On December 18, Instagram and Facebook stated that they would prevent influencers from promoting certain products as branded content. The restricted items include vaping and tobacco products as well as weapons, including guns. Branded content lets brands promote influencer posts and content by turning them into ads with the messaging “paid partnership with,” which helps to expand a post’s reach beyond the influencer’s followers. The new rule will begin to be enforced in the next few weeks. Instagram said it wants to “establish clear rules to help protect our community.” Instagram is working to align its branded content policies with its ad policies.
Influencers were previously able to run their own marketing and sponsored content business outside of the ad-buying sphere and the oversight and review that came from that system. This is a change to Instagram’s advertising policy, which previously added the “paid partnership with” tag for branded content. This also fixes a loophole in Facebook’s policy; Facebook had banned advertising vaping, tobacco and weapons, but private users could post this content, so, in theory, an advertiser could pay a private user for this content, thus creating a paid promotion. Facebook is working to create more advertising tools to help advertisers comply with its policies, such as the ability to limit who can see an advertisement by age.
The change came after Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority stated that British American Tobacco can no longer use influencers to market e-cigarettes. The FTC has criticized tobacco and e-cigarette companies for their marketing practices, which it claimed may have helped to grow the popularity of the products among young users in part because of its influencer marketing practices. The FTC is working on collecting data to perform a study about this phenomenon.
Instagram is making other changes too, including testing Facebook’s “Brand Collabs Manager” on select accounts as “part of its continued test of private like counts,” allowing professional accounts to share metrics with partners and collaborators. Some say this is a move by Instagram to ease influencers’ concerns over Instagram potentially no longer having likes.
This move by Instagram increases focus on influencers. Instagram only makes money from an influencer’s branded content ads and not the partnership between a brand and influencer, thus it is incentivized to have these types of advertisements on its platform while attempting to reduce future scrutiny.
“We want Instagram to be a positive place for everyone that uses it and this policy is part of our ongoing work to reduce the pressure that people can sometimes feel as a result of social media,” Emma Collins, Instagram’s public policy manager, said in a statement.
Additionally, branded content for items such as alcohol or diet pills will have special restrictions after the new policy is in effect. The types of special restrictions were not specified. Instagram previously announced that it would hide content that promoted diet products or cosmetic procedures to users under the age of 18.