Instagram’s march to bring more advertising — and monetization — to its highly visual social feed continues apace. Today the popular Facebook-owned app is announcing its latest ad unit: it will now be introducing ads in the up-to-now algorithmically generated Explore feed.
These ads will start to appear for people when they click on a photo or video within Explore: Instagram says that the ads will pop up “as part of your browsing experience,” as they do in the regular feed. It seems that at least for now the ads will not appear within the wider range of explore photos and videos, just when you click to see more. (Instagram describes the introduction as “slowly and thoughtfully” — which makes it sound like the presence of ads will ramp up over time.)
The ads will start appearing for some people from today and will be more widely rolled out over the next few months, Instagram said.
Explore was first launched in 2012, some two years after Instagram itself, as a merger of the app’s search and “popular” tabs, with an aim of using algorithms that were informed by your existing interests to give you a new way to discover new people and themes to follow in the app beyond those you might pick up by way of you own social circles. It’s had a few revamps, such as the addition of topical channels and hashtags, and the addition of Stories, the format that has proven to be such a hit on Instagram itself.
But interestingly, through all of that, Instagram appeared to stay hands-off when it came to advertising and Explore. The idea is that the content that each person sees in Explore is individualised, with algorithms detecting the kinds of things you like to show you photos, videos and subjects you might most want to see.
On the other side of the coin, this has meant that up to now, individuals and brands have not been able to proactively request or pay to be in anyone’s specific Explore tab — although that doesn’t mean that people don’t game this situation (just Google “how to get on Instagram Explore” and you will find many how-to’s to show you the way).
Today’s addition of advertising to appear after you click on an Explore link seems to be a nudge away from that algorithm, offering brands a way of using advertising to connect with you even if you might not be part of its natural Explore audience.
The move to bring ads into the Explore experience has some logic to it. Even before monetization made its way to Instagram in the form of feed advertising, shoppable links and sponsored content posted by influencers, brands and businesses had started using the platform to promote products and to connect with customers. Instagram says that today, 80 percent of its users follow at least one business on Instagram.
At the same time, brands have — as we mentioned above — been gaming the system somewhat to make sure they get seen on Explore: Instagram says Explore is used by over 50% of accounts each month to enhance their Insta experience, so it is a key way for a brand to get discovered — and notably more organic than paid advertising.
Instagram is rolling extra features into the mix to extend their sales cycle with advertisers. It says they can add in automatic placements by opting in to reach further audiences.
For those who are not yet seeing this in their own Explore feeds, here’s a short video running through how it will look: