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Instagram has become one of the most disruptive social media platforms over the last few years. Particularly popular with the younger generation and the key millennial demographic in particular, Instagram has established itself as a distinctive and extremely popular social media site.

Instagram Enables Advertising

But a controversial decision taken by the owners of the site last year was to enable digital advertising. Previously, Instagram photo feeds were completely untainted by advertising, but now the site accepts corporate sponsorship from a wide variety of different products and brands.

Many social media commentators and fans of the website immediately criticised the decision, and some were adamant that they would never use the photo-sharing app ever again. Despite the predictably negative reaction to this commercial decision, Instagram continues to grow and occupy a significant position in the social media niche.

Recently, the company announced that it had raised over 300 million users, which is extremely significant as it puts the site on a par with Twitter. Indeed, many young people in particular are ditching Twitter in favour of the more fashionable Instagram, and the success of the company seems to know no bounds at the moment.

Analysts of the social media industry have suggested that the relatively cautious approach that Instagram has adopted to advertising has paid dividends, with only a handful of companies being offered advertising space, and those very much in-line with the ethos of the social media site as a whole. Ultimately, this is a hugely youth-oriented site, and offering advertising space to companies which share a similar market and demographic has turned out to be an extremely wise policy.

However, having successfully floated the new advertising policy, the company has recently indicated its intention to expand Instagram advertising to businesses of all sizes and types. This will actually mean considerably more money for Instagram in the short-term, but also more advertisements for users. This is certainly a double-edged sword, and it remains to be seen it whether this will be a positive step into increased monetisation, or a disastrous decision which alienates the core Instagram audience.

Assessing the Advertising Impact

The Guardian newspaper has recently been examining some of the important impacts that Instagram has had it since its inauguration a few years ago. This is of particular interest to travel-related companies, as Instagram provides an excellent platform for promoting tourism-related content. This has perhaps been the most prominent aspect of the photo-site sharing application since it was launched, and numerous destination marketing organisations and travel brands have utilised Instagram in order to promote their particular wares.

In order to assess the impact of Instagram’s new advertising policy on of the popularity of the site and its perception with millennial users, The Guardian invited a prominent user of the ocial media site to assess what impact advertising has on her usage of the site.

The reviewer firstly noticed that the streamlined aesthetic Instagram delivers is essential to its coolness. Although Facebook retains a huge audience, its increasingly negative perception among young people has been attributed to the direct and aggressive move of the platform into digital advertising. The review in question described user feeds on Facebook as a minefield of a “creepy targeted advertisements”, often which are not actually of any relevance to you.

However, the writer in question has suggested that the move into advertising by Instagram should not be disastrous for the social media site. She even had the temerity to suggest that she is in favour of Instagram advertising.

When conducting an anecdotal survey of friends who utilise Instagram a regular basis, the author of The Guardian article suggested that the overwhelming majority of her peers do not even notice that search advertising exists. It seems to be an overwhelming perception that targeted digital adverts are just part of the social media experience now; after all, sites ultimately have to fund themselves and make a profit.

One area where Instagram has been extremely wise in the implementation of its advertising policy is with regard to the way that they are presented on the site. The application has a strict creative policy which ensures that advertisers must produce commercials that are native and blend into the rest of users' feeds.

Instagram Still Relevant to Millennials

The reviewer was fairly sanguine about the prospect that ultimately Instagram is a huge marketing machine, but keen to emphasise the fact that it is one that users continue to have control over. This is perhaps the key distinction between Instagram and Facebook; users retain control over the information to which they are exposed. While there has certainly been a loss of control, this is effectively a smart system that enables users to minimise the unwanted impact on their Instagram activities.

Ultimately, Instagram has been forced to take monetisation seriously. It is ironic that the social media platform is in fact owned by Facebook, considering the criticisms that have been made of the social media site elsewhere in this article. But being buttressed by such a huge company will obviously ensure that the photo site does not need to make money in the short-term. However, Facebook shelled out over $1 billion when the purchasing Instagram so it is clear that it needs to make big money in the foreseeable future.

The Guardian review of Instagram indicates that the advertising included in the social media site's feed has not had a significantly negative impact on the image of the photo- sharing platform. Instagram remains an incredibly powerful way for travel-related companies, brands and destinations to get in touch with young people, and as the site grows to be an equal to Twitter, this should not be ignored.

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