Instagram announced Tuesday (June 2) that it is expanding efforts to bring advertisements to its photo-sharing platform, which have been underway for a year and a half.
With the new ads, businesses—Instagram used the example of Tieks, a manufacturer of $175 aqua-soled ballet flats—will be able to target Instagram users and post photos with a “shop now” button. I don’t like Tieks, and the thought of them appearing in my Instagram feed is even less appealing than the insurance company’s sponsored posts that have been popping up already. (Was it Allstate? That I can’t remember which company’s probably indicates the need for better targeting.)
“We want to make sure the ads [Instagram users] see are for things that matter to them,” James Quarles, Instagram’s global head of business and brand development, told The New York Times.
I don’t really want to see paid ads in my Instagram feed at all, but I’m already following scores of brands that could easily sell me something. Many already are. Some of my favorite Instagram accounts happen to be those of small-to-medium sized boutiques; naturally, their owners have a strong visual sense.
Sometimes they’re selling a product that appears in their post; sometimes they’re not. But they’re always selling their brand, and in following them, I’ve already bought into it. So a “buy” button on a photo featuring, say, brilliant blue sailor pants, like the one above that the Los Angeles-based Mohawk General Store shared before Memorial Day weekend, wouldn’t feel like an intrusion. It would probably feel like a convenience.
“Our Instagram is our advertising, pretty much” Kevin Carney, the co-founder of Mohawk General, which has three boutiques and 39,000 Instagram followers, tells Quartz.
Carney shoots many of the photos that appear on the brand’s Instagram account himself. Mohawk General’s website—like its stores—is a clean, tasteful, and functional place to shop. That said, it doesn’t have the color, character, or spontaneity of the brand’s Instagram account, where recent posts have included snapshots from a vacation to Sayulita, Mexico and a neighbor’s ceramics studio, in addition to an announcement of a two-day sale.
“It’s become our main line of communication of the world,” says Carney, who opened Mohawk General in 2008. Although Mohawk General’s Instagram following seems outsize, Carney says it’s totally organic, not purchased—and essentially, the marketing arm of the business.
“It’s the only thing that’s ever worked for us,” he says. ”We have a pretty solid core of followers.”
As one of those core followers, I hope the images I look forward to from multi-brand retailers such as Mohawk General, as well as New York’s Bird and Maryam Nassir Zadeh, and San Francisco’s General Store, aren’t diluted by advertisements that Instagram approximates will reach me. Instead, Instagram should make it easier for those smaller companies to sell their products to existing followers through the platform.
It’s possible the company will do just that. Instagram’s announcement stated an intention to make advertising easier for small businesses, and a representative tells Quartz that Instagram hopes to facilitate “the ability to take an action” for consumers and small businesses alike. (Incidentally, Carney says Instagram just contacted him for a meeting.)
Of course, Instagram is already driving sales, Carney says, adding that when a new item—such as those aforementioned sailor pants—hits the Instagram account, they tend to sell out quickly. In the case of similarly popular items, a ”buy now” button could be a useful tool. As a follower, I can say, I’d likely click it. But if my photo stream is polluted with other ads, I may stop opening Instagram altogether.