Influencer marketing is a $1 billion industry on Instagram, but improper disclosure of sponsored content on the platform is a huge problem and Instagram is finally taking steps to remedy it. The company announced that it’s introducing a new tool to help brands and influencers more clearly disclose paid posts and content.
With the introduction of the Snapchat-like Instagram Stories feature, the platform has been drawing in new users and adding over 200 million users in just under a year. Instagram’s incredible growth means that protecting the health of its community is more important than ever, and that’s part of the motivation behind the new tool. Transparency is key to maintaining trust in the relationship between creators and fans. A community that becomes overrun with sponsored posts that aren’t properly disclosed — intentionally or not — erodes the sense of authenticity that’s central to Instagram’s success.
In a study of the top 50 celebrities posting on Instagram, Mediakix found that 93% of sponsored posts weren’t properly disclosed by the standards of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Celebrities are notorious for failing to disclose paid content but as the trend becomes more common among influencers of all sizes, Instagram is putting a larger emphasis on transparency.
The new tool, first rumored back in April 2017, will give influencers the ability to tag businesses in sponsored posts, which will add a sub-header just below a user’s name and photo that says “Paid partnership with…” and will tag the business’s Instagram account.
For now, Instagram is testing the feature with a select group of creators and brands but plans to make the feature more widely available to influencers. The tool bears some resemblance to Facebook’s branded content tool, which allows creators to tag brands and add a “Paid” disclosure next to the post date.
The similarity between the two shouldn’t come as a surprise — Facebook owns Instagram, and Instagram called the feature, “the first step in ensuring transparency of paid partnerships on Instagram.” It went on to say that, “In the coming months, we’ll also be launching an official policy and enforcement for creators to follow based off Facebook’s current practices.”
How Instagram might enforce its rules against improper disclosure is unclear, but we may see the company taking a page out of the FTC’s book and paying closer attention to transparency surrounding sponsored posts on the platform.
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The new tool is going to make disclosing on the platform different, but it might not make it better.
Disclosures have never been difficult. Though the FTC’s guidelines may be vague, they’re not hard to implement. Up until now, proper disclosure on the platform was as simple as adding #ad or #sponsored, so long as the hashtag wasn’t buried beneath a “more” cut or in a big group of hashtags.
Moreover, though it makes disclosures more clear, this new tool won’t necessarily make them easier. It still requires that influencers, celebrities, and creators make an effort to disclose and assumes that they value transparency. Creators who are intentionally not disclosing, despite knowing the regulations and having the means to, probably aren’t going to turn over an entirely new leaf with the addition of a new tool.
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Instagram anticipated this, though, and it’s added incentive to the tool: Metrics.
Using the tool will allow creators and brands to see performance metrics that aren’t available elsewhere. Influencers will be able to access them through Instagram while brands will be able to access the information through Facebook Insights pages. Once the tool becomes more widely available, brands could require influencers to use the tools so that they can better assess the success of a campaign through those metrics. That insight could also help marketers better determine the value of an influencer and optimize campaign variables.
Instagram has made it clear that it’s going to be adjusting policies and enforcement as the platform continues to grow and influencer marketing continues to evolve. The new tool isn’t going to solve the problem of FTC disclosures on Instagram, but it may significantly alter the way users view sponsored posts. As Instagram changes, its new tools and policies may change the way brands approach influencer marketing on the platform as well.