Facebook announced this week that it would begin running ads in users’ Instagram timelines over the next few months. Speculation has been rife that Facebook would eventually introduce ads to Instagram, ever since it purchased the popular photo-sharing network in April of 2012 for somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 billion. Since that time Instagram has failed to generate any income for Facebook, and it was regarded as only a matter of time before the Zuck and co. eventually introduced ads to the platform.
Brands already on Instagram
Most major brands already have some presence on Instagram. But the ad announcement represents a shift, in that for the first time, users will have ads popping up in their feed from brands they don’t follow. However as is the case with Facebook, users will be given the option to hide or report ads, which appear in their stream that they don’t like.
Obviously, any time ads are introduced into a social media platform where there were previously none users are likely to get their feathers ruffled. But Instagram provides its service for free and the company is undoubtedly facing the realities of operating a major web business with zero revenue. This would be the first attempt by Instagram, or its parent company Facebook, to translate the photo-sharing network’s popularity into profits.
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Wary of a backlash
However after the backlash Instagram experienced when it began allowing advertisers to use data and content belonging to users in ads, the network has seemed reluctant to take the plunge with advertisers up until now. So perhaps understandably, Instagram looks to be treading lightly with their plans to introduce ads to users’ feeds.
“Seeing photos and videos from brands you don’t follow will be new, so we’ll start slow,” explained a company spokesman. “We’ll focus on delivering a small number of beautiful, high-quality photos and videos from a handful of brands that are already great members of the Instagram community.”
Instagram’s apparent reluctance to introduce advertising into its content stream recalls a similar stance from Facebook. The Zuck himself was vehemently opposed to ads for years before finally facing up to the reality that even the world’s most popular web property had to generate revenue somehow.
Will advertisers bite?
With 150 active monthly users, Instagram would appear to be fertile territory for advertisers. But many major brands, including Nike and Lululemon, have already found ways to use the platform to run successful viral marketing campaigns without spending a cent. So success for Facebook’s plans to sell ads on Instagram is not necessarily a foregone conclusion.
Initially, the Instagram ad rollout will be limited exclusively to U.S. users.