Social media networks have been hard pressed to find consistent business models that will make their investors and their members happy. For many, advertising has proven itself the path of choice. It secures interest from businesses. From Twitter to Tumblr, just about every network has experimented with various types of ads.
Instagram is one of the last to walk down the advertising road, and it is doing so methodically. For now, only a small number of hand-picked partners have been selected to run sponsored photos on the network. Based on what we’re seeing from those brands, what can we expect the future of sponsored posts to be on Instagram? Here’s a breakdown of what we can tell from the network’s choices and the ads that it has run so far.
1. Quality Control
Instagram is taking its time with the introduction of ads. In fact, Mashable reported that CEO Kevin Systrom is personally vetting each one of the spots before they’re approved. Obviously, that’s not a practice that will scale well once ads are made available to more businesses, but the idea of putting some quality control measures is one that seems likely.
Most likely, Instagram will be strict about how much text can appear in an ad and how visible branding can be. As you can see below, none of the logos or brand names are prominent in this first batch of ads. The network’s ethos is about art and creative visuals, so plastering a big logo across the screen wouldn’t suit the native advertising style Instagram is aiming for.
The trick will be fostering an environment where ads will suit the overall look and feel of photos on Instagram while allowing the brands to be creative in how they present themselves. For instance, Ben & Jerry’s has taken a whimsical, colorful approach, while Taco Bell has used neutral colors and dramatic lighting to imitate a candid-looking photo.
Going forward, it will be important for both the businesses buying ads and the team behind Instagram remember that, for the people using it, the network is about being social and being creative. Any sponsored posts that appear can’t detract from the social interactions, and ideally they should inspire the members at the same time.
2. Focused Targeting
Another trick to getting Instagram ads to succeed is deciding who will see each of them. The slow and steady approach the team is currently taking is a good sign that the management is taking the user experience very seriously. In fact, some Instagram members may have seen surveys this summer asking for their opinions about the currently-running ads.
Targeting the ads correctly will be important in making the sponsored posts seem like a natural fit within the usual images appearing in a person’s feed. The more information Instagram can obtain from its members about their interests, whether that comes from the accounts that they follow, the details they have on their profiles, or their responses to ongoing surveys, the better experience those members will have.
Again, scaling the ad program up will pose a challenge to Instagram. It’s likely that many brands, including ones that don’t have the same degree of youthful appeal as the trial ones, will want to take advantage of the ad service. The network will need to find a way to convince members that those ads have value, even when they don’t seem like an obvious match.
3. Balanced Frequency
As with any advertising program, striking a balance between posts by friends and posts by brands is going to be crucial. For example, video streaming platform Hulu alienated some viewers as it increased the number of ads in each break.
Good targeting will help limit the number of posts that each member might see, but it’s still crucial that the young users of Instagram don’t feel that they’re seeing so many sponsored ads that it detracts from the overall feel of the network. If too many appear, then the members might start to feel as if they’re being pitched.
Again, Instagram’s choice to check in with its audience and solicit feedback is a unique one that could help it strike the right balance. Getting honest feedback might be a challenge, since few people will ask to see more marketing materials. With the right monitoring tools, Instagram should be able to find a balance that will offer value to businesses without overwhelming its audience.