As Facebook continues to ease the way businesses pay-to-play on its network, its other social network Instagram has notoriously kept marketers at a much further arm’s length.

Things are starting to change though.

If you’re a Facebook user you will have been updated this week on its new terms and conditions. These relate mainly to privacy and giving its users more control over ads.

Part of this control includes the introduction of a cross-device ‘opt-out’ button, which allows users to better manage the ads they see on mobile and desktop and location based targeting. This hopefully means better relevancy for your promoted posts. 

Also in some regions, Facebook is testing a ‘buy’ button that helps users purchase products without even leaving Facebook. 

Things are certainly looking up for the marketer willing to spend some cash on the biggest social platform in the world, but what of its other concern, the three-year-old social photo-sharing network Instagram?

According to Forbes, social media users are 58 times more likely to interact with brands on Instagram than they do on Facebook, and 120 times more than on Twitter.

To put that in perspective, Instagram has 200m active monthly members. Facebook has 1.35bn, and Twitter has 284m (check the current social media landscape for more stats). So that’s a comparatively small but massively engaged audience actively seeking interaction with retailers and brands.

Is there any way marketers can take direct advantage of this? 

Instagram doesn’t allow links on images in the way that Pinterest does and successfully drives traffic towards ecommerce stores through. Social media teams can place relevant URLs in the comments underneath posts when someone makes a specific enquiry, but they aren’t clickable.

The only place you can place a clickable link is within the description on the profile page.

Using this single link, some third party companies are helping brands monetise Instagram…

Using ‘like’ to buy

US retailers Nordstrom and Target are currently using Like2Buy’s service. Here’s how the link is featured in the profile.

Once a user clicks on this, they are taken through to a page featuring all of the Instagram posts with items available to buy.

If you click on one of the images, you are taken through to that product’s landing page on the ecommerce store.

There’s also a ‘wishlist’ function that collects together everything you’ve ‘liked’ from the brand.

Non-retailers such as bloggers and publishers on Instagram can also use a similar service called LiketoKnow.it, which is essentially an affiliate sales platform.

If a user likes a post with the ‘LiketoKnow.it’ tag, they will be sent an automatic email featuring links to buy the items from that post.

The catch is that the user also has to sign up for the same service.

Vogue trialled this feature back in May, but scrolling through recent posts it looks like the fashion publisher has abandoned it.

So what have we learnt from this?

That it’s difficult to make money on Instagram and that the only current options are for third party workarounds that don’t exactly scream ‘best practice’.

Of course you could always go down the ‘sponsored photo’ route, as introduced by Instagram in September.

Although it seems to be a very slow roll-out, in three months of daily Instagram use, I’ve only seen one single sponsored which was from Channel4.

For a brand, succeeding on Instagram perhaps shouldn’t be related to direct sales anyway? Instagram is obviously a fantastic engagement tool, which sees users interacting with brands knowing full well that there won’t be a hard sell, because the platform just doesn’t have the functionality for it.

Instead what companies are doing here is driving brand equity, creating and building relationship, improving loyalty, raising customer lifetime value. All the nebulous metrics that are terribly difficult to measure, but are absolutely crucial to your business. 

You want to know the real secret of being a successful brand on Instagram? Make some flipping amazing Instagrams.

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 27 November, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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