Some of Instagram's biggest stars are notorious for quietly shilling products, but that's about to change. The company confirmed in a blog post this morning that it's working on a new post format that clearly spells out when an image or Instagram Story is being published as part of a business arrangement. The giveaway: you'll see the words "Paid partnership with [whatever]" at the top of the post. It's subtle -- maybe even a little too subtle -- but it's a step in the right direction.
We know, we know: It's rare to get excited by the idea of more sponsored posts appearing in our Instagram feeds. Instagram said in a separate post on its business blog that the move will help "maintain authenticity across the board," but the real value here comes in two forms. One, content creators and the businesses that cut deals with them both get access to the engagement data so they can figure out what kind of social marketing approach works best. And two, insanely popular Instagram users can't lean on their fame to push products and projects without the proper admission. (Granted, said power users might not think point #2 is as valuable as we do.)
Previously, social stars have skirted those regulations by using more obscure hashtags like #sp for "sponsored post" rather than something straightforward like "ad". By offering a clear, standard way for users to flag certain posts as sponsored, Instagram is effectively help manage the way brands talk to us through these beautiful mouthpieces.
Remember: this isn't just good form. Instagram is complying with the law. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission charged Lord & Taylor with not properly disclosing a content sponsorship that saw 50 high-profile Instagram users taking "thousands of dollars" in exchange for posts featuring a specific dress. (Lord & Taylor eventually settled the case.) And just this past April, the FTC sent out 90 letters to social influencers and brands this past April to remind them that any and all promotional relationships they share should be clearly disclosed. In other words, this is now a thing.
While it's probably unfair to ascribe maliciousness to these influencers' actions, they remain deeply shady. Then again, what else is new? Money talks, and famous Instagrammers -- no matter how flawless their preened social presences make them seem -- have their price. Fortunately Instagram finally gets that it can't let its biggest users continually flout the law. Instagram Creative Programs Director Charles Porch told TechCrunch that an "enforcement mechanism" will be put in place to ensure compliance, though we'll have to wait and see what the company comes up with.