Facebook has confirmed it will soon begin “monetizing” Instagram – industry speak for “the ads are coming.” Since the social network’s acquisition of the photo-sharing platform, what the partnership means in advertising terms has been much discussed.
In exact terms, Facebook VP of Global Marketing Solutions Carolyn Everson told Business Insider, “There are many brands that use Instagram right now to try to get a feel for how to engage with their followers. We will definitely be figuring out a monetization strategy.”
While the headline “Ads are hitting Instagram!” is admittedly sexier, this isn’t necessarily what’s going to happen. Reading between the lines, you could imagine that Facebook plans something like its recent mobile ads push for Instagram. Those look like the image at right.
These advertising instances are fairly unintrusive, given that they blend into the rest of your News Feed, but are obviously not content your friends posted. Of course, Facebook and Instagram are different networks, and seeing something exactly like this pop up in Instagram, amidst photos of Amaro and Walden-filtered sunsets, dinners, dogs, and plane windows would definitely interrupt the user experience. It would be out of place and sacrifice design. It would be bad.
It’s so obviously bad that I have to imagine that when Everson says Facebook is “figuring out a monetization strategy,” she isn’t just trying to find a nice way to say “we’re putting ads all over that thing, suckers!” She means it, and when she says that plenty of brands are already using Instagram for marketing purposes, she’s right. Warby Parker has amassed 38,000 followers and gets plenty of likes and comments on its posts, and it personally reaches out to users who posts photos with the #WarbyParker tag. Nike is similarly making good use of Instagram, with a myriad of specific accounts for users – consumers – to interact with.
Clearly, Instagram is a great avenue for brands to reach buyers, something Facebook has some experience with. Since launching the Open Graph, the way Facebook is going about marketing is through trying to make it a seamless, natural part of its environment. Sure, there are sidebar ads, logout ads, and, now, mobile ads … but most of these have been a part of Facebook’s structure for a really long time. Throwing this type of content into the Instagram mix simply doesn’t make as much sense.
Now what does make sense are tools like brand pages, promoted hashtags, and deals. Facebook could offer premium accounts to brands, wherein they could then pay for promoted hashtags and accounts (yes, like Twitter), making them more visible to users. They could also allow these businesses to run deals for users who post photos where they’ve checked into the location. There are a lot of unique opportunities here that aren’t just straight-up ads in our Instagram photo stream.
But maybe I’m just being optimistic. If there’s anything we’ve learned recently, the user experience is absolutely, always on the chopping block.