It’s safe to say that influencer marketing as a concept is nothing new. Brands and businesses have been using public figures to endorse their products and services since 1760 when potters Josiah Wedgwood and Sons added royal stamps to their produce.
What is new are the endorsers themselves, the types of brands they interact with, and how people interact with them. The social media age, and in particular the launch of Instagram in 2010, has accelerated the concept and evolution of influencer marketing unimaginably – transforming ‘influencer marketing’ to a $1 billion industry.
To match this rapid transformation, social platforms have been forced to adapt to offer brands and users the best possible customer experience. It’s crucial that Instagram continues to evolve, and its latest update “branded content ads” is an important step to allow the next generation of pure-play digital and traditional businesses to thrive.
Up until now, brands could only pay influencers to promote sponsored posts on their own feeds – crucially meaning that only the influencer’s followers would see the ad. Instagram’s new ad format will allow brands to post these ads more widely – including on the brand’s own official feed – and understand the impact.
To those familiar with Facebook’s Branded Content feature – which also provides brands with insights into reach and engagement data and allows boosting of selected posts – this update will look and feel much like an extension of that.
How will Branded Content Ads benefit brands?
Since Facebook launched its own Branded Content feature in 2015, uptake has been slower than some expected. This may be because the ‘brand-boosting’ function is only available to influencer posts using sponsorship tags, whereas the brand hashtags are often more popular. Launching this option on Instagram however, and expanding the tag feature so that influencers can tag the featured third-party product, brand or business partner will help increase participation, as brands will surely begin to see the vast benefits of this functions.
Branded Content Ads will be an important upgrade because it will allow brands to boost influencer content from the influencers’ profile in a way that’s far more compelling for followers. Brands will be granted more editorial control, which is crucial to maintaining consumers’ trust and loyalty. Research conducted last year in conjunction with YouGov found that the vast majority (92%) of Instagram users don’t trust ads that aren’t clearly labelled or signposted. It was also found that more than half (57%) of users don’t trust influencers who post about products or services that aren’t relevant to the channel or their content – they’ve lost their authenticity.
Branded Content Ads will help brands curate content that is genuinely reflective of users’ passion for their products and services, in a way that’s compelling to specific audiences. This will ensure users experience more authentic and trustworthy advertising on Instagram, and ultimately will boost ROI by truly engaging people.
Perhaps even more importantly, Branded Content Ads will give brands access to the real reach and engagement of influencers’ posts. This has long been a problem for marketers looking to understand the impact of influencers’ posts and combat fraud.
By having greater access to essential performance metrics such as impressions and engagements, brands can better evaluate their partnerships. This unfettered access will ultimately give brands a much better understanding of the true impact of their campaigns, while also promoting the level of transparency brands and users are craving.
Small and medium-sized brands may stand to gain the most from Instagram’s Branded Content Ads. For those brands that might not have a dedicated team running paid social activities, the new ad format will finally give them access to a wealth of content, as well as the aforementioned metrics. However, managing promotional boosts at such a scale could also present new problems in terms of workload and demand in their capabilities, so start- and scale-up businesses must ensure that they continue to prioritise building genuine, respectful relationships and partnerships with influencers.
How will Branded Content Ads benefit the influencer marketing industry?
With the value of the influencer marketing industry set to continue growing beyond the $2billion mark, it comes as no surprise that more and more people are keen to be involved. The rapid monetisation of the industry – and rise of the micro-influencer – has led to a rise in the amount of influencer fraud prevalent in the industry.
Users can commit fraudulent activity in a number of ways including, following and unfollowing tactics, ‘comment pods’ and ‘fake likes’. Instagram’s 1 billion users plus makes it a difficult online space to police, and there isn’t a quick fix.
However, there are a number of ways we can significantly reduce or avoid influencer fraud, including using a combination of automated and manual monitoring of influencer accounts for suspicious account activity. Branded Content Ads will open the door to making these practices simpler. With all this in mind, it makes good, practical sense for Instagram to formalise the existing paid promotion process for brands and influencers.
This new ad format is an important step on the path to curbing growing concerns over influencer fraud, tackling waning brand creativity and helping smaller brands thrive. Branded Content Ads champion transparency and will go a long way to evolving the influencer marketing industry.