Originally published in Adweek by David Cohen
Instagram revealed a new branded content option Tuesday, saying that brands can now promote organic branded content posts from creators as ads within the photo- and video-sharing platform’s feed.
“Paid Partnership” text will appear on those ads when they run in Instagram’s feed, along with the brand name being part of each post, which Instagram called “an important piece for our continued investment in ads transparency.”
All advertisers will gain access to these new branded content ads in the coming weeks, and Instagram said the option will extend to Stories in the coming months.
“Branded content is an evolving ecosystem,” Instagram wrote in a blog post. “As we’ve worked to build the right tools for both business and creators involved in branded content deals, one of the biggest requests from brands to date is the ability to incorporate branded content posts into their advertising strategies.”
Some agencies welcomed the new offering. “This is a brilliant move,” said Scott Harkey, co-founder and managing partner of marketing agency OH Partners. “Influencers exist because they’re supplying authentic experiences. If you can weave in more of an authentic message, it’s a win-win for influencers and brands. Influencers get more distribution, and brands have more authentic content.”
Quynh Mai, founder of digital agency Moving Image & Content, agreed: “This update continues to build on Facebook’s strategic move to center its platform around people and not brands … From our experience, top-engaging posts always feature ‘real people’ in a lifestyle form of content—a winning formula that influencers always deliver. They help customers contextualize product into real life, which is something the advertising industry has had a very hard time embracing.”
Instagram said that 68% of people come to its platform to interact with creators, according to an Ipsos survey commissioned by parent company Facebook. With this new ad option, brands can tell their stories through the voices of those creators and take advantage of Facebook’s targeting capabilities to reach people beyond those who follow the accounts of the brand or the specific creator. The social network’s measurement tools will aid those brands in optimizing their campaigns.
Apparel giant Old Navy is bullish on the new ad offering, with vp of brand communications Liat Weingarten saying in Instagram’s blog post, “Promoting content directly from an influencer’s handle inherently gives the post more authenticity than coming from a brand handle, and we’re seeing significantly higher engagement rates using this strategy.”
David Shadpour, founder and CEO of user-generated-content platform Social Native, agreed, telling Adweek, “Brands currently hire influencers based on an assumption of their audience, but the rollout of Facebook’s new branded content tool enables them to target specific audiences with the influencer content. This removes a lot of the uncertainty from influencer marketing and will enable brands to more easily get their message in front of the right audiences.”
Once brands gain access to the new option, they must complete two steps. First, creators of branded content must enable their business partners to promote their posts as ads, which they can do in advanced settings. Once this is done, business partners will see their content under existing posts in Ads Manager, where they can choose to run those posts as ads in the feed and, eventually, Stories.
Tuesday’s move by Instagram may also indirectly appease influencers who were unhappy about the platform’s recent experiment with removing like counts from its posts.
“This is certainly a way to combat the lack of likes on influencer posts because it will expand the overall reach of their posts,” said Jessica Ottaviano, digital media supervisor at marketing agency GYK Antler. “The issue is that the word-of-mouth feel provided by influencers could further be lost. From a reach standpoint, this should provide a significant bump, since influencers can expand the audiences they target, which they could technically do now anyway with in-application sponsored posts.”
This was echoed by Amber Zent, partner, vp and director of social media at full-service agency Marcus Thomas, who said, “For a contributing brand, when these platform changes work in tandem, it allows the most basic engagement metric—the almighty like—to be replaced with more substantive measures of success, like comment analysis and clicks … Influencer engagement won’t go away, but a world where likes aren’t at the forefront, and there are new ways to increase the reach of paid posts, sets us up for an industry movement focused on stronger brand content that resonates deeper with our audiences.”