The introduction of ads into Instagram feeds in Australia may threaten the comfortable relationship many users have with the social media platform. How can brands make sure they get the basics right?
By guest columnist Izzy McKenna, senior strategic planner at Isobar Australia
I have a confession: I'm in a relationship with Instagram. It's there when I wake up in the morning, and there as I go to sleep at night. It's there when I need a little respite in my day, or to share moments of joy in my life. And it's there on the couch with me when I'm watching TV.
It's the perfect relationship. It likes my friends, introduces me to new ones, and pushes me to discover more I love. Sure, there are some days I get annoyed, but that's fine. Things come and go, I follow and unfollow, depending on what I'm interested in. At the end of the day if I've had enough, I can just walk away. Together we escape into our own little world, filled with social connection, inspiration, and cultural exploration.
But now, someone's coming that wasn't invited to the party, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. Instagram announced last month that they will be rolling out ads in Australia later this year, with other countries soon to follow suit. As a user and as a communications strategist, I'm feeling very skeptical.
I consider Instagram to be my own digital magazine, with content I have curated. I am very selective about who I follow, quick to get rid of anyone that posts too frequently, but most importantly delete anyone that isn't consistent with their brand or style. As a regular user, you learn the style of the accounts you follow, be it friends, bloggers, or brands. It's that familiarity that keeps the relationship strong. It is here that I get nervous with unwanted talk of ads.
Instagram assures us that their processes will lead to a consistent experience, that the sponsored posts will be similar to the content that we follow, and it will feel like a natural enhancement. However, as style has always been a motivating factor, this is very subjective. Will Instagram be able to truly suggest content that I might like? Or will it be a stark reminder that we are all targeted consumers, moving away from the relational to something more transactional.
A lot of work has been done in the background to make the trial of ads in the U.S. successful. Instagram has conducted analysis to identify which brands have proven successful, produced engaging creative, and have identified target audiences. Figures have been released indicating that the response has been positive "and in some cases, well above the ad industry's average for performance." However, after individual selection by Instagram, only "some" brands have performed above average? Additionally, according to The Australian, ads are going to be expensive; a monthlong campaign could cost between $350,000 and $1 million U.S. dollars. This to me, raises alarm bells. Has this model been proven enough for local brands to invest?
Before local brands can even think about investing, they need to get the basics right. In Asia-Pacific the platform is still relatively under-utilized by brands. While there are some fantastic examples of successful local brands using Instagram, the reality is that there is no comparison when looking at global brands, particularly in the U.S. market. The Instagram platform is not optimal for sales conversion; rather it's more powerful for brand-building. Based on the current execution of the platform, are local brands actually ready to invest in advertising?
Brands must first and foremost focus on getting the basics right before thinking about investment:
Brands need to consider investing in good content. Beautiful, consistent imagery is always important, while still feeling native to the rest of the content. Instagram was born from inspiration - not campaign promotion.
Like any digital communication, the time you send your email or post can be critical to your success. Look at your target audience, when they are likely to be viewing content, and why. I've seen too many examples of brands posting when it suits them, rather than the users.
How often is too often? There are many factors that will influence this judgement, including type of content and brand category. An optimization plan plays a crucial role here. Look for engagement rates, follower drop-offs, and lessons learned from successful competitors.
Successful brands incorporate user-generated content, respond to comments, and have dialogue with followers. Make it a reciprocal relationship.
So if brands get their consumer-centric strategy right, why am I still worried about advertising on Instagram? I am fearful of Instagram getting caught up in quantity over quality, going down the path of Facebook. There is increasing conversation around discontent with Facebook transitioning away from minimal and targeted to abrupt high-frequency advertising. The romance was lost with Facebook a long time ago. While Instagram claims they will start off slow, I hope it doesn't escalate too quickly. Time is of the essence - brands on Instagram need to get it right, before breakups occur.
Instagram, please don't break my heart.
Izzy is a senior strategic planner with Isobar Australia. Her background is market research and she has extensive experience in survey design, facilitation and moderation, analysis, interpretation, and reporting. Izzy works in depth with Isobar's key clients to understand the key strategic issues and deliver actionable insights that inform brand communication solutions. Izzy holds a bachelor's degree in psychology and is currently a member of the AMSRS (Australian Market and Social Research Society).
Homepage image via Shutterstock.
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