The untapped potential of Instagram for media buyers and planners

Over the last year, we’ve seen a huge increase in digital ad spend; in 2017 we saw media buyers spending reach over $208B compared to $178B in TV ads, marking the first time in history that spending on digital mediums overtook traditional TV placement.

Andreas Asprou

Andreas Asprou


Over the last year, we’ve seen a huge increase in digital ad spend; in 2017 we saw media buyers spending reach over $208B compared to $178B in TV ads, marking the first time in history that spending on digital mediums overtook traditional TV placement. This shift is likely a direct result of the effects that social media has had in the media planning and buying space, with its ease of access and attainability, forcing a change in thinking.

Recent studies into the digital landscape show that 30% of people are more likely to take advice from a non-celebrity blogger, against only 3% for a traditional celebrity endorsement, meaning that a large portion of the public place a much higher value on the opinion of a purely social media based influencer over that of a traditional celebrity. On top of that, almost 20% of consumers are influenced by Youtubers for their purchases, and that’s just one platform amongst many!

So how did we get here?

Prior to online advertising the primary focus (other than sales) was to drive the highest amount of impressions against your budget. Today, impressions aren’t nearly enough to quantify ROI; We need to understand audience demographics, and retarget to fully optimise our content and the campaign. When you look at Facebook’s or Instagram’s paid media, you’re offered a variety of targeting criteria and analytics pre, during, and post campaign. However, traditional media has one key advantage on most digital media, It is much less intrusive; choosing to ignore a billboard, magazine ad, or skip TV channel is much easier than sitting through a 15 second unskippable Youtube ad. So the question is, “can you create a non intrusive digital advert ?” The answer lies in native Instagram media.

Instagram is known to most as the photo sharing platform to showcase everything from holiday snaps and personal achievements, to a professional portfolio for designers and photographers; needless to say there is much more to it! It is a visual platform teeming with creative and diverse content, influencers of all types of interests, and above all, consumers, and therefore, opportunities. So what makes this resource so untapped? and why isn't everyone using it? The main issue is that using Instagram native media, you won’t get the same detailed insights than if using paid media, you’ll receive a more basic view of your digital landscape e.g. age, location, best time to post, number of impressions, reach etc. Thus making it much harder to understand who you’re reaching, their interests, buying behaviours, income etc. Nonetheless, recent surveys indicate that 70% of people would rather learn about products through content than traditional adverts, and 32% of consumers say they would share a native ad with their friends and family. Every single day 500 Million people open Instagram, 95 million posts are uploaded and 4.2 billion likes are given, making it crucial to find a way to tap into Instagram’s full potential, and a fundamental means to understand your consumer.

The key to capturing even the tiniest slither of this traffic and potential is to understand the data behind the numbers. Just like data powers paid media, data will eventually power native media. The obstacle stopping it so far is the fact that Instagram, Facebook and other platforms rather keep the analytics exclusive to paid media as native media would not generate any income for them. Hence, to squeeze all the potential out of native media one must look at different metrics linking groups of demographics together. Luckily, for marketers, Instagram’s richness of topical content could allow for someone to capture the most precise niche interest an individual or group of people might have.

An example native media campaign utilising data

As with every digital and traditional campaign, the first step would be to:

  1. Outline your potential customer persona. This would entail knowing gender, age, location, buying habits, interests and income to name a few.
  2. Following this, one can use technology analysing Instagram data to figure out where the demographic fitting the client persona sits. This would mean knowing, for example, who and what competitors they follow, and what hashtags they look at. This analysis is a critical part of the process as it unlocks the direction and path of someone’s social media activity, and is the key to really understanding your customer!
  3. You can then easily find out who or what they engage with, who engages with them, and who engages with that person etc. taking this as far as needed to create a web of interests and connections.
  4. Marketers can then know ahead of time what type of content will resonate the most with their client persona, or what type of product they would react best to. Once this data is gathered, marketers can simply use the same tools again to find communities or influencers where their client persona sits and pay them to post the very relevant and engaging content they have created following the initial steps of the campaign!

This will most often result in common interests, and hence will be much more receptive to the information within the piece of content.

To conclude, technology will be the key to non-intrusive yet highly relevant and target digital media. Today, this technology is on the brink of being released to market and is already being tested out by a few forward thinking agencies. When it fully launches it is no understatement to say that it will highly influence the way media buying and planning is done on social platforms, particularly on Instagram.