Because iMessage and SMS don’t come with public profiles, when someone texts you from a number outside your contacts, you have little to no information on who that person is or where you met. Sometimes people will provide this information themselves via text, but often you’re left guessing.
But adding people on Instagram is like scanning a digital business card into your address book. You get their full name and bio, and a direct line of contact through Instagram DM. Plus, you have the added benefit of scrolling back on their profile for additional context on who they are and what they’re into.
A person’s Instagram posts provide a stream of conversation prompts: Maybe you’ll just reply to a Story, asking about that lunchtime pasta, or notice that the new acquaintance is nearby and ask to meet up for a drink. One of the hardest parts of fostering a new connection is figuring out how to reach out and start a conversation out of thin air. Instagram makes it easy.
John Colucci, a social strategist in Seattle, said he’s even seen the insta swap become more popular in business settings. In fact, he has all but done away with his physical business cards. Instagram is “a less intense, light-touch connection,” he said. It’s notably less uptight than LinkedIn, said Allison Winer, a public-relations strategist in Baltimore. “LinkedIn is so stale when it comes to being interactive, and then exchanging numbers is a little too formal and close for comfort,” she told me.
And, of course, because Instagram is such a good way to get a sense of someone’s personality and interests, it’s also a great way to suss out dating opportunities. Winer said that men nearly always ask for her Instagram handle as opposed to her phone number. “To be honest, I always try to look them up that way too,” she said. “It gives you a little insight into their life and, of course, selfies.” Many dating apps, such as Tinder and Bumble, even allow users to sync their Instagram profiles so suitors can browse their recent pics. In 2017, New York magazine coined the term Tindstagramming, for the growing phenomenon of men who slide directly into women’s DMs on Instagram looking for a date.
Revealing your phone number to too many people can also be a security concern. Once someone adds your number to a contacts list, finding your profiles on other apps is easy. Given the prevalence of two-factor authentication, keeping your phone number private is an important part of thwarting SIM-card hackers. “I avoid giving my [phone number] out unless I know a person very well,” said Nima Gardideh, a tech worker and entrepreneur, citing security concerns.
When things go south, the fluid nature of Instagram makes it easy to disconnect. Whereas unfriending someone on Facebook or LinkedIn is a default two-way interaction, on Instagram it’s easy to simply click the “unfollow” button.