Will paid advertising destroy Instagram?

Aug 10, 2015 by
Will paid advertising destroy Instagram?

Advertising on social media platforms continues to grow and grow. In a recent study conducted by eMarketer, it was shown that $23.68 billion (around £15 billion Sterling) is going to be spent on paid media on social media to reach potential consumers throughout 2015.

Most people are well aware that paid advertising on Facebook is becoming increasingly more popular, but Instagram (owned by Facebook) have also just introduced an advertising API.

In one of Instagram’s news posts, the company states: “Instagram is a place where people come to connect and be inspired, and our focus with every product we build is keeping it this way”. Despite this, Instagram will be introducing paid adverts, even though the company claims: “Our aim is to make any advertisements you see feel as natural to Instagram as the photos and videos many of you already enjoy from your favorite brands”. The news post goes on to state that it will be easy to hide ads that you don’t like and provide feedback on how to make the user experience better.

People have known this announcement was going to come for quite some time. Several years ago, Instagram created a new type of profile page specifically for brands, which made it clear that a direct monetisation strategy was about to be implemented. It’s easy to see why advertising was going to come – Instagram boasts over 300 million users who visit the platform to share and view the most visceral forms of expression: images. Instagram’s audience is automatically in a more emotive state when using the platform which, as everyone knows, makes them more receptive to targeted marketing. This is not the case for users of Facebook and Twitter (or at least, not to the same extent), which means Instagram could potentially be extremely lucrative for advertisers.

cambridge-web-marketing-co-blog-content-image-instagram-1However, the backlash generated by this announcement isn’t merely a result of Instagram trying to monetise a popular site. It’s more about untargeted advertisements making the platform less pleasurable to use. As one user states: “The ads are RUINING the entire Instagram experience. They don’t need more money. It’s Facebook, after all.”

In order to understand the negative reaction to Instagram’s adverts, it’s important to understand the situations where online advertising is beneficial rather than disruptive. In an article from 2013, tech analyst Jan Dawson breaks down why ads that are explicitly relevant in the present are the most effective.

“Search (notably including Google’s AdWords) is the most effective (and lucrative) form of advertising because it combines relevance and timeliness: the ad will be related to the topic the user is searching for now. That combination of relevance and timeliness is extremely difficult to achieve unless you know the user is explicitly interested in a topic at this moment, and search queries are about the only signal you have that perfectly meets those requirements. As a result, it’s also the least intrusive and most welcome form of advertising.”

cambridge-web-marketing-co-blog-content-image-instagram-2Unfortunately, unlike Google which displays contextually relevant adverts based on a user’s search engine enquiry, Instagram’s adverts will be based on applied intelligence and will appear at random, regardless of what the user is doing in the present. Presumably, the algorithm will take a certain amount of time in order to determine what kinds of advertisements will benefit each user – which means that when the user is finally shown the advertisements, they may come as an unpleasant distraction rather than something which can enable you to make a contextually relevant purchase based on how you are feeling in the present moment.

Could this spell doom for Instagram, destroying the integrity of a platform which once enabled people to share snippets of their personal lives, uninterrupted by commercial interferences?

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