What Does Instagram’s New Branded Content Tagging Feature Mean for Your Business

What’s sponsored and what’s not?

I make a living from my Instagram, @pinlord. A powerful growth strategy for my business has always been the promotion I receive from other “Instagram Influencers” wearing my pins and tagging my account. My goal is to receive as many tags as possible from accounts who have highly engaged audiences and like what I do. It’s a crucial component of how I grow.

Because I’m a one-man-show and I don’t have a big advertising budget, I focus my energy on digging through Instagram to discover the most highly engaged accounts out there so I can send them a simple and friendly DM offering some free pins.

Most of the time, people are excited about the opportunity and reply with a “Yes, I’d love some!”. Once they’ve selected the designs they like from my website, I mail them a nicely-designed personalized package and hope they like it enough to post about it on their account. Here’s an example of what that correspondence usually looks like:

This leads to around 75% of them posting my pins on their profile, which helps my sales, engagement and growth. In some cases, we end up “following” each other and develop a pleasant Instagram-friendship in which we cross promote our accounts. Receiving promotion from people in exchange for a great experience and free product is an integral part of my business. It allows me to get the results of an Instagram ad but for a fraction of the cost, which helps me continue to earn an income doing what I love to do.

That is why getting a notification about Instagram’s New Branded Content Tagging feature scared me. In case you haven’t seen it, this is what I saw on the app:

You can find more information on the new feature here.

After digging a bit deeper and going through Instagram’s updated Branded Content Policy, I noticed that they define branded content as:

“… a creator or publisher’s content that features or is influenced by a business partner for an exchange of value…”

When I read this, I started asking myself a lot of questions…

What exactly do “influence” and “value” mean? What determines who is and isn’t a business partner?

Does everyone I gift product to-, now have to label the photos of them wearing my pins as sponsored content?

Will my customers have to label their posts as sponsored if I offer a discount code in exchange for a tag of them wearing the pins they bought from my site?

I also earn an income and free pins from promoting other, smaller, pin-makers on my account to help them get exposure and sell. Does this mean that I have to tag all of my posts as sponsored content? The reason why I started my Instagram is to promote others.

What will happen when someone doesn’t tag a post as sponsored, when it is?

What will happen when someone doesn’t tag a post as sponsored because that person considers it’s not, but others consider that it is?

What will be the consequences of not following the policy?

How will the decision of who follows policy and who doesn’t be made?

In a world where the lines between a brand, a publisher, a creator, and influence in general, are become more and more blurred, the answers to these questions are important.

I applaud Instagram for wanting more transparency when it comes to sponsored content, but how will this impact the people and small businesses who don’t earn “big influencer” money and are hustling for every dollar they earn through their accounts? Don’t get me wrong, I love Instagram and I spend a lot of time creating and sharing information that will help others also be successful on it, but product features like this one makes me wonder how empathetic they are toward small entrepreneurs on the edges, like me.

I understand that they want to capture as much value as they can, but will those efforts end up discouraging their most loyal content creators from continuing to spend their time and energy on the platform? A big reason why you see so much creativity on Instagram is because scrappy people still see the app as an opportunity to earn an income if you create something valuable. But, like Facebook, we’ll likely see less of that as Instagram continues to build features that only have their bottom line in mind.

I doubt many of us know the answers to these questions at this stage, but what is clear is that in order to grow through other people’s promotion in the future, brands and companies will have to work much harder at creating products and experiences that delight us.

Delight us enough for people to want to promote them on Instagram out of their own will, without the Sponsored Content Tag. For the companies who do that well, having a lot of Sponsored Content on Instagram will work in their favor because the contrast will help highlight how much people actually love what they do, not get paid to say that they do.

How will this impact your business? Please share with us in the comments. It’ll be a helpful exercise for all of us!

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