Instagram is in the process of rolling out sponsored content and advertising alongside its regular content to UK users, according to a BBC report.
The adverts, which have already been launched in the US, will aim to be “as natural to Instagram as the photos and videos [users] enjoy from brands who are already using Instagram”, according to a spokesperson.
Unsurprisingly, reaction from the social community has been somewhat negative. Yet the photo-based social network, bought by Facebook in 2012, needs to start making money, after not making a profit at the time of the acquisition.
It’s therefore a fine line between keeping a user base happy and earning enough money to turn over.
For brands, Instagram provides a compelling argument to invest compared to other social networks. Forrester Research’s Nate Elliott has long argued that Instagram provides better bang for a brand’s buck than Facebook in terms of social engagement.
One particular Red Bull post, Elliott argued, saw Instagram results – 36,000 likes from 1.2m followers at a 3% likes per follower ratio – compare effectively with Facebook’s 2,600 likes from 43m followers – a 0.006% ratio.
The previous October, with the pay to play debate on organic social outreach and spend raging, Elliott called Facebook out as “failing marketers”, something the social network denied.
Yet one ad exec urges caution, telling brands to “tread carefully, or risk wasting budget.”
“For brands to make a success of Instagram advertising, they need to share different kinds of stories than on other platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter,” said Phil Stelter, managing director at agency Unique Digital. “Instagram is considered an art form by its users, so it will take time for marketers to find a brand’s voice on the network.”
Stelter cited beauty firm Sephora as a brand which was winning on Instagram. The company built its own platform, the Beauty Board, to keep up with demand.
“Instagram has a true challenge ahead as it introduces these ad units, but nobody is better placed than their own users – and of course the folks at Facebook – to help guide them,” he added.
In the absence of advertising and commerce on Instagram some firms have been innovative. Recently MarketingTech featured Inst-Ore, an Israeli startup which partnered with brands to provide a landing page for e- and m-commerce just by liking a photo. Given Sephora has up to 40,000 likes on its posts, the opportunity is certainly there.
For now, the adverts – thinly veiled as sponsored posts – are coming to UK users. A spokesperson told the BBC they will be rolled out “slowly”, beginning with brands who were “already great” on Instagram.
What do you make of this development?