It’s another win for transparency. Under pressure from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and others, Instagram recently announced the launch of its branded content feature, introducing a clearer way to identify sponsored content compared with tagging an ad with ‘#ad’ or ‘#spon’ in the caption.
The rule applies to any ‘content that features or is influenced by a business partner for an exchange of value’. Whether ‘value’ need be monetary or not is unclear, however, and the move could have implications for influencer marketing on Instagram and beyond.
A relatively recent trend, influencer marketing has exploded as a marketing channel before anyone has had the chance to figure out how best to measure it. The biggest benefit of this new native feature, therefore, is the ability for advertisers to track performance and calculate the ROI of a particular influencer.
In theory, this will help brands and agencies identify the best-performing influencers and bring reporting in line with that of other digital media channels, such as programmatic and paid social. But with this comes the danger of brands relying too heavily on data and analytics to inform a strand of digital marketing so deeply rooted in relationship building: influencer marketing is about more than just ROI – it’s about brand identity and the company you keep.
So what’s the motivation behind Instagram’s new approach? On the surface, it’s a legal issue –a response to the ASA cracking down on influencer marketing. By developing a native feature that makes paid-for activity easily identifiable, Instagram can ensure the ASA directs any enforcement action against the influencers themselves, rather than the platform.
However, it’s difficult to ignore speculation that monetisation is at the heart of the policy, with rumours suggesting Instagram may deliberately suppress posts marked as sponsored, increasing the need for advertisers to put paid media spend behind their influencers’ posts. After all, why would Instagram create a tool that facilitates other people making money on their platform, if it wasn’t after a piece of the pie?
The most likely scenario is that we see an increase in influencer marketing spends across the board, driven both by the surge in talent fees that comes with creating more measurable content and the rise in budgets required to boost these campaigns through paid social.
With a price hike inevitable, it’s important to question not only the impact this will have on smaller businesses that lack the hefty marketing spends of big advertisers but also the knock-on effect for Instagram and its users, given that the platform has been the lifeblood of so many within the creative community.