Understanding the Benefits of Instagram’s New Branded Content Tool

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Instagram is offering new tools to bring transparency and consistency to Branded Content on Instagram. They say “the tools consist of a tag to help creators disclose when a post is the result of a partnership and insights to help businesses access the performance of their branded content campaigns. Ultimately, these tools bring transparency around Branded Content to the Instagram community.  

“We are expanding the access of our Instagram Branded Content tool to more of our creators (celebrities, influencers, public figures, publishers) and business partners. We are also expanding access to Insights to brands with an existing business page and are implementing new policy and enforcement rules.”

Michael Lambie, the head of product at CreatorIQ (pictured top left), talked with Adotas about the new tools and what they might mean to consumers and influencers.

Q: What are the benefits of Instagram’s branded content tool as the FTC continues to crack down on celebrities and influencers?

A: There are two clear benefits for celebrities, influencers and creators to embrace the new Instagram branded content tool. The first of which is to help avoid a fine or penalty from the FTC for not disclosing the nature of a post being sponsored. The second of which is that celebrities, influencers and content creators can choose to allow a brand to boost their sponsored content. Brand boosting can help to deliver new audiences to the poster of the content potentially resulting in new followers and engaged fans.

Additional background: The FTC’s guidelines aren’t crystal clear to determine what the compliance rules are to prevent an FTC intervention. While historically the FTC has penalized brands and agencies for policy violations, the FTC has stated that it will now go after celebrities, influencers and creators for violations of their own, often vague, FTC guidelines. Agencies, brands and influencers will typically craft their own set of best practices to maintain what they believe to be compliant. Instagram’s branded content tool provides another tool to aid in full disclosure to consumers. In the past, sponsored posts could contain equally cryptic hashtags to disclose sponsorship, for example “#sp”, which is meant to be short for “sponsored.”

Q: In what way will Instagram’s expansion increase transparency between creators, brands and the community? Is this a step in the right direction for the creator community?

A: This is definitely a step in the right direction for creators, brands and the community. Followers of most celebrities and influencers are pretty well-conditioned and accepting of seeing sponsored content. When there is a lack of sponsorship disclosure it blurs the lines between a product or brand a creator truly loves organically versus something they are collecting a check for. Authenticity is one of the key attributes for creators to possess in order to grow and maintain a community of engaged followers. Their own audiences would rather know about a sponsorship disclosure than find out later that an endorsement may have been inauthentic. If the branded sponsorship tag alone is deemed by the FTC enough to suffice for compliance, this allows a creator to have more creative liberties with a post caption. This is especially important for social platforms which are limited by the number of characters like the case of Twitter, where even now 280 characters may not be enough.

Q: Is Instagram’s move beneficial for consumers and influencers or just consumers?

A: The move benefits consumers and influencers as well as creators equally. Consumers seek truth in advertising and authenticity from the people they follow. This new feature allows influencers another tool to avoid being audited by the FTC and also delivers the upside to grow their audience by allowing brands and agencies to boost their posts. The risk to influencers is working with or accepting money from brands which are not within their own, nor their audiences’, sensibilities or by producing too many pieces of sponsored content. There is the fine line which is truly up to an influencer or creator to understand how their work with sponsored content is affecting their own follower community.

Q: In your opinion, what do you think the next step will be in the influencer/creator community to ensure further transparency?

A: Following are ideas for next steps to ensure further transparency:

  • Include sponsored content history on social media profiles – e.g. a list of brands worked with. For example, influencers disclose on their own home page a list of brands they have been compensated by.
  • Link out to the terms of their deal to better understand the nature of a relationship between an endorser and advertiser – similar to Amazon profiles that disclose when goods are rendered for review. The handshake could link out to outline that they received a) free product, b) coupon/discount, c) financial incentive, and potentially the length of their deal to determine spokespeople vs. hired guns for a single campaign.
  • Continue to educate the influencer/creator community about FTC’s endorsement guidelines and updates, such as:
    • FTC Complaint letters to influencers indicate that any material connection between an endorser and advertiser “should be clearly and conspicuously disclosed, unless it is already clear from the context of the communication”.
    • In particular, tagging a post with simply “#sp” “Thanks, [Brand],” or “#partner” isn’t easy enough for consumers to understand, and putting a tag beyond the third line of text (where it would be hidden unless someone clicks the More button), just doesn’t cut it. Anyone who wants to stay in the clear should include terms like “Ad,” “Promotional” or “Sponsored” early and often.
    • Another great resource for further reading can be found at The FTC’s Endorsement Guides: What People Are Asking.

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