Can a picture really be worth a thousand words?

While the publishing industry’s biggest competition is for user time, the visual storytelling platform Instagram lets users scroll through hundreds of images in a matter of seconds. The average Instagram user now follows between 400 and 500 accounts, putting a huge amount of content in the hands of each of the 400 million Instagram users and increasing publisher rivalry for attention on the platform.

Facebook-owned Instagram is a mysterious platform for publishers, and even ‘big-time’ players have a somewhat small following, considering the monthly active users.

How are publishers achieving return from Instagram and where does the opportunity lie as an advertiser?

Instagram users contribute over 80 million images and videos on a daily basis, directly impacting engagement rates from publishers, as a user’s ability to process boundless posts declines.

“There is so much content on the platform that brands are starting to see once-stellar engagement rates and organic reach drop” (Justin Rezvani, CEO of TheAmplify)

Yet, according to Forrester, Instagram is still considered one of the most engaging platforms for brands and publishers, at a per-follower engagement rate of 4.21 percent, (58 times more engagement per follower than Facebook and 120 times more than Twitter). Nevertheless, the discussion around introducing an Instagram algorithm, to “monetise and preserve the user experience” is ever-present.

One size does *not* fit all

It is vital to not compartmentalise consumer relationships according to distribution channel. Publishers should consider Instagram as a platform within its own right, with its own nuances and specialities, because it doesn’t drive traffic back to the publisher. It is an important visual marketing tool for publishing, and currently sees a 40 percent YoY growth.

Although, Sandberg and Zuckerberg did reveal that 98 out of Facebook’s 100 top advertisers also advertised on Instagram in the fourth quarter, which certainly suggests that “Instagram plays a big part in Facebook’s growing mobile business.” eMarketer have recently predicted that 9.5 percent of Facebook’s worldwide mobile ad revenue will come from Instagram.

Akhil Suchak, head of social at Bauer Media says:

“Instagram gives us unique opportunities to put visuals first, so we can show behind the scenes footage, tease content or promote our unique talent access. Like every platform, it’s crucial to know the audience and not just push the ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Focusing the distribution and content strategy to fit audience consumption habits is essential. Publishers may always be more comfortable with storytelling through words, but engagement and opportunity through these platforms is becoming increasingly valuable.

Rajiv Mody, VP of social media at National Geographic has previously said:

“The choice of media platform, or the mode of engagement on each platform, is just as important. In practice this means that [] teams need… to curate content for each platform and use only what work best for a specific medium.”

Suchak adds:

“There aren’t really disadvantages to using a platform that has so much cut-through for our [Bauer Media brands] audiences. The minor negative is not being able to link directly from image to content by links unless you’re using a promoted product – in a way though I prefer that as it’s you’re in an almost creative closed community which is what users prefer.”

Instagram Ad Solutions

Recently, Instagram revealed that over 200,000 brands are using the platform to advertise each month, with an aim to ‘push seamless integration with sister company Facebook’.

Instagram has been famously cautious in rolling out ads. In August 2015, Instagram switched on its API (application programming interface) for ads. A month later, Facebook began monetising Instagram offering photo, carousel and video ads managed through Facebook’s self-serve interfaces – Ads Manager and Power Editor. This gives publishers the ability to drive people to a website, gain conversions, install mobile apps and engage a wider audience through increased mobile app activity, whilst driving awareness to a broader audience.

They have additionally begun rolling out view counts for video posts, to show how the Instagram community engage with video format, which is something obviously created for the benefit of marketers and advertisers.

Indeed, much of Instagram’s ad potential rests in the data treasure trove collected by its parent company. Yet Nielsen reported, that from “across more than 400 campaigns measured globally with Nielsen Brand Effect, ad recall from sponsored posts on Instagram was 2.8 times higher than Nielsen’s norms for online advertising”.

According to Venture Beat, 58.3 percent of Instagram’s super-fans are unhappy with the way sponsored ads have been incorporated into their feeds and the importance of adapting the sponsored ads to the content was highlighted. Brands who got this right made the ads non-commercialised to fit with the aesthetic of the platform.

There are concerns with the substandard level of creative ads and rush of marketing within the platform, but it is said that quality-control measures are in place to ensure this does not become a turn-off for users.

James Quarles, Instagram’s global head of business and brand development has previously said:

“We monitor signals super closely, [An important one] is from people themselves giving feedback about ads that either are or are not relevant to them. We think the best-targeted ads are the most relevant to people and perform the best for advertisers.”

Here are business case studies of brands showing the increase in engagement Instagram ads can offer.


Many brands are using Instagram ads to target millennials and mobile users, with 90 percent of Instagram users under the age of 35. This has created a ‘recent plague of sponsorgrams’, when advertisers or brands pay the individual to promote their content or product. This has been remarked as ruining the authenticity of the platform, giving a marketing air about it.

 But there is the possibility that opening the floodgates to ads will turn off many of the 400 million users…