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8/6/2014
09:06 AM
David Wagner
David Wagner
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Social Strategy: Network-Curated Ads?

Ads hand-picked by Instagram co-founder get almost three times as much action as ads people choose themselves to run on Facebook, pilot program shows.

If you have anything to do with your company's social media strategy, it is time to stop ignoring Instagram. Often dismissed as the new place where teens post selfies and foodies post pictures of their lunch, Instagram is quietly becoming a marketing powerhouse. And the success of its piloted marketing program is pointing to something many CMOs and CIOs charged with enterprise social media strategy don't want to admit: the networks who create the communities know more about customers than advertisers do.

The success of Instagram's marketing efforts are pretty startling. Every marketing post on Instragram was liked, shared, or commented on an average of 6,932 times per ad. Compare that to the much larger Facebook where posts received an average of 2,396 Likes, shares, and comments. These numbers are obvious evidence of the success of in-feed advertising as opposed to more traditional advertising.

But if you think the numbers are startling, wait until you hear this: Every ad placed on Instagram must be approved by Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom. Here he is being quoted in Mashable: " 'I'm looking at every ad,' Systrom told the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference at the Aspen Institute on Tuesday. 'We implemented that early on.' He added that he had the power to reject or suggest changes to the content."

[Learn the ins and outs of Facebook's new IM tool. Read Facebook Messenger: 5 Things To Know.]

Essentially, what Instagram is practicing is a form of curated content. Instead of being managed by a network of peers, it is being curated by the people who know the community best -- the makers of Instagram. And it is more successful than ads where the advertisers are left to their own devices, as they are on Facebook. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise to you, and yet the vast majority of marketing doesn't work that way. Companies might hire ad agencies or use in-house marketing to help craft marketing, but it is still rather new to consult with the company placing the ad over the value of the ad itself. For instance, on the whole, the network airing the Super Bowl is not consulted as to what the best Super Bowl Ad looks like.

Now, before we get too excited there are a few things to point out. For one, Kevin Systrom might just be a marketing genius. After all, he founded Instagram so he knows a thing or two about reaching out to certain types of folks (that's the point of curated ads after all). But Kevin Systrom cannot do this forever nor does he intend to. He doesn't even necessarily intend to train dozens like himself. This is just part of an experiment. So it might not be curation but Systrom himself succeeding.

Even if he did train a bunch of people like himself, it is hard to imagine this scaling easily to something the size of Facebook. That's a lot of people to rubber stamp ads.

And frankly, we don't know if it is the social network or the curation that is giving us the specific benefits. Maybe Instagram is just valuable with its mostly young audience.

So it is early days to jump to huge conclusions. That said, the takeaway from this from the point of view of the CMO-CIO combo running your social media is that in some shape or form, this type of curated ad is likely to continue to exist and grow, probably as an add-on service. Even though Instagram is only doing this as an experiment and there is no timetable as to how long it will do it, companies have long existed to create and serve content to communities on behalf of companies. This is not new. But it is new in social media. Expect it to grow and evolve. Rather than using your in-house tools for social media to try to craft the perfect ad and hope for success, it might be time to trust the people who built the community to do it.

Measuring social media success is hard. Finding social media success is even harder. But tripling response to an ad is success. Those likes, shares, and comments are the type of amplification social media marketers dream of. Who is better suited to get them than the people who invented them?

What do you think? Would you trust your social media ad creation to a social network? Is this just Instagram being more valuable than Facebook, or are these signs of real results? Comment below.

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Moderator
8/27/2014 | 2:51:25 PM
young demographics
This might just be becasue of the younger demographic. Facebook has a plethora of people to have ads for while intagram is a single demographic. You can curate ads for one demographic fairly easiliy which may account for its success. The other thing is that since they are younger, there may be an element of being more engaged with the marketing so they are more likely to "like" or comment on a thing as opposed to us old fuddy duddies  that groan and mentally will the ad away before going about our business.
Rich Krajewski
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Rich Krajewski,
User Rank: Ninja
8/8/2014 | 3:36:38 PM
Re: Totally
I'm running some ads on Facebook.

We're using a relatively focused, and therefore relatively expensive, list. Right now the "exposure meter" is clicking away, showing person after person seeing the ad, but no interest. Now remember this list is the same category of person that has shown strong interest in our work before. Suddenly, however, if this data is to be believed, there is no interest. Does it make sense that the list has suddenly changed its characteristics, or that maybe there is something wrong with the unaudited exposure data coming in?

The test will come when we compare social media to other outlets. We've had some success in certain print magazines before, and conference handouts, that have far exceeded social media results.

Update: we drastically changed the demographic focus of our Facebook ads to overcome what we perceived to be a potential bias error in their data, and now we're getting good results. In our opinion, Facebook data has some serious problems that need to be taken into account by anyone using them for advertising.
Rich Krajewski
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Rich Krajewski,
User Rank: Ninja
8/8/2014 | 7:45:59 AM
Re: Totally
Presuming you can trust the figures regarding actual distribution of the ad.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
8/8/2014 | 7:37:59 AM
Re: Totally
I think McDonalds just found out how brutal Instagram can be.  They launched an ad campaign that was torn apart by commenters.  Being seen or commented on via Instagram is not always a good thing.  I'm betting the marketing team behind that one is in hiding right now.
Rich Krajewski
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Rich Krajewski,
User Rank: Ninja
8/8/2014 | 2:16:50 AM
Re: Totally
I'm not the only one who is thinking, something's wrong here. The Wall Street Journal is thinking the same thing. Unfortunately, IW won't let me post the link, because, as they told me:

"Due to comment spam on our site, we have changed our comment system to block all posts that include URLs. We are seeking a longer-term solution that would allow for URLs."

So, look it up yourself!

 
Rich Krajewski
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Rich Krajewski,
User Rank: Ninja
8/8/2014 | 2:14:15 AM
Re: Totally
You know, if you do that with a magazine, you get third-party auditing of the circulation to prove that you actually got those impressions. With Facebook, who is checking to see if you actually did get the views? Facebook?
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
8/7/2014 | 5:46:14 PM
Re: Totally
@rich- Well, you know there's more to a sale than a marketing impression. Everyone knows that. But you have to start with a marketing impression or the rest doesn't matter. If no one knows your product, that also doesn't turning into sales. How many times have you watched TV and said, "wow, that was a great ad and not bought the product?" The same is true of social media. 
Rich Krajewski
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Rich Krajewski,
User Rank: Ninja
8/6/2014 | 8:22:51 PM
Totally
"Every marketing post on Instragram was liked, shared, or commented on an average of 6,932 times per ad."

Totally meaningless. I bought some ads on FB, for instance. The numbers on the surface seemed impressive. At one point I was getting a 5% Like rate, which FB noted, in a message to me, was better than 90% of all other supposedely similar ads. But it was all baloney. None of the responses resulted in actual purchases, just meaningless clicks and Likes and other tantus tauri. An average of 6932 times per ad sounds great, until you find out it doesn't result in sales.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
8/6/2014 | 2:11:17 PM
Re: Network-Curated Ads?
@Chris- I don't think so. If anything, i would think that would make them harder to notice. 

One thing is that they mostly accepted ads from Fortune 500 companies. Obviously Fortune 500 companies have products people like. On the other hand, I don't know why you'd need to share a Taco Bell ad (Taco Bell was one of the successful ads) because it isn't like anyone isn't familiar with them. And yet they were shared quite a lot. 

Honestly, I think it is quality of ad. But I can't prove it. Sample size is still too small. 
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
8/6/2014 | 2:02:59 PM
Re: Network-Curated Ads?
Might scarcity contribute to the ads success in this pilot -- that there are so few ads on Instagram that users aren't weary of them and tuning them out?
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