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instagram branded content ads influencer marketingInstagram is introducing a new tool that can greatly expand influencer marketing on the app.

While marketers can now partner with influencers to promote their brands, only influencers’ followers see those endorsements. The app’s new “branded content ads” will allow marketers to promote influencers’ sponsored posts beyond just their followers.

The ads will appear in users’ feeds in the next few weeks and in Instagram Stories within months, Instagram announced in a blog post. In the interest of transparency and to fulfill FTC requirements, the ads will show “Paid partnership with [brand name]”on each post.

Businesses can reach targeted audiences beyond influencers’ followers by accessing tools available on the Facebook ads platform, says Instagram’s business team. They’ll also have access to the platform’s measurement tools to test and improve campaigns.

Combining Paid and Non-Paid Strategies

While many brands pay influencers to endorse their products, some also take an earned media approach and win product mentions in return for free samples, or through other strategies such as inside peeks at events, previews of products in the works, or financing influencers’ travel. Micro-influencers with smaller but highly engaged audience are often more receptive to such organic outreach efforts. The FTC requires influencers to acknowledge that they have received perks.

The branded content ads could help marketers combine organic and paid advertising strategies, enabling marketing and PR teams to sponsor an influencer’s organic posts that receive outsized engagement and, at the same time, to promote them beyond the influencer’s followers.

Influencer marketing, even though sponsored posts, is thought to be more effective than traditional advertising. Social media users believe influencers are more authentic and trust them more than brand advertising. According to Instagram, 68% of people say they use Instagram to interact with creators.

“Promoting content directly from an influencer’s handle inherently gives the post more authenticity than coming from a brand handle, and we’re seeing significantly higher engagement rates using this strategy,” says Liat Weingarten, vice president of brand communications at Old Navy in Instagram’s blog post.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Others warn that the branded content ads may eventually oversaturate the app with ads and irritate users. Instagram, like Facebook, seems to be obsessed with increasing its advertising revenue. That was reputed to be a key reason for the departure of Instagram’s founders late last year following reports of growing tensions with its parent company.

The feature “marks the latest move in a slow crawl toward the app’s arguably inevitable ruin,” laments Catie Keck at Gizmodo. The app, Keck says, already bursts with sponsored content and influencer endorsements, much that’s not very authentic, contrary to Instagram’s claims.

The ads will likely be effective at first because they’re a new type of content, David Shadpour, CEO and founder of branded content platform Social Native, told CNBC.

“However, over time, their impact will decrease because over-saturation will train users to tune them out, just like they’ve learned to do with brand ads. In the future we could even see a tipping point, where ads overtake organic content on the feed, causing the value of the platform to diminish for consumers,” he said.

For the time being, the ads will give brands more control over their influencer marketing strategy and provide more metrics to gauge ROI, he added.

“Influencer marketing has already gained massive traction, and now brands can scale the reach and engagement of influencer posts to reach new target audiences. The downside though, is that posts are reaching people who didn’t actively opt-in by following that influencer as a result of having similar interests,” he said.

Bottom Line: Instagram’s new branded content ads will significantly expand influencer marketing. Although it offers strong targeting and measurement capabilities, some predict it will overwhelm the app with unwanted, inauthentic sponsored content.