With over 200 million users (and growing) Instagram is a social network you should seriously consider adding to your marketing plan. As visual content becomes more popular on social media, brands need to leverage that power by communicating and sharing visually with their audience. It’s not just pictures: Instagram has videos too. The app allows users to create short videos, and, unlike Vine, your videos can be longer than 6 seconds.

A study from Forrester shows that Instagram posts generate 58x more engagement than a post on Facebook, and 120x more engagement than a tweet. So whether you want to showcase a new product or a quick tutorial of how to use your product, Instagram has you covered.Brands get free advertising in a sense when they sign up to Instagram. But now, with sponsored posts, Instagram has upped the ante with paid advertising. The question is- is it for you?

How It Works

Sponsored posts are images (or videos) from brands (that you may or may not follow) that are on Instagram. The sponsored posts will pop up in your feed along with the rest of the accounts you follow, with 2 major differences. Sponsored posts will have a “Sponsored” label on the tor right corner, along with options under the More button on the lower right. The More button allows users to give feedback or even hide the ad if they don’t want to see it.

The Benefits

  • Reach: 200 million is no small number. There’s a lot of potential with such a wide (and growing) user base.
  • Targeting: Instagram is now part of the Facebook family, and this could come in use when it comes to targeting. Data that’s been shared on Facebook- such as a user’s interests, age, gender, location etc, can be incorporated into ads for better targeting.
  • Native ads: The great thing about the sponsored posts is that they are native: not stuff that pops up on the side of the screen, as a pop-up or as a banner ad. It’s one big image, smack in the middle of the newsfeed- so you know that you can make a lasting impression.
  • #Hashtags: Each post on Instagram can include hashtags that become searchable across the entire Instagram network, so load that post up with relevant hashtags your customers might be searching.

The Drawbacks

Instagram sponsored posts have their drawbacks, too. Here are a few reasons why you may not get as much out of the network as you think:

  • No hyperlinks: Twitter and Facebook are great for link sharing, but when it comes to Instagram, there’s no such thing. You cannot include hyperlinks in any copy that goes with Instagram photos or videos. So you can share a new product, but you can’t really take your followers to it’s landing page with a link below the photo. What you can do is include a url that links directly to the product on your profile page, but navigating away from the image to click on the link breaks the flow.
  • Cost: It’s still unclear how much these ads are going to cost you. The initial test run was conducted with brands like Adidas, Michael Kors, Ben & Jerry’s, Levi’s, Lexus, Macy’s, GE and more…all of whom have an already massive following, and likely large adspends. But what about smaller brands? A month-long buy run could cost you upwards of $350,000, depending on the kind of outreach sought.
  • Disruption: What makes Instagram’s native-style ads valuable is also its biggest risk- users see these ads as they scroll through their feed, and the disruption could put them off. Brands need to figure out how to create ads without taking away from the user experience.

No doubt, Instagram is a great network to be on. It’s a great platform to showcase products, outfits, behind-the-scenes images and more. But whether you should dish extra on sponsored posts to reach more potential customers (who may choose to hide your post in their feed), is something you and your brand manager need to think about.