Digital-POV: Instagram's New Branded Content Ad Units
Instagram has released a Branded Content ad format, designed for influencer activity and providing advertisers with additional functionality and visibility over reporting metrics. Previously only available to select partners, the product is now available to all advertisers.
Details and Implications:
Following increased scrutiny over influencer activity from standards boards and brands alike, Instagram has focused on developing an advertising solution that will allow brands to scale their influencer activity on the platform.
In September 2018, the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in conjunction with the Content Marketing Association (CMA) developed guidelines for influencer marketing. This required influencers to clearly state when a social media post has had paid support – be it through payment, gifts or other perks. In the US, the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Endorsement Guides state that if there is a “material connection” between an endorser and the marketer of a product – in other words, a connection that might affect the weight or credibility that consumers give the endorsement – that connection should be clearly and conspicuously disclosed, unless the connection is already clear from the context of the communication containing the endorsement. Material connections could consist of a business or family relationship, monetary payment, or the provision of free products to the endorser.
Following the release of all these guidelines the common solution for influencers to disclose their promotional activities was to use hashtags like #ad #advert etc. Additionally, while brands could easily pay for influencers to create and post their content to their organic following, a common pain point was that brands were then unable to promote this content from the influencer’s account to their target audiences.
The release of the Instagram Branded Content solution now provides the functionality for all brands to run official branded partnerships with influencers. This means that the need for the hashtag #ad is gone, as brands are tagged clearly at the top of the post with links to their own social account. Brands can also promote this content to their own target audiences, while having access to organic reporting metrics which would have previously only been visible to the influencers themselves.
The investigation surrounding influencer activity to drive value for clients is ongoing; but with increased investment comes an equal need to prove return. Enabling access to organic reporting metrics is a positive move forward to provide transparency on media return adding further accountability for influencers and their activity.
Measurement of digital return however is still a work in progress, with limitations around tracking the impact of influencer engagements (e.g. impressions, video views or comments) to online sales (e.g. user engages with influencer content, searches for brand on Google and purchases). This is in addition to the issues raised by major advertisers around bad practice within the space, which includes fake followers, bots and other fraud.
However, an engaged social community is valuable in driving brand affinity, which in turn will eventually impact a brand’s bottom line – it is just hard to measure this. We look forward to seeing the progress of these improved capabilities to attribute the return on investment back to client’s influencer marketing.