Ever since its sale to Facebook in 2012, Instagram has pulled off the trick of appearing detached from the aging brand, continual scandals and reputational taint of its parent. The ‘young and cool’ are on Instagram, and whilst most also have Facebook accounts, they’ll often tell you they no longer post or share on the platform. Even recent issues that have hit Instagram – a lack of transparency around paid-for posts, the hosting of dangerous imagery, the Fyre Festival – have more to do with the behavior of users than the activities of the platform itself.
There’s an argument that Facebook should not have been allowed to buy Instagram in the first place – it has damaged the market and neutralized a natural competitor. As one tech writer explained at the time of the deal: “Instagram has what Facebook craves – passionate community. People like Facebook. People use Facebook. People love Instagram – Facebook lacks soul. Instagram is all soul and emotion.”
Despite Instagram’s distancing trick from Facebook, they are very much part of the same money-making machine. Instagram ads are placed using Facebook’s systems. They share data. Advertisers (and data exploitation schemes) run content across both. But following the departure of founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, Instagram has lost its buffer. Even as stock analysts herald its potential to become the primary driver of Facebook’s ad revenue, if the glossy filter wears too thin, if Facebook gets too close, the brand will be at risk. And other platforms like Snapchat will be waiting in the wings.
Meet The Influencers
What could bring all this to a head is the quiet revolution in marketing that’s not so quiet anymore. The influencer industry will reach $10 billion in value next year and is written into the plans of every major brand around the world. Whilst these numbers are dwarfed by the value of more traditional online ad-placement, growth across the influencer industry shows no signs of slowing. It is the business model that looks set to change the rules of advertising. And despite Instagram being the shining star right at its center, Facebook needs to work out how to control the agenda for influencer marketing, or it risks undermining its own dominance in the coming years.
This revolution isn’t being driven by a few dozen A-list celebrities with millions of followers, or even by macro-influencers with a few hundred thousand each. It is being driven by the hundreds of thousands of micro-influencers, each with a few tens of thousands of followers. The micro-influencer is trusted within their niche. They are expected to use, and not just endorse, products. And what they say matters. Their following represents a targeted demographic. With more advanced tools becoming available to identify, validate and manage the right person for the right campaign, the elusive ROI from influencer marketing will become measurable. That could be a game changer for the marketing industry, all driven by Facebook.
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