You know what we definitely need more of on social media? Influencers and ads. And lucky for us, Instagram has announced a new tool for surfacing a hybrid of the two in your feed. Your Insta has never looked more #sponsored, baby!
In a blog post on Tuesday, Instagram said it would begin rolling out a new way for advertisers to reach their target demos by marketing to them through influencers. According to Instagram, through this branded content, “businesses have an opportunity to tell their brand stories through creators’ voices, reach new audiences and measure impact.”
The blog post said that the ads, which will be shuffled into users’ feeds and Stories, will be able to reach audiences who subscribe to neither the brand nor the creator. It’s worth noting ads already display for brands users don’t necessarily follow, as you’ve no doubt noticed. But by merging influencers with brands presumably looking to tap your bank account, these branded content ads are meant to seem more authentic, according to Liat Weingarten, Old Navy’s vice president of brand communications.
“We’re consistently looking for more sophisticated ways like Branded Content ads to serve partner content to the right shoppers, instead of just throwing it into the social ether,” Weingarten said in a statement. “Promoting content directly from an influencer’s handle inherently gives the post more authenticity than coming from a brand handle, and we’re seeing significantly higher engagement rates using this strategy.”
Instagram said that the feature has been among the most requested by businesses—which, good for them, I guess? But this update marks the latest move in a slow crawl toward the app’s arguably inevitable ruin.
Let’s back up a bit. Back in 2012, Facebook bought Instagram for a cool $1 billion (crush the competition or gobble them up, etc.). The following year, Instagram said it would begin displaying photo and video ads, writing at the time that it planned to “start slow” and “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.”
This, reader, is not the ad experience many of us are seeing in our feeds today.
The thing that makes (made?) Instagram enjoyable is, in a way, what makes other social media hell sites. Because of the format, Instagram can be free of much of the unavoidable toxicity, vitriol, misinformation, or trash that you see on, say, Twitter or Facebook, provided you keep your follow list tidy. You don’t even have to connect with people or figures you know. Following topics and hashtags means that you can largely shut out the noise in favor of a relatively pleasant experience. It used to be that ads were fewer and farther between. Influencers, if you can imagine it, at one point did not even exist on Instagram (or anywhere else).
But now, not only are ads nearing overkill—cropping up after every third or fourth post in feeds and in Stories, based on my experience—but I’d argue most do not seem “as natural to Instagram as the photos and videos many of you already enjoy,” as the company initially said they would be. And look, I’m not here to shit on influencers, but I can’t imagine that most Instagram users are going to be especially psyched to have even more spon-con mixed into their feed than they already see from the influencers they do follow who pepper it throughout their profiles.
Also, do influencers really need more reach? I mean, really? Many influencers are, effectively, advertisers in their own right. And contrary to the opinions of executives, this confluence of two distinct forms of brand marketing does not a more “authentic” experience make. That is to say, hawking goods and services via an influencer whom users have no interest in following to begin with doesn’t necessarily make that brand’s ads any more palatable.
These terrible changes follow what has already been a tumultuous time at Instagram. Instagram’s co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger dipped from the company last year after brewing tensions with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. They were replaced toward the end of last year by longtime Facebook executive Adam Mosseri, who’s credited as having a hand in developing the Facebook News Feed. Which, uh, doesn’t seem to be going so great.
To be fair, there is no such thing as a perfect social media network. And don’t get me wrong, Instagram was far from infallible prior to this latest announcement of super ads. But man, this brings Instagram—a mostly good platform—dangerously close to becoming trash. Big thanks to Zuckerberg, once again, for making this possible.
Correction: This article erroneously identified Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger as founders of Facebook, rather than Instagram. We regret the error.