Instagram wants to be a matchmaker between influencers and brands

Instagram is getting more involved in influencer marketing, an industry it helped create.

Starting today, the image-sharing app is testing a tool that helps brands find influencers, or “creators” as Instagram calls them, to partner with. Called the Brand Collabs Manager, the tool has been in use by parent company Facebook since 2018.

Through Instagram’s tool, the search for influencers is modelled similarly to ad targeting: brands can specify the desired audience of the influencer they want to work with, including country, gender, age, number of followers and interests. During influencer campaigns, Instagram will share performance metrics as well as giving brands the option to promote influencer content in the feed as if it were an ad.

The tool is Instagram’s latest play to take an increasingly active role in the $8 billion influencer marketing economy, which is expected to reach $15 billion worldwide by 2022 and already supports numerous successful third-party influencer marketing agencies.

This year, it introduced “Checkout on Instagram”, which lets users complete purchases without leaving the app, “Shop from Creators,” which allows influencers to tag those shoppable items, and a “Shopping” tab in its Explore page to discover everything for sale on Instagram. The Brand Collabs Manager gives Instagram more control over activity already happening on the platform: 78 per cent of US marketers said that Instagram posts were the most effective influencer marketing channel, and 73 per cent said Instagram Stories, according to eMarketer. Meanwhile, 23 per cent responded that a Facebook post was most effective.

Instagram’s incentive: if creators have an easier time monetising their content to drive value for brands, they will make more content, and brands will invest more ad dollars into Instagram. Brands must be existing advertisers to participate in the Brand Collabs Manager.

“We want to help creators make a living on the platform, and we want to help brands find the audiences that are most relevant to them,” says Instagram director of product marketing Susan Buckner Rose. “So we think when done well, this can be a win-win-win for creators, brands and people.”

An influencer marketing jackpot

By letting brands search influencer accounts by preferences, the Brand Collabs Manager acts as a matchmaker: brands can see which influencers match the audience or creator search criteria, in addition to the influencer’s description, follower count and content category. Brands can then contact potential influencers or invite those who fit the criteria to apply to a project brief. The tool is starting with approximately 40 US Instagram influencers who were selected by Instagram, based on factors including previous use of the branded content tag. Going forward, creators must apply to participate in the Brand Collabs Manager.

Once a brand and an influencer have begun working together, the Brand Collabs Manager provides insights on sponsored posts. Brands can also pay Instagram to promote influencer content as an ad as well as compare performance of “organic” branded content influencer posts (meaning those that were not promoted to a different audience) to branded content ads that have been boosted. Within the campaign audience, brands can track age, gender and reach, marking the first time Instagram has opened this type of data up directly to brand marketers. According to Rose, the tool will make for smarter influencer strategies, as brands can more accurately reach the audience they’re looking to target.

Facebook’s Brand Collabs Manager provides data on an influencer’s audience.

© Facebook

Previously, brands have only been able to see campaign engagement and reach data or had to rely on influencers to send incremental insights themselves. Gen Z influencer Markian Benhamou, who has more than 665,000 followers and is participating in the test, says that having insights in one place will reduce the repetitive process of sharing insights with brand partners. Rose adds that this has been “a huge pain point over the years”, as screenshotting metrics is both inefficient and potentially inaccurate since screenshots can be falsified.

Instagram’s power move

Since Instagram and Facebook control the flow of data on their platforms, this more active role in influencer partnerships could threaten the businesses of those who charge for similar matchmaking and performance metric services.

There are limits to influencer-casting only through the easily measurable metrics offered by Instagram, says Launchmetrics chief marketing officer Alison Bringé, whose “media impact value” algorithm helps brands measure their return on influencer activations. She says that sometimes engagement rates — like on the accounts of top models, for example — can be “terrible”, but the association with major models can still provide legitimacy to a brand.

Conor Begley, co-founder and president of influencer marketing platform Tribe Dynamics, has found that the smartest brands look not only at an influencer’s audience demographics but at whether or not they’ve expressed interest in the brand in the past. If Dior flies a fan to Paris, for example, this will motivate the brand’s followers to support Dior on social in hopes that they, too, will be recognised by the brand, Begley says.

He adds that Instagram taking a more active role in sponsored influencer posts is a way for the platform to better control the experience and limit the amount of ineffective marketing that users see. “Instagram is going to be much better at making money with that post than the influencer will be,” he says. “They can make sure that the best ad is shown to the right person at the right time. Instagram knows who those people are. And you do not.”

Testing other metrics

Earlier this year, Instagram started testing hiding “like” counts from users other than the person who posted the content. Hiding likes, Rose says, will help people “feel like they can be their authentic selves on Instagram and that Instagram doesn’t turn into a popularity contest”.

She acknowledges that creators and businesses have said that this can make it hard to understand engagement. In response, she says Instagram is exploring new account settings that would let influencers choose if they want to share relevant engagement metrics, including like counts, with a business partner through the app.

Instagram is also still learning what insights are most important to creators and brands when people shop a brand’s product that an influencer has tagged in a post. Creators and the brands they tag will be able to see engagement and shopping insights on a post, including how many people viewed or clicked on each product, as well as total impressions. “There’s a lot of learning we have to do to better communicate the value that it brings,” Rose adds.

Wilhelmina CEO Bill Wackermann, which created a standalone influencer division this year, says that, ideally, brands and creators would be able to see the same type of data that e-commerce stores see. “If their social media feed is a conceptual store, we have no information on how many people visited and saved and came back to purchase, or who purchased once before and never returned. If I go to Macy’s, they have data on when I came back again two months later.”

Rose says Instagram is working to build out its commercial opportunity without alienating users. “We want to give creators and brands the tools to be able to have a better experience in the way they share content with people,” she says. “But we also don’t want to make Instagram swing too far and become overly commercial. It’s something that we’re really thinking about: how do we give people the information that they want when they want it, but also protect their experience?”

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