Instagram is developing a new way for brands to sponsor posts created by celebrities and publishers. "Branded content ads," as Instagram calls the new offering, are part of the service's broader strategy to connect advertisers and creators in more formal partnerships.
The Facebook-owned platform announced the update at a breakfast Tuesday for businesses and "influencers," the web celebrities who have built mass and niche followings on the platform.
Until now, brands could hire popular Instagram users to work on ad campaigns and promote products with branded content, but the posts would only reach the followers of the influencer. Branded content ads let the advertisers promote these Instagram posts just like they would any other ad.
Instagram has been testing these ads since last year, says Ashley Yuki, an Instagram product management lead.
"Brands are seeing that this branded content ad product sometimes helps overcome challenges they have with organic branded content," Yuki says. "[They are] exploring ways that brands can amplify branded content."
Representatives from Johnson & Johnson, Peloton and Bombas also attended the Instagram breakfast to discuss the needs of the advertising community, like accurate measurements so they can gauge the results of partnering with creators.
In 2017, Instagram released its first branded content tools as part of its response to popular accounts promoting products without disclosing the relationship to advertisers, which has been a regulatory problem that has vexed digital platforms. Instagram has a way for these creators to tag the brands and disclose when a post is sponsored. However, if a brand wanted to take that post from the creator and put ad dollars behind it to reach more people, it could not do so within the branded content partnership program.
These partnerships have not been available to all Instagram users, either, but on Tuesday the company announced that anyone could apply to join the partner program.
Instagram has more than 1 billion monthly active users. Influencer marketing on Instagram is expected to be a $2 billion market in 2019, according to Mediakix, an influencer agency. The major platforms -- YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram -- are developing ways to control the market that connects brands to their platforms' power-users.
The ad industry is demanding more vigilance on the part of the platforms to purge phony activity and provide accurate measurements. If so-called influencers have fake followers and stats, then a brand can't have confidence collaborating with them.
Oliver Yonchev, U.S. managing director of Social Chain, which works with brands like Amazon and DreamWorks on social influencer marketing, says that "when a brand spends money working with people whose engagement is being manipulated, chances are everything else is being manipulated and won't produce results."