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; unlike Vine, your videos can be longer than six 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 on how to use your product, Instagram has you covered. Brands get free advertising in a sense when they sign up for 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) on Instagram. The sponsored posts will pop up in your feed along with the other accounts you follow, with two significant differences. Sponsored posts will have a “Sponsored” label on the top right corner and 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 vast 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 excellent for link sharing, but there’s no such thing on Instagram. You cannot include hyperlinks in any copy with Instagram photos or videos. So you can share a new product, but you can’t take your followers to its landing page with a link below the photo. You can 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 will 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 ad spends. But what about smaller brands? A month-long buy run could cost upwards of $350,000, depending on the kind of outreach sought.
  • Disruption: What makes Instagram’s native-style ads valuable is its most significant risk: users see these ads as they scroll through their feed, and the disruption could put them off. Brands must figure out how to create ads without harming 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.