If Instagram’s photo-tagging feature were spun out into its app, you’d have the viral sensation Poparazzi, now the No. 1 app on the App Store. The new social networking app, from the same folks behind TTYL and others, lets you create a social profile that only your friends can post photos to — in other words, making your friends your own ‘paparazzi.’ To its credit, the new app has perfectly executed on a series of choices designed to fuel day one growth — from its pre-launch TikTok hype cycle to drive App Store pre-orders to its post-launch social buzz, including good tweets by its backers. But the app has also traded user privacy in some cases to amplify network effects in its bid for the Top Charts, which is a risky move in terms of its long-term staying power.
The company positions Poparazzi as a sort of anti-Instagram, rebelling against today’s social feeds filled with edited photos, too many selfies, and “seemingly effortless perfection.” People’s real lives are made up of many unperfect moments that are worthy of being captured and shared, too, a company blog post explains.
This manifesto hits the right notes at the right time. User demand for less performative social media has been steadily growing for years — particularly as younger; Gen Z users wake up to the manipulations by tech giants. We’ve already seen several startups try to siphon users away from Instagram using similar rallying cries, including Minutiae, Vero, Dayflash, Oggl, and more recently, the once-buzzy Dispo and the under-the-radar Herd.
Even Facebook has woken up to consumer demand on this front, with its plan to roll out new features that allow Facebook and Instagram users to remove the Like counts from their posts and feeds.
Poparazzi hasn’t necessarily innovated in terms of its core idea — after all, tagging users in photos has existed for years. It was one of the first viral effects introduced by Facebook in its earlier days. Instead, Poparazzi hit the top of the charts by carefully executing growth strategies that ensured a rocket ship-style launch.
The company began gathering pre-launch buzz by driving demand via TikTok — a platform that’s already helped mint App Store hits like the mobile game High Heels. TikTok’s powers are still often underestimated, even though its potential to send apps up the Top Charts has successfully boosted downloads for several mobile businesses, including TikTok sister app CapCut and e-commerce app Shein, for example.
And Poparazzi didn’t just build demand on TikTok — it captured it by pointing users to its App Store pre-orders page via the link in its bio. By the time launch, the day rolled around; it had a gaggle of Gen Z users ready and willing to give Poparazzi a try.
The app launches with a clever onboarding screen that uses haptics to buzz and vibrate your phone while the intro video plays. This is unusual enough that users will talk and post about how cool it was — another potential means of generating organic growth through word-of-mouth. After getting you riled up with excitement, Poparazzi eases you into its more enormous data grab.
First, it signs up and authenticates users through a phone number. Despite Apple’s App Store policy, which requires it, there is no privacy-focused option to use “Sign In with Apple,” allowing users to protect their identity. That would have limited Poparazzi’s growth potential versus its phone number and address book access approach.
It then presents you with a screen that asks for permission to access your Camera (an obvious necessity), Contacts (wait, all of them?), and permission to send you Notifications. This is where things start to get more dicey. The app, like Clubhouse, once did, demands a complete address book upload. This is unnecessary in terms of an app’s usability, as there are plenty of other ways to add friends on social media — like by scanning each other’s QR code, typing in a username directly, or performing a search.
But gaining access to someone’s entire Contacts database lets Poparazzi skip having to build out features for the privacy-minded. It can simply match your stored phone numbers with those on file from user signups and create an instant friend graph.