Last week Instagram’s director of business operations told the Wall Street Journal that users can expect the platform to begin selling ads “within the year.” While Instagram devotees are fretting over the future of their beloved photo filter app, brand marketers are blissfully imagining the possibilities.
Instagram boasts 150 million monthly users, many of which fall into the coveted tween, teen and twenty-something demographic. Between Warby Parker’s brilliant #warbywalk campaign and clever uses of Instagram video, brands have wasted no time organically developing loyal followings on the platform.
Fifteen months after the billion dollar acquisition by Facebook, though, the pressure is growing for Instagram to monetize, and the most obvious solution is to court big brands through advertising. In last week’s WSJ piece, Erin White, Instagram’s operations head, mentioned a round of meetings with Ford, Williams-Sonoma and Coca-Cola. The logical conclusion here is that the team is seeking big brand input on Instagram’s future advertising platform.
Only time will tell the outcome of those closed-door conversations. In the meantime, though, we turned to Thibaut Davoult of Instagram analytics platform Nitrogram for insights and predictions on the forthcoming ad program.
As Davoult pointed out, an ad program won’t necessarily be a monumental change for the platform. “We already see that many Instagram users are voluntarily following brand accounts that share posts that already look a lot like ads,” Davoult said, calling out this example from Nike, an account followed by 2.3 million Instagrammers:
“There’s already a lot of branded content on Instagram that could be used for ads, and many brands are ready to jump into official ads whenever the Instagram ad program is launched,” Davoult says. “Since they’ll promote themselves to a 150 million strong and active user base, brands obviously have a lot to win with Instagram ads, especially those whose image fits with that of Instagrammers: teenagers to young adults with a heightened sense of fashion and a will to remain connected with friends.”
Davoult notes that the only real change will be where this branded appears for users. In the Wall Street Journal article, Emily White suggested that ads could be implemented in the app’s Search tab, which is already used to display popular content. “The search page could become a curated list of branded content relevant to each user,” Davoult says. “I personally think it’s a good, non-intrusive way to display ads.”
Instagram could bring all that and more, but the key will be a graceful integration of paid content that does not alienate users or disrupt the community. Back in December, Instagram’s Terms of Service update stirred up a user revolt of sorts. It’s not exactly far-fetched to expect a similar reaction to the introduction of advertising.