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New Ad Format Spotlights Big Issues with Instagram Influencers

Let’s start with the basics: Instagram is an online photo album. It’s built for mobile phones and doesn’t work very well on desktops (and many features are unavailable on desktop). This mobile-first social media makes it easy to upload and share photos and videos from your phone and encourages you to create a network of friends who then like and comment on your images. Since this platform is primarily accessed through mobile, Instagram comments have become famous for being full of seemingly nonsensical emojis.

If you want to know if someone’s a Millennial, just ask them what they think about Instagram. Millennials (and younger) seem to “get” Instagram, while the rest of the world, well, doesn’t. But with more than 77 million users in the U.S., Instagram seems blissfully unconcerned about the older generations’ inability to embrace its quirky charms.

Or so it may seem. But when you look a little closer, you’ll see that Instagram has been experimenting with a variety of changes and alterations, both in its posting features and its advertising format, presumably to make itself more attractive to advertisers and, in turn, to Wall Street.

What Happens on Instagram, Stays on Instagram.

While Millennials may love Instagram, advertisers are not so enamored. The image-based app generated 20 percent as many ad impressions as Facebook and just 9 percent as many clicks. While Instagram is improving, ads on Instagram tend to get fewer clicks than on Facebook, and in Cup O Content’s experience, Instagram performs poorly in clicks compared to Pinterest.

And no wonder. After all, Instagram posts don’t allow live links. This means that Instagram is teaching users to skim and move on, not to click and explore. And in the world of online ads, that’s a deal-breaker.

By teaching users to skim instead of click, Instagram has made it much harder for ads (which are allowed links) to get the robust clickthrough rates they crave.

The Power of Instagram Lies with Influencers

If you want to make a splash on Instagram, you’re going to have to market through Influencers. Influencers are Instagram users who have created huge, engaged audiences, and these Instagram superstars are often willing to mention you or your product… for the right price.

How do you find influencers? Companies like Social Baker, Pixlee, and Mavrck (to name just a few) can help you find the kind of influences that matter to your audiences. They can find people in the right regions, talking about relevant topics, and with followers that tend to be in your audience.

This is an example of a free influencer search from Social Baker.


Instagram Influencers Offer all of the Challenges of Complicated Digital Marketing with None of the Benefits

Because Instagram ads, um, kind of stink, Influencer placements have become THE way to reach Instagram audiences. Whether you work with influencers through a digital marketing firm or a PR firm, you’ll have to work through various channels to reach influencers. To get placements, you’ll pay subjective rates, often determined by the influencer and subject to change from placement to placement. Additionally, the manpower needed to buy placements is considerable when compared with other types of digital advertising.

Another challenge is ROI, or rather the lack of ROI. When you work with influencers, you don’t get any guarantees. Your numbers are not audited. The size and sophistication of the influencer's organization vary greatly from one person to another. Many influencers are cagey about numbers, and even engagements or impressions can be tricky to nail down.

So, you have to ask yourself: are you willing to give your money to influencers for endorsements and placement in an active feed, or do you settle for lackluster Instagram results? Or do you sidestep Instagram completely?

Announcing Instagram Influencer Ads

Instagram is owned by Facebook. While Facebook advertising formats are changing and upgrading almost daily, the progress of Instagram ads has lagged. But the Instagram giant may be waking up. Small changes have been afoot, and this month Instagram made a big announcement.

Instead of going with the easiest fix for ads (like, maybe, allowing links in all types of posts so users start clicking?) Instagram is ready to embark on a completely new type of digital marketing: Influencer ads.

Instagram has revealed that a new ad format is in the works that will allow brands to sponsor influencers’ posts and then promote them as if they were their own ad.

While brands can already hire Instagram influencers to promote products to their followers, in the past, that content would go to followers but not to other audiences.

Instagram’s influencer ad program, branded content ads, lets advertisers promote Instagram influencer posts just like any other Instagram ad. That means advertisers with endorsements on influencer feeds can now use that image to promote it throughout Instagram.


The nutritional supplement company @sugarbearhair, featured on @kyliejenner's Instagram feed, shown above, could now use this image as an ad that appears in other Instagram feeds.

Limited tests on this new format have been happening for the past few years as Instagram quietly tweaked the format.

Content and Credibility Influencer Issues Persist at Instagram

This more formalized, platform-wide advertising program puts a spotlight on some of the most frustrating parts of the influencer marketing approach. Because little or no oversight has existed for Instagram influencers, many users built followings and pushed high engagement tallies in unethical ways.

However, once Instagram formalizes the new process, it’s bound to expose more than a few shaky practices among influencers.

Fake followers and stats have been a persistent problem on Instagram (and on other social media platforms like Twitter and YouTube). Some big influencers have been accused of buying followers, creating fake followers, and manipulating engagement with outside tools and custom bots to ensure high engagement on even the most banal posts.

Buyer Beware; Seller Beware

If you’ve read all the way down to this part of the article, you may have noticed a distinctly biased tone of voice throughout.

At Cup O Content, we’re not fans of influencer marketing. The lack of oversight, questionable reporting systems, and repeated violations by a wide variety of influencers signal that this type of marketing is still in its infancy. In the wild, wild west of influencer marketing, it’s not just the buyer who must beware; sales and marketing should also proceed with caution.

Want to read more blogs about social media? Check out these Cup O Content articles.

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