When it comes to online growth and engagement, few platforms come close to Instagram. Touting more than 1 billion monthly active users as of June 2018, and dwarfing rival Snapchat with its own Stories feature, Instagram has become a social media powerhouse. Hugely popular with Millennials and Gen Z, 64% of those aged 18-29 are using the platform.
Marketers have taken notice, shifting ad dollars from traditional venues like television to reach digital consumers online and through mobile apps. In the process, influencer marketing has grown to become a $1 billion industry on Instagram alone. With the recent launch of long-form video platform and YouTube competitor, IGTV, Instagram is poised to capture even more users and ad dollars moving forward.
Instagram’s visual platform is an ideal forum for shopping. For a long time, however, Instagram’s lack of features stood in the way of truly efficient commerce. Due to their presence and following, influencers were able to connect their audiences to brands, but it took several extra steps to turn these connections into sales opportunities.
Previously, influencers looking to advertise a product or service either had to type a URL in the description box or write “link in bio” somewhere in their post— directing audiences to the lone place Instagram accounts could have a clickable link. Instagrammers would also commonly add purchase instructions with special hashtags or promo codes to their posts to help entice clicks and sales. The lack of shoppable Instagram features forced users to take many extra steps to make a purchase, meaning that many would-be customers lost steam before buying anything.
Despite the platform’s obstacles, Instagrammers have been helping connect audiences and brands for years. Still, some brand and influencer partnerships violated Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules around proper disclosure of sponsored posts. In April 2017, the FTC sent letters to more than 90 brands, influencers, and celebrities for noncompliance.
Shortly thereafter, Instagram introduced their “paid partnership” subheader, which allowed influencers to be more transparent about the nature of their promotional posts. In addition, Instagram recently launched a number of shopping features making it easier for brands and influencers to work together through Instagram’s native advertising pathways.
Brands can “boost” posts by influencers and celebrities to reach larger audiences. The feature allows brands that have been tagged in posts to pay a fee to push out the content to more viewers for a specified amount of time.
While the ad includes the “sponsored” tag at the top of the post, having the content originate from the profile of an influencer—rather than the brand itself—makes the promotion feel more organic.
Instagram Stories allow influencers to write instructions and add clickable links to their media. Since these posts disappear within 24 hours, unless the influencer highlights or archives the Story, there’s a limited window of time to drive sales via Story updates. With Instagram’s “swipe up” feature inside of Stories, influencers now have an easy and endemic call to action (CTA) for selling goods. The tool can transport users to a Instagram post or account, or off-site destination.
Currently being tested by select businesses, new product stickers within Stories allow influencers and brands to tag items inside their posts with prices and links for purchasing. Although this feature is still in beta, shoppable Instagram stickers are an additional avenue for influencers to drive sales for brands.
Earlier this year, Instagram introduced Carousel Ads for Stories, allowing brands to promote their message with up to three pieces of media. This added storytelling ability can be paired with the “swipe up” feature, giving brands a way to build toward a meaningful destination at the end of their message.
As the world’s hottest mobile network readies for more growth, Instagram is giving serious consideration toward how brands and influencers work together on the platform. Introducing new commercial tools, Instagram seems to not just be embracing the popularity of influencer marketing, but integrating it into their own business model.
With more formats to reach target audiences and features to simplify shopping, Instagram is making it easier to partner with influencers and drive sales. However, with increased ease-of-use comes more competition. For brands looking to maximize visibility and return on investment (ROI), finding the right combination of influencer, campaign, and advertising tools is becoming more important than ever. A qualified influencer marketing agency with strong influencer relationships and an in-depth understanding of Instagram’s promotional tools can help brands craft successful campaigns from start to finish.