Instagram turns influencer branded content on its head, giving advertisers greater control
Instagram is flipping influencer marketing on its head by giving advertisers more control over influencer branded-content campaigns in its feed. At the same time, the platform is bringing branded content campaigns to Reels and Live with branded content tags.
On Friday, Instagram announced several new updates for creator-driven branded content campaigns across Reels, Live and its main feed, aiming to help brands and influencers better create and disclose their branded content campaigns as the platform continues its mission to drive more commerce on the platform.
Instagram is launching branded content tags in its three-month-old Reels feature and its Stories’ Live setting. The branded content tags will be available immediately in Reels and will roll out to Live in the coming weeks.
Mary Keane-Dawson, Group CEO at influencer marketing agency Takumi, which works with brands like Mercedes-Benz and Kellogg’s, says the ability to launch sponsored influencer campaigns in Reels and Live will “give brands more access to performance insights of Reels and Live content, something that is very important as marketers are continuously looking for more ways to demonstrate ROI.”
On Instagram, businesses can now also promote influencer branded content posts with product tags, which they were unable to do before, as well as add interactive features like mentions, location and hashtags to branded content ads in Stories.
In another major update, advertisers will now have the power to sign off on, and post, influencer sponsored content themselves.
That update is a new workflow for influencer branded content ads that appear in the platform’s main feed. The move alleviates a common pain point for advertisers, giving them more flexibility and fewer constraints with the new arrangement. Influencers stand to benefit as well, although some might feel like they’re losing a bit of their creative freedom.
Since Instagram first introduced the ability to run branded content posts as ads in June 2019, advertisers have had to wait for influencers to post their content organically before using their posts as sponsored branded content. Instagram’s new update eliminates that waiting period and gives brands more control over the final content that is posted.
The new option has a three-step process. First, an advertiser can send a request to a creator (either through the app itself or through Facebook’s Brand Collabs Manager). Then, the creator accepts the request and the advertiser can work with the creator to develop the post. A creator can send a photo and the copy to the advertiser to use, for example. Finally, both the creator and advertiser sign off on the post and the advertiser posts it.
If something comes up or appears off, creators can then decide to pause any of these ads from their handles, something they weren’t able to do quickly before.
These posts appear in Instagram’s main feed like they have before, with influencers’ handles displayed at the top and the “sponsored” tag below. They do not appear on influencers’ profile feeds, and the update does not extend to the new influencer branded content posts in Reels or Live.
For many brands and influencers, this update means the whole process of branded content will be less of a headache.
“We have longstanding relationships with some of the greatest athletes in the world,” says a Gymshark spokesperson in a statement. “One advertiser that has tested the new features. ... Being able to more easily work with them and Instagram to get our product in front of our community has been highly valuable to our growth strategy.”
Brian Freeman, CEO of influencer marketing agency Heartbeat, which works with brands like Dunkin', Toms and Drybar, believes this update will lead to even more brands putting paid media behind creator content on Instagram and will help influencers will feel more comfortable about working with brands on sponsored content.
“The new workflow will also add further privacy protections to creators who no longer have to go through several steps and education with brands to understand what information they need to give to a brand to allow them to put paid media behind their content,” he says. “It will streamline that process significantly.”
Certain influencers, however, might not be as enthusiastic about the new approach. “Some influencers will jump into this new process and love being able to work with brands in a more integrated way, whereas others might be more protective of their personal brand and thus be reluctant to hand this kind of control over to advertisers,” says Keane-Dawson.
This also prompts a question: If brands can now choose to have more authority over sponsored influencer posts, will they decide to do less organic partnerships with influencers? Keane-Dawson says there should be a healthy balance. “The magic of influencer marketing happens when a partnership is formed on a strong foundation, with a brand that an influencer has already been organically promoting and is a genuine advocate of,” she says.
Influencer marketing has been oscillating this year thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. At first, the pandemic caused a dip in influencer-sponsored posts and brand partnerships, but the industry has bounced back even as other marketing activations have stalled, thanks to more people staying home and marketers trying to reach niche audiences.
The new sponsored influencer content workflow and other new updates are the latest additions Instagram has taken to juice up social commerce for creators and businesses on its platform this year. In October, Instagram announced it would bring shopping to IGTV and its newest feature Reels. Last May Instagram introduced ads in IGTV and the ability for fans of influencers to purchase badges in their Live setting, letting them stand out in the comments and have access to a special heart.
“Branded content is a powerful tool for creators and businesses, and these updates will help them get more out of the content they’re creating together,” says Justin Osofsky, Chief Operating Officer at Instagram, in a statement. “This will continue to be an area of focus for us as we build out a suite of monetization tools that support creators’ various needs and ambitions.”