Do Instagram ads work? Brands are about to find out.
As Instagram users know, the Facebook-owned photo sharing giant is one of the few major social networks that hasn't yet been inundated with ads (hell, I see more ads on Snapchat than Instagram). The ads are there, but when Instagram first launched them last November, it promised a slow, high quality rollout:
"We’ll focus on delivering a small number of beautiful, high-quality photos and videos from a handful of brands that are already great members of the Instagram community."
Now the platform has launched three new analytics products to help brands know if these ads even work. The tools will provide real-time data on impressions, reach, and engagement, and allow brands to preview ads before posting. Some of these insights were already available to advertisers, but only on request.
Unlike Facebook or Twitter which offer self-service platforms to purchase ads or promote posts, advertisers must collaborate directly with Instagram salespeople to create paid content. Credit Facebook for not turning Instagram into an advertiser's free-for-all right off the bat in order to make a quick buck. On other social networks, brands have taken a "throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks" mentality. Maybe that's because ads were rolled out faster and thus brands have to flood these networks with content to get noticed. Or maybe it's an extension of how people use these sites, scrolling quickly through their feed and expecting updates as each second passes.
But that strategy, though perhaps necessary, may not be working as well as brands had hoped. A recent study found that 62 percent of U.S. adults say social media has no influence on their buying decisions. Meanwhile, 30 percent say social media has “some influence,” but only 5 percent say it has a “great influence.” The issue may be one of trust -- According to Nielsen, consumers trust print and television ads more than social media ads.
But Instagram is more all about crafting little moments of visual splendor than Facebook or Twitter -- that's why it's become such an invaluable tool for many artists and designers to promote themselves. Even average Instagrammers pay attention to things like color contrast and framing (those tools are baked directly into the service). On Facebook, a person might shout "I had eggs for breakfast" into the abyss. On Instagram, it's, "Wow, look at how the cascades of sunlight catch the beads of hot sauce on your Crab Benedict." It may be pretentious, but it does raise the bar for the quality of an Instagram ad which, once ads inevitably take over Instagram, will work to the benefit of users and advertisers alike.
Instagram is smart to build out and test these tools before its advertising business blows up. While Facebook has continually improved its Insights tools over the years, those changes came after many complaints and headaches on the part of dissatisfied brands. As for users, sure, if we had it our way we would never let our precious playground of sunsets and pumpkin lattes be soiled by commercial interests. But web platforms don't pay for themselves, and if ads are inevitable, better that they don't suck.
[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]