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Social media has had a massive cultural impact, and now billions of people all over the world use such well-known platforms as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on a daily basis. However, despite the amount of people that these household names have managed to attract, in general terms social media sites have all experienced one common problem - making a profit.

Monetising social media

Monetising the vast numbers of users that social media has been able to attract has proved to be a complicated logistical issue. Facebook stock plummeted after its initial listing, and Twitter has hitherto failed to make a profit whatsoever. Yet the tide is turning steadily, with Facebook now reporting good profitability to the city, LinkedIn also being commercially successful, and the popular social media sites are all slowly but surely finding a way to make money from their success.

One of the ways this is occurring is via advertising. Facebook has been particularly successful in attracting mobile advertising, and now the photograph-based social media site Instangram is now beginning to implement advertising within its platform. This has yet to be fully implemented, but Instagram has indicated on its website that it will be seeking advertisers in the near future.

While the image of Instagram may to some extent be of a fun site, the social media platform is nevertheless attracting business interest as well. Instagram has already created a dedicated blog for businesses, which provides a raft of ideas and insights with regard to how to promote themselves on Instagram. Aside from the basic options which any Instagram user will know about, the site also provides options such as filtering photographs, using hyper lapsing videos, and an array of other techniques to enhance a business' Instagram feed.

Advertising has already gone live on Instagram, beginning in November, 2013. Now in just the last week, the traditional partner of the United States, the UK, has also seen Instagram introduce advertising. This enables British brands to sponsor posts on the website in order to make themselves more visible to users.

Big brands sign up

The potential of this medium has been underlined by the size of the companies that have signed up for the first week of advertising. The popular, upmarket supermarket chain Waitrose has already taken out an Instagram advert, as has the leading cosmetic firm Rimmel, and the national television station in Britain, Channel 4.

Several other big brands are also apparently readying themselves to launch advertising on Instagram in the near future, with the massive coffee chain Starbucks, the chocolate manufacturer Cadbury, and the beauty, skincare and fragrance producer Estee Lauder all looking to advertise on the social media platform in the very near future.

For the time being, Instagram is actually launching this advertising platform in a very responsible and measured fashion, and is being extremely selective about which brands it allows to advertise on its platform. It is quite clear that Instagram wants to create the right sort of vibe for the site, by selecting brands it considers to be consistent with its image and ethos.

At the moment, Instagram advertising is limited to photographs, but this is very much a short-term arrangement while the site becomes accustomed to this new revenue stream. It will be possible in the near future to also post videos on the site for advertising purposes, and once this feature goes live it is reasonable to assume that the Instagram advertising platform will really take off.

Instagram currently has over 200 million active users, and collectively they have contributed more than 200 billion photographs to the social media site. The management of Instagram have already indicated that once the US and UK advertising has been cemented, the site will begin offering the same provisions to customers in Australia and Canada.

Potential for destinations

This new advertising platform would seem to offer massive opportunities to travel-related businesses and destinations. Instagram is primarily used to share photographs, and it is thus an ideal platform for organisations involved in the travel industry to advertise their wares.

The Instagram site is already used by travel companies to share photos about a wide range of travel-related activities, such as landscapes, dramatic panoramic views of destinations, famous sightseeing locations, local produce, food and culture, and so on. There are already several destinations on Instagram that attract photo and video content shared by users by utilising specific hashtags. There is a massive opportunity for destinations to gain notoriety via the social media platform, and as advertising becomes a major part of the site, the potential for businesses to make the most of the platform will increase massively.

It has become clear from a variety of different reports, studies and examples of anecdotal evidence that social media is a fantastic way of reaching travellers. Above all else, the two-way nature of the communication that it offers helps create a genuine community feel, and encourages people to truly invest in a destination or travel-related business. Digital marketers would be wise to monitor the development of Instagram advertising as it offers a wealth of potential opportunities to travel companies and destinations.

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