Instagram's outage reminds brands and influencers alike to have a backup communications plan, and not to neglect the platforms they own by building only on rented land.
Yesterday Instagram suffered its most severe outage to date. The photo-sharing app was unusable for users globally for much of the day. It’s a salient reminder not to build only on rented land. Instead, brands and influencers need ring-fence the digital properties they own.
Many users throughout Wednesday found their Instagram posts were not loading, that Instagram Stories were unavailable, and that they were unable to post new content. The ability to send direct messages was also lost.
Instagram is the current influencer marketing powerhouse platform in the business-to-consumer space. It boasts over a billion monthly active users. The danger of so much power being concentrated in one platform means that influencers and brands are beholden to strategies and algorithms they have no control over.
Who knows what Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg and his Instagram lieutenant, Adam Mosseri have planned for the platform over the mid to long term. History, however, suggests a direction of travel. Changes to the algorithm flattened organic reach on Facebook brand pages from 12% to 6% to a current level of sub 1%. As the owners of Instagram you can expect the same to happen on that platform, too.
Last week Instagram announced a new way for brands to sponsor posts created by influencers. "Branded content ads," as Instagram calls the new offering, are part of the service's broader strategy to connect advertisers and creators in more formal partnerships.
Previously although brands could work on ad campaigns with influencers on Instagram the posts would only reach the followers of the influencer. Branded content ads let the advertisers promote these Instagram posts just like they would any other advertisement.
Mark Dandy, co-founder of Bee Influence, an influencer marketing agency, told me: “If a brand uses branded content ads, they are paying to expose you to a wider audience, potentially of a lot of people interested in your brand - and if the influencer/product alignment is good in the first place, their target audience is also your target audience. It's free publicity for the influencer.”
Instagram is also testing new creator accounts. These offer influencers more in-depth analytics over their follower counts plus the ability to filter direct messages.
Creator accounts and branded content ads are designed to hand out carrots by the sackful to both brands and influencers. History suggests that where there’s a Zuckerberg carrot, a Zuckerberg stick won't be too far behind.
According to search engine, InfluencerDB, $5 billion was spent by influencer marketers on Instagram last year. The platform sees none of this revenue. For this reason it's highly likely organic reach will be squeezed at some point this year.
The use of branded content ads will have additional negative knock-on effects for influencers. “Originally a brand would have to pay to use your image rights in order to use your images in their paid for advertising” explains Dandy continuing, brands “don't need to do this anymore for Facebook and Instagram, because it will all be done automatically within this partnership system, meaning Influencers won't see a penny, and Facebook takes the cut instead.”
Influencers brands and Instagram
What can influencers and brands do to protect themselves from the vagaries of Instagram? You can pay attention to the platform’s changes and stay alert. You can develop a backup communications plan. Brands and influencers need a backup plan to avoid digital sharecropping. You should enjoy Instagram’s organic audience reach and engagement whilst it lasts but also you should aim to put yourselves in charge of their own destiny. That might mean accepting that paying to boost posts will become the norm and must be built into the budget. It may mean executing a strategy which pulls relevant people to the brand’s own websites and building up their own email lists.
Messaging apps such as WhatsApp, collaboration platforms like Slack and the rise of chatbots might make email seem old fashioned. It's benefit is that direct person-to-person delivery is not dependent upon changes to the algorithm, surges in keyword pricing or demand to buy advertisement space.
Becoming platform agnostic
For influencers, it may mean becoming platform agnostic, too We are seeing this already. Joe Sugg has branched out of YouTube pranks to embrace television’s Saturday evening light entertainment slot. He has also written a successful graphic novel trilogy titled Username.
His one-time sidekick, Caspar Lee, is an investor and Chief Innovation Officer of Influencer, an influencer marketing platform.
Sugg and Lee together launched a production company called Raucous Productions in October 2015. The firm is a vehicle for two comedy documentaries: Joe And Caspar Hit the Road and Joe And Caspar Hit the Road USA. Both financial hits on DVD. Last year they launched Margravine Management a digital talent management agency.
Emily Weiss has turned her blog ‘Into the Gloss’ into a multi million dollar cosmetic brand.
Daniel Middleton aka DanTDM supplements earnings from Minecraft videos on YouTube through sell-out stadium live performances. He is also the voice of "Cy" a character in the animated Netflix series, Skylanders Academy on top of his YouTube and live event work.
He’s written a book, too. Trayaurus and the Enchanted Crystal is a graphic novel based on the characters that feature in Middleton’s Minecraft videos on YouTube: scientist Dr Trayaurus; evil laboratory boss Denton and his elf sidekick Fin; DanTDM and his dog Grim; and a group of grumpy talking pigs.
As with all communication programmes you have to know where your audience hangs out online and how best to reach them. As American futurist Alvin Toffler once reasoned “If you don't have a strategy, you're part of someone else's strategy" (and chances are they simply won't care about you). Time to future-proof your content and community and build your website and email list.