Earlier this year America’s FTC decided to clamp down on influencers promoting products without disclosing paid arrangements. We highlighted some of the issues involved in The FTC Guidelines – Brands Have Nothing to Fear. Although the FTC did not intend to prosecute people, they wanted influencers to change the way they operated. Instagram came up with a proposed solution with their Instagram Paid Partnership Disclosure. More recently, Instagram has named this tool the Instagram Branded Content Tool.
At the time of our last report, the Instagram Paid Partnership feature was still undergoing trials. So how have things progressed since the FTC gave their warnings?
What is the Instagram Paid Partnership Feature?
Before Instagram introduced its new feature, responsible influencers tried to make their position clear by using hashtags like #ad, #brand or #sp. The FTC disputed the value of these tags, claiming that they often disappeared out of plain sight. The FTC even disapproved of using phrases like “Thanks [Brand].”
Those of us in the industry know how popular and successful influencer marketing is. But, the typical social media consumer, operating their Instagram account, has little interest in marketing and may have never heard of the term ‘influencer marketing’. The FTC is determined that marketers and influencers don’t mislead these people. It wants every message to be transparent, with no chance of deception.
The Instagram Paid Partnership features aims to resolve this problem.
When an influencer makes a paid or sponsored post, they now use a subheader that states “Paid Partnership With” and a link to the sponsor’s account. This phrase shows up at the top of their post, below the influencer’s name. Although the feature is not essential for brands to use, it’s an option. Using #ad in a visible place is fine.
Are There Any Benefits to Brands and Influencers?
The Instagram Paid Partnership Feature is more than just a disclosure of sponsorship. For a start, it includes a direct link to the sponsor’s account. As well as this, the top influencers are selective about the brands they represent. Audiences understand that and trust their opinions because of this.
It is also not overly intrusive. Sure it is at the top of the post, but it does not draw the reader’s eye or dominate the post content.
Additional, the feature includes tracking capabilities to make it easier to see how well a particular post performs. Influencers can see metrics about the post in their Instagram Insights. The sponsoring business will be able to find reach and engagement metrics about any sponsored post in their Facebook Page Insights (remember that Facebook owns Instagram). In the case of Instagram Stories, brands will be able to see details about reach, taps forward, taps backward, replies and exits for 14 days.
The Gradual Rollout of the Instagram Paid Partnership Feature
Instagram first announced this new feature back in June, a few months after the FTC began sending out warning letters. It has taken Instagram a while to perfect the function and roll it out to all their users.
Instagram released the paid partnership to a small sample of influencers in June who carried out the trial for a few months.
In September they expanded the tool (by this point referred to as the Instagram Branded Content Tool) to more users. They widened the access of the tool to more celebrities, influencers, public figures, and publishers, as well as to more brands. At the same time, they provided Insight access to all brands with an existing business page. Instagram began implementing the new policy and enforcement rules.
A further change was the introduction of Partner Approvals, giving brands the option to approve influencer content before they influencer refer to them in a post.
Variations of the Instagram Paid Partnership Headings
With the September update, Instagram offered three variations on how influencers could show their the branded content phrase:
- A two line header at the top of the feed – the influencer’s name on line 1, and the expression “Paid Partnership With” [brand name’s account]
- A three-line header at the top of the feed – the influencer’s name on line 1, the phrase “Paid Partnership With” [brand name’s account] on line 2, and extra information, e.g. the brand’s location, on line 3
- A Stories post header – the same details as the two-line header but superimposed across the top of the story image
November Updates on this Policy
Instagram further widened the availability of the tools at the start of November. It is now available to and expected to be used by, all accounts who have access to Instagram’s Insights data. In particular, they have expanded the availability of the tool to Instagrammers whom Instagram considers to have high levels of engagement.
Instagram has told creators that it will notify them if they produce content they believe breaches these new guidelines.