You may soon spot influencers you don’t follow in your Instagram feed.
On Tuesday, the Facebook-owned photo sharing platform announced it is rolling out what it calls “branded content ads.” This will allow brands to make influencers’ sponsored content posts appear as ads so a bigger audience sees them.
Businesses will be able to place these ads in the Instagram feed in the coming weeks and in Stories in the next few months. When branded content ads appear, they’ll look similar to regular ads, but users will see the words “paid partnership” and the brand’s name on the bottom.
Sixty-eight percent of people come to Instagram to interact with influencers, according to the company. Brands often pay influencers — also called social media stars or creators — to promote products on their personal social media accounts to reach their followers. For example, an influencer could be paid to post images of them using teeth whitening strips or laundry detergent from a certain brand.
Previously, only people following influencers or brands would see their paid content. Now, those posts will appear on users’ feeds and Stories even if they don’t follow that social media star, just like other ads on Instagram.
“Creators have found a way to use Instagram to share their lives, passions and interests … and they’ve built really strong audiences around those interests,” Susan Buckner Rose, Instagram’s director of business product marketing, told CNN Business. “There’s a natural opportunity for brands to build partnerships with those creators to reach those same audiences.”
Product recommendations from influencers feel more authentic than traditional advertising, according to Beca Alexander, founder and president of influencer casting and marketing agency Socialyte.
“Their audiences trust them and their opinion,” she said. “They feel like they have this personal connection with these influencers because the influencers give them a view into their day-to-day lives.”
The move will allow both brands and influencers to increase the reach of the paid posts, and target a bigger and more specific audience, such as women between the ages of 18 and 34 who are interested in beauty products.
It’s also a way for Instagram to tap into the growing influencer marketing industry, which has flourished on its platform. While Instagram doesn’t take a cut of influencer-brand partnerships, it will now make money from the new branded content ads, like it does with other ads on its platform.
Branded content ads are also an effort to increase transparency about influencer and brand deals. In recent years, Instagram has been criticized for the lack of transparency of sponsored posts on its platform.
According to FTC guidelines, if a person is being paid to promote something on their own social media account, posts should have a disclosure, such as “#ad.” The FTC also advises influencers to make disclosures if they receive items for free. The issue is difficult for the agency to police due to limited resources.
Instagram has responded by testing a tag above a post that indicates it’s a paid partnership with a brand. The company will now be making that tag more widely available in the coming weeks.