There has been much recent speculation about how ads will work when they come to Instagram. And make no mistake, they are coming. Facebook forked over a billion dollars for Instagram, so at some point they need to start making money from it. Shareholders are funny that way.
If you ask me, my bet is on promoted Instagram posts of some kind. This is pure speculation, but advertisers could be given the ability to target users based on the hashtags they use, whether it be in the Instagram search feature or within users’ own Instagram feeds. It’s also possible that such targeting might require a specific timeframe to encourage timeliness and relevancy.
For example, a swimwear manufacturer might post a photo like the one below and choose to promote it. The promoted image could be targeted at Instagrammers who have either searched for or used the hashtags #bikini, #swimwear or #swimsuit in the last forty-eight hours. Those Instagrammers would then see the promoted image in their home feed. The promoted image would allow the advertiser to link to an outside website, something that is not possible in a standard Instagram post. (Pro tip: If you’re an advertiser, your website better be mobile-friendly.)
As with any promoted content, the keys to a successful promoted Instagram post will be quality and relevancy. It’s important to note that the image used at the top of this post is an actual Instagram post with more than 12,000 likes. (Imagine that: people like photos of beautiful girls in bikinis. Who knew?) The image is popular on its own merit. The addition of promoted images would simply extend the reach of a post like this and make live the URL included in the post’s call to action.
Regardless of what Instagram ads look like, critical to having a successful program will be Instagram’s role in ensuring the relevancy of promoted images to targeted audiences. I imagine we’ll see an approval process for promoted images not unlike that of Facebook Ads. Expect restrictions on the amount of text in images, character limits for copy, and—I hope—for ads to be reviewed for both content and context. The last thing we want is advertisers spamming popular hashtags the same way pre-teens do with selfies and photos of Harry Styles.