Instagram finally accepts branded content with official tool

Listen up, Kardashian Klan and all you wannabe models and socialites shilling products on Instagram.

The Facebook-owned app released a tool Wednesday for disclosing sponsored content. Now, when you’re getting paid to take a photo with a Volvo XC90, for example, you can include a tag at the top of the post that reads “Paid partnership with volvocarusa” or insert whatever the Instagram account name of the sponsor is.

Here’s what it looks like as a traditional Instagram post and as a post in an Instagram Story, featuring fashion and interior designer Aimee Song (songofstyle):

Image: instagram

For Instagram, introducing this tool is a huge, long overdue step to bring more transparency on the platform for creators, brands, and all of the more than 700 million monthly active users who are often exposed to such posts.

Since its founding in 2012, Instagram let the system operate as the Wild West, where celebrities and influencers would chose from a handful of hashtags, like #ad, #spon, and #sp, to include in the caption of their Instagram posts as a disclosure.

Instagram tested this product back in February, Mashable first reported. But it still took until now before Instagram would even comment on the existence of a feature. They had, however, been speaking with creators and brands about the tools.

“This is something I’ve been talking to our creators about with a while. In terms of how long its taken us to get here, we wanted to be very careful about it. We want to make a product that serves the creators, the brands and also the community,” said Charles Porch, creative program director at Instagram.

Instagram also added analytics reach and engagement metrics that are shared directly with the selected brand when the tool is used. Brands can see these numbers on their Facebook Page manager, and creators can see it in the app.

There was no legal pressure to add the feature, and Instagram did not collaborate with the Federal Trade Commission, which is tasked with keeping advertisers in check.

Neither Instagram nor the FTC have “hard and fast rules” for the practices, the New York Times wrote last summer. Even the rules that do exist are broken. Marketing firm Mediakix issued a report in May that found 93 percent of sponsored posts by the top 50 celebrities on Instagram do not comply with FTC guidelines.

Still, Instagram will not enforce the new tool for now. According to the team, they will educate users and gather feedback from partners before putting in an official policy. Only a small group of select creators and businesses have access to the tool as well. It will be introduced to all users, along with official enforcement guidelines, in the coming months.

The tool isn’t as simple as it may look, Porch said. His team at Instagram had to debate the best language that would work across brands.

“When you actually dive into this, its much harder than you think. We’re trying to cover media companies and musicians, people who have different kinds of deals, sponsorship with brands over years or a one-off,” Porch said.

So is this the end of #ad? Not so fast.

“Creators should still check with their own team and their counsel,” Porch said. It’s only available to a handful of creators so far.

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