breaking down Instagram’s new branded content rules
Instagram is proving to be one helluva talking point in digital land lately isn’t it?
During the school summer holidays, I became vaguely aware of chatter about Instagram’s new branded content rules as I was scrolling aimlessly through my phone one afternoon. If memory serves I was sitting under the shade of an oak tree at the time whilst H was having yet another attempt at conquering the skate park ramps on her scooter.
I spent *a lot* of time under that tree this summer let me tell you!
First of all I dismissed the news to the bottom of the digital pile – this summer for me was about getting this new baby off the ground after all! Any work brain time I had was given over to the relaunch.
I was also getting a bit jaded with the subsequent waves of negativity that inevitably followed whenever there was a round of Instagram changes. Disquiet seems to ripple quickly through the Tonal Squareasphere, often perpetuated by rumours and surmising as opposed to cold hard facts.
I wasn’t really in the mood to get into dissecting why this was yet another pain in the metaphorical arse for influencers. So I planned to park it and look at it again a few days later.
from little acorns…
And by that time, I knew that Sara Tasker, Insta Gura over at Me & Orla would probably have written about it too. She always manages to makes sense of everything relating to matters of 3 X 3.
Then… and I’m not sure if it was because an acorn had fallen on my head (which by the way really hurts!), whilst I’d been perched under that tree earlier in the day, I had a bit of light bulb moment.
Why would a clearly defined set of Instagram branded content rules would be a bad thing anyway?
When it comes to our blogs, It’s easy to be crystal clear and highlight gifted items and sponsored content. Instagram has always been a bit more murky I feel.
And before we go any further, I feel I should lay my cards on the table about the concept of sponsored content as a whole at this point.
sponsored content yes or no?
There appear to be opposing camps when it comes to the growing world of influencer advertising.
Those who have no problem whatsoever with bloggers and Instagrammers making a living by offering occasional sponsored content as part of their blog and Instagram feed. When of course it’s declared, is relevant to the blog subject matter and is of high quality.
As a blogger who makes a living out of… well being a blogger, I of course fully support great sponsored content when it’s done with integrity. If you’re proud of your brand partnerships, you should have no problem in declaring them.
If your followers and readers are an engaged and realistic bunch who trust you, believe in you as a blogger AND a business, then they’ll be fine with it too.
Then there’s the other camp, who, no matter how well bloggers and Instagrammers integrate and present their carefully thought out, declared sponsored content, seem to take offence at the fact that we’re able to be compensated for our services in this way.
Which I find odd because, let’s face it – we live in a digital world for the most part and influencer marketing is now A THING whether we like it or not! The amount of new companies dedicated to this very concept are surely testament to that.
Not only that, and the most important factor for me, a huge proportion of those making a living this way are entrepreneurial women, building businesses off the back of their blogs.
We support that don’t we?
Anyhoo – back to matters at hand and those new rules.
What are the rule changes?
As a late guest to the “Oh My God – You Mean Someone Actually Wants To Pay Me For My Insta Skills?” party, by the time I was offered the chance to create sponsored content for Instagram alone, it was clear what I needed to do.
Other ‘Grammers were starting to use the #Ad #Sp and #Sponsored hashtags. So I did as they did. All good.
As part of the new branded content rules, Instagram are now rolling out a sponsored content tagging facility. This means that the Sponsored tag will appear at the top of the gallery post because you, the influencer, are able to tag the brand you’re partnering with.
There appears to have been a breaking down of the finer detail of what does and doesn’t constitute an Ad or sponsored content too.
Gifted or not?
And what do you do when you’ve been “paid” with a gift? Or you’ve just been sent a gift that you’re happy to feature at some point because you and your followers might like it?
Maybe the brand has left it up to you whether you feature it or not. With just an expectancy that you’ll tag them and give a mention in your own written caption if you do? OR… they require a very specific message or campaign theme to be included in the narrative AND they want all this done within a specific time scale?
It’s also now clear that, if as part of a sponsored blog content deal or brand partnership, Instagram Stories has been included in the package then the branded content rules apply here as well.
Argh so many questions and points to consider!
When you look at the variables, I can see why here people are starting to get a little anxious. I think they’re scared of the consequences of getting it wrong and what Instagram might do in terms of suspending accounts.
Between my drafting this post and coming back to edit it, Sara also released a podcast on the subject of advertising rules and regulations, chatting some detail through with Pete Lewin at law firm Purwal & Partners . You can listen here.
In the show notes, Sara links out to some useful legal advice plus ASA guidance on recognising Ads.
what it means for online stylist
For me, its given me a some clarity at least about a few things.
I’m hopeful that by the time I come to post my next sponsored Instagram image, I too will have the facility and will be able to officially tag in the partnering brand. I plan on using this feature whenever I post sponsored Instagram content.
And what to do when I’m including an item in an Instagram image that was sent to me as a gift?
I’ve assumed that my followers are a savvy bunch who know and accept that as part of my job, I’m lucky enough to accept a few lovely gifts. Sometimes when the caption has flowed in the right direction, I have mentioned that it was sent to me as opposed to something I had bought myself. Sometimes I haven’t.
Bags never did pay
the bill and they never will!
I also decided quite some time ago to not accept as many gifts. Eventually it becomes a business decision about where you can afford to spend your time creating content. Bags never did pay the bills and they never will!
From now on, if I’m including a gift in my image, I’ll be following the advice in Sara’s post section entitled “If You’re Not Being Paid”. Whilst the ASA doesn’t require me to disclose it because its effectively an organic feature, I’ll still make it clear in my caption that I was sent it as a gift.
I’m 100% comfortable with this as 99.9% of the gifts I do receive have been pre-agreed between myself and the brand or PR. Therefore they’ll always be something I love and use myself and think that you might like to know about too.
They’re also a lovely perk of a job that I work incredibly hard at and back in the day, they were the only form of payment.
I tend not to accept gifts as “payment” for a particular narrative or brand message to be included in my Instagram caption. It feels way less organic to me, really becomes more of an Ad and should therefore fall under the sponsored content category.
My belief in over delivering
could land me in trouble…
The other area I feel I need to “protect myself” in is when I set out my sponsored content detail document for a brand, Moving forward, I’ll be clearer on exactly how many sponsored Instagram posts will be published as part of any blog partnerships and if any Instagram Stories (and how many) are to be included too.
The reason being that whenever I enter into a collaboration, its always with a brand that I’m genuinely excited to share with you.
My belief in over-delivering when it comes to working with a brand and loving the product so much that I want to share it further could actually land me in hot water.
What if I do want to share further photos on Instagram? If I haven’t been clear in our documented agreement, I have nothing to prove how many sponsored Instagram posts I originally committed to.
This post from One Roof Social raises a good point about the chronological order in which you post your agreed number of sponsored images.
By agreeing in writing exactly how many Instagram posts are sponsored as part of the collaboration, I’m hoping that this covers me in terms of the new rules!
Well I always knew this one was going to be L O N G! Are you still with me?
It feels a bit like one of those things where, the more you think about it, the more complicated it becomes. Luckily the internet is full of information on the subject – just ensure your source is reliable and its not based on personal views or an opinion.
If you’ve been hearing chatter about Instagram’s new branded content rules and wondering what it all means, I hope the resources I’ve linked to might be able to clarify a few points and that you find them useful.
I’d love to hear what you think about it all and also how easily influenced you are in this digital world we now inhabit.
Drop me a comment below or come on over to the lady of the hour herself, Instagram, to say Hi.
I’m @onlinestylist… and post a lot about coffee and cashmere in case you hadn’t noticed!