Why Justin Bieber Deleting His Instagram Account Is Bad News For the Social Network

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Justin Bieber performs during the 2016 Purpose World Tour at Staples Center, Los Angeles, March 20. He deleted his Instagram account this week. Christopher Polk / Getty Images

While the average Joe might not care whether or not Justin Bieber is still sharing selfies on Instagram, there are implications to celebrities leaving social networks that could spell trouble in the long-term.

Celebrities play an interesting and multi-faceted role on social media. To their audience, they are immensely weighty influencers, playing a significant part in guiding purchase power to specific brands. To the networks themselves, they are also a potentially profitable lure for users. Social sites consistently display how they understand and appreciate the worth of celebrities, often granting them access to exclusive enhanced features before they roll out to the public, partly as a test method but primarily as an encouragement to keep those celebrities active—case and point, Facebook Live.

So when Bieber decided to leave Instagram because users where "hatin'" on pictures of him and his female friend Sofia Richie, 17-year-old model and daughter of Lionel Richie, it's no surprise that even the more-formal media channels latched onto the news. What they failed to ask, however, is how Instagram itself felt about his decision to close his account. The likelihood is that there would have been one or two concerned faces at Instagram's San Francisco headquarters.

By any rate, Instagram has been making inroads in the social landscape recently. It now has over half a billion active users. Growth is often hailed as a key signifier in the success of social networks, with Twitter battling a growth rate that has all-but halted in recent months. Simply put, the more users, the more marketing opportunities for big name brands, the bigger the cut of advertising spends. Alongside this, Instagram's dramatic full-scale rebrand and app overhaul in April, although taking everybody by surprise at the time, seems to have had it's desired effect, catapulting its image from simple photo-sharing app to global social network.

The big deal is this. Social networking sites rely considerably on the engagement of high-profile celebrities like Bieber in order to keep the attention of so-called millennials. Being a naturally digitally-inclined, tech-savvy generation makes them a potentially lucrative social media audience. They are not swayed by traditional advertising, although they recognize the importance of it, with the majority being able to identify it without any issue. Millennials instead rely on the influence and advice of their peers when deciding what brands and products to purchase. Celebrities are an important part of that crew. Social networks give users a unique perspective behind the scenes into their lives, and this is one of the main reasons many decide to invest in a specific network. Without that content, some of those users will simply become disengaged and move their attention elsewhere.

This spells trouble for social media sites. Without the audience, big name brands and organizations will simply redistribute their marketing spend to other, rival networks. While it is a touch harrowing to have to admit it, social networks require celebrities like brands require social networks. And it's important to note that this certainly isn't the first case of people leaving because of abuse. A whole host of other names—including Adele, Simon Pegg and Stephen Fry—have all decided to either pack it in or go on hiatus at one point or another.

Can we take Bieber seriously? Well, it would certainly be wrong to suggest that explosions of childlike frustration are in any way uncharacteristic of him. Nevertheless, the frequency of abuse cases is growing. Regardless of whether or not he comes back, it will prove damaging if celebrities continue leaving. I wouldn't be surprised to see increased abuse-reporting abilities for high-profile accounts in the future to help curb these issues—because social networks know just how crucial a role celebrities play.

Mark Gandey is content marketing manager at Giraffe Social Media , alongside being editor of its expert blog on social media and digital content marketing.