We live in funny times. Thinking back to ten years ago, who would have ever thought that a platform like Instagram would even exist, let alone completely transform marketing and consumer behavior. Every business sector finds itself affected by the ‘Gram, and it’s an increasingly important tool for the world of publishing. “Instagram is a different beast for everyone,” explains Mariana Rittenhouse, our senior director of brand strategy, “but for publishers specifically, because they sit at a the intersection of being both an influencer and being a brand.”
She gave a talk about how publishers can monetize Instagram at Digiday’s Content & Commerce conference in New York City last week, and the learnings were so valuable that we figured we would recap them for those of you who weren’t able to make it.
As Mariana mentioned, social media first stumped publishers who already had well-established distribution channels — new platforms meant having to build new audiences from scratch. After having spent years cultivating readership on more traditional outlets, establishing a presence on a blank medium represented a steep uphill climb.
As we know, nothing comes easy on Insta, and publishers had to get grinding to build their channels from the ground up (real talk tho: thank goodness for name recognition). Next came the bigger underlying challenge: how could publishers, who bring in the dough through advertisers, make this social channel a profitable revenue source? Brands buying ad space in their feeds wasn’t a given, and without a strong following, it would prove problematic.
Here’s a revelation: Instagram is a content-focused platform, and the accounts that are going to succeed on the channel are those that understand how to connect with their audience through photos and videos. If publishers were going to monetize Instagram, there would be no available shortcuts to take. Figuring out ways to drive growth and engagement through an organic strategy was going to be the only way to achieve this goal.
We found that for publishers to monetize Instagram, their owned and earned media has to be working in tandem to solidify their leader status, as illustrated in the “Instagram Trifecta” graph below. Let’s dive into how these pillars coincide in driving revenue through IG.
Earned media is paramount because that’s what enables accounts to grow organically. People hardly ever use the search box to follow accounts, unless they know exactly who they’re looking for. Rather, they discover other users when they’re tagged in content.
The more publishers are able to appear in other people’s posts, the higher their chances to be discovered. And like a good ol’ fashioned chain reaction, the more followers they have, the more they can drive revenue. Cha-ching!
One of the big hurdles encountered by publishers is being tagged as one of many handles in a single post and missing an exposure opportunity. To avoid losing out on that value, publishers can create authentic partnerships with on-brand accounts that will help them earn reach while zeroing in on very targeted distribution tactics.
For example, the below influencer post for @healthy_ ish is successful for many reasons, specifically because the publisher is mentioned in the caption and the other tags in the image are of different category brands that do not compete with @heatlhy_ish.
Creating a community is a hugely important asset to a publisher’s Instagram endeavors, and shouting out followers in their feeds is a great way to foster those relationships. It makes followers feel special and prompts content creation by talented instagrammers that is fair game to regram. Reposting user images is actually a really great way to thank followers for tagging them while also “getting more original content without having to produce it yourself,” asserts Mariana. Makes sense.
3. Spreading the Love
Harnessing the power of a community starts with being active in that community. They can do that by penning captions that prompt followers to take an action around their content and also leave comments on their photos — even if it’s just a single emoji. Because their account is likeley influential, their comment will be visible to users, earning them an extra impression they wouldn’t have otherwise had.
In any case, engaging with their community can never be a bad thing, and in the end will only help drive interactions and consequently boost engagement. More on that below.
If everything is healthy on the earned side, they’re already a step ahead of everyone. That said, publishers are content distributers, and need to step up their owned media game to be able to sell ad space and make social media profitable. The higher their reach, the more they can charge advertisers for a placement.
Those impressions depend on one mega factor: engagement. It’s the holy grail of social success, yet in the algorithm era, it’s a tougher than ever feat. Not only is the algorithm constantly evolving, but it’s also not there to champion them. How to ensure that owned content is going the distance? Through segmentation and AI powered by computer vision.
1. Content Segmentation
Thankfully, getting around the algorithm to boost engagement is still doable, and that starts with publishers knowing and understanding their content performance inside and out. Separating out posts to analyze them will serve to get a deep understanding of what works, which is ultimately they key to working around the algorithm.
It’s how they can effectively evaluate what their audience doesn’t like to stop showing them that, as well as the best way to find out how to craft ad creative for it to resonate. Knowing what their audience is keen on is fail-proof for successful paid advertiser partnerships, and a tactic for securing repeat business from them.
2. Use AI
Understanding what’s going to garner high engagement levels before a piece of content is posted is a game-changer for publishers selling ad space in their feeds. The Dash Hudson Instagram scheduler is now integrated with the Vision performance prediction technology, and enables publishers to see whether or not a visual will be well-received by their followers.
To double down on the helpful data, publishers can also find out what their best times to post are according to when their followers are most active. Best to hit them up when they are most receptive to being interacted with to drive as much value as possible. Using these technologies can help boost engagement significantly and, dare we say it, hack the algorithm.
If their earned content strategy is thriving and owned content is soaring, it’s now primed for monetization. Let’s break down how that can happen.
1. Drive Site Traffic
Redirecting followers onto their site is a huge win for publishers, and that can be facilitated by optimizing the link in bio with the Dash Hudson LikeShop tool. “People love content over commerce, which is one of the reasons we’ve seen a lot of success in publishing with LikeShop,” muses Mariana.
2. In-Feed Paid Branded Content
This is where the importance of publishers understanding their owned content comes in. Focusing on the organic is the most powerful tactic for branded advertiser visuals, as they tend to do poorly compared to regular posts. Once they understand what type of images resonate the most with their followers, they can craft similar content for the paid stuff.
3. Affiliate Revenue
Publishers can find a lot of success with distributing partner content on their feed and driving traffic to the brand’s site. It’s a really creative, effective way to use LikeShop and for these businesses to prove themselves as worthy investments for advertisers.
There is so much opportunity on Instagram for publishers, and the more niche they are, the more they’re able to foster unique communities to form bonds that drive high engagement. When content receives a lot of interactions, Instagram monetization can finally happen. For a profitable channel, all the above-mentioned moving parts need to work in harmony.
Want to learn more about how Dash Hudson can help you succeed at visual marketing? Hit us up today.