Unless you have been living under a rock, you will have heard that Instagram released a tool last week for disclosing sponsored content.
For each paid collaboration, you can now insert the Instagram account of the sponsor. For example, if you’re getting paid to take a photo with SmartWater, you can now include a tag at the top of the post that reads “Paid partnership with SmartWater”. Similarly, you can add the disclosure to your Instagram story, which appears at the top of the post.
This is anything but surprising: for Instagram, introducing this tool is a huge, long overdue step in bringing more transparency to the platform for creators, brands, and the 700 million+ monthly active users who are exposed to such sponsored posts.
When talking with brands and bloggers at our networking events, the topic of sponsored content and the way it affects your audience always comes up. The increasingly blurred lines between sponsored and non-sponsored posts has surely cast a shadow on the social media community’s attitude to honesty and legal disclosure.
Since Instagram boomed in 2012, influencers have been able to choose from a handful of hashtags, like #ad, #spon, and #sp, to disclose the nature of the collaboration in the caption of their Instagram posts.
Some audiences felt they were sneakingly being fed promoted posts and content, almost making it feel like the whole process had some sort of shame or guilt attached to it. Speaking to our community about this, we found that often some bloggers felt the same.
Instagram heard the cry for help and began testing its product back in February, as Mashable first reported.
But it still took until June before Instagram took this new feature to the public — apparently, extensive communication with creators and brands was happening behind the scenes. “This is something I’ve been talking to our creators about for a while. In terms of how long it’s taken us to get here, we wanted to be very careful about it. We want to make a product that serves the creators, the brands and also the community,” said Charles Porch, creative program director at Instagram to Mashable.
Instagram also added analytics — including reach and engagement metrics — that are shared directly with the selected brand when the tool is used. As Instagram is owned by Facebook, brands can see these numbers on their Facebook page manager, and creators can see them in the Instagram app. Was this needed?
Mediakix issued a report in May that found 93 percent of sponsored posts by the top 50 celebrities on Instagram do not comply with FTC (Federal Trade Commission) guidelines.
In response to this, Instagram said that at the present time, it is looking to “educate users and gather feedback from partners before putting in an official policy”.
Currently, only a small group of select creators and businesses have access to the sponsored content disclosure tool. This seems to be a way for Instagram to introduce the tool to all users, along with official enforcement guidelines, in order to see the response. In the coming months, it is expected that Instagram will roll out the feature to a wider variety of accounts.
“When you actually dive into this, it’s much harder than you think. We’re trying to cover media companies and musicians, people who have different kinds of deals, sponsorship with brands over years or a one-off,” Porch said.
As a network ourselves, we want to make sure we carefully discuss guidelines with our own community: “Creators should still check with their own team and their counsel,” Porch said.