In case certain other tech news this week had you distracted, here’s what’s new with Instagram, the app beloved by amateur food photographers and selfie addicts the world ’round. On August 8, the company announced that it had reached 150 million users. And 50 million of them signed up for the service in the past 6 months.

With that kind of user base, it’s no surprise the company made a second announcement: the previously ad-free app plans to roll out advertisements within the next year.

Instagrammers have known this day was coming since the site’s $750 million acquisition by Facebook in April 2012. As Facebook experiments with sponsored posts in addition to its ubiquitous pay-per-click sidebars, it’s no surprise that the social sharing pioneer wants its trendy little sister to start pulling her weight.

There’s been murmuring throughout the tech world on what an Instagram-ready ad might look like. Why the commotion? Other apps and platforms have been able to integrate ads without much user pushback. But Instagram has it a little tougher.

The app has a certain cool factor that just won’t mesh with “Lose Belly Fat with this One Weird Tip”-type ad trash. If the app wants to keep its loyal user base, it’ll have to find a way to make advertising hip.

Don’t panic yet. We’ve got plenty of #throwbackthursday-s to go before we have to deal with ads on the ’Gram. Until then, here are my predictions of what those ads might look like:

• Targeted ads based on a users’ activity and following lists. Facebook already knows how to mine users’ data to sell stuff. And because there are already many successful consumer brands using the app, developers will have a pretty good idea of what users—plus those they’re following and are followed by—are in to. Users can also share their genders and birth dates, allowing for further demographic targeting.

• Embedded posts á la Twitter and Facebook. Because Instagram posts already show up in a feed, it would make sense for ads to look like just another pic in the stream. Posts could link to an advertiser’s external website, or function as a “suggested account” for users to follow based on their interests.

• Integration of video. Instagram added functionality for 15-second video posts in June, a feature that advertisers are sure to cash in on. Imagine having to watch a full-screen interstitial ad (think YouTube) each time you wanted to comment on a photo or refresh your feed. For brands, these are a great way to sell to a captive audience. But used too often, these ads could get majorly annoying, and might repel users.

• Hate ads? Upgrade to Instagram Gold. It seems likely that Instagram will roll out in-app purchasing features over time, like paid filter options. So why not a premium version of the app? This could work well with the Instagram’s curated aura of exclusivity, and would allow the app to earn money without degrading its product.

Here’s the unfiltered truth: this could either go okay for Instagram’s popularity, or it could go really, really badly. It will all depend on whether ads are designed with consumers—or advertisers—in mind. Hopefully, Instagram will learn from the mistakes of its parent company and avoid the ad-weary “fatigue” that has plagued Facebook this year.

Time will tell whether Instagram can grow up, get a job, and still remain cool. We’ll be paying close attention to the platform’s evolution.

By the way: brands interested in connecting with consumers on Instagram don’t have to wait for the big ad rollout. Many retail and B2B brands are already maintaining viral, content-rich Instagram accounts for their businesses.

In fact, given the obstacles Instagram advertisers will likely face, focusing on great content marketing over paid ads on Instagram may be brands’ wisest option.


Does your business need to get more social? Give Atomic a call, and we’ll help you build some buzz.


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