Instagram introduced the Explore feature a full six years ago, less than two years after the app initially launched.
Instagram Explore allows users to see posts and photos that are trending, related to the user’s interests and based on search. Until recently, the tab has remained ad-free.
Brands could manipulate posts to try to appear on Explore when users searched or viewed relevant tags. But these efforts were more closely related to search engine optimization than true social media marketing — at least until now.
Instagram Introduces Explore Ads for the First Time
With a blog post from June 2019, Instagram announced that it would be bringing ads to Explore, which it calls Instagram’s “Discovery Destination”.
“More than 50% of accounts on Instagram use Explore every month,” the Instagram Business Team wrote. “It’s where people go when they want to see photos and videos related to their interests from accounts they may not already follow. Today, 80% of people follow a business on Instagram2, and Explore can help them find the next business or product they might love.”
In other words, Instagram hopes to show ads to users as naturally as possible, reflecting user habits, preferences and interests. Instead of having to manipulate the platform to reach users, brands can advertise directly in a format where users are already looking for new content. Instagram sees it as an opportunity for brands to engage with both what’s trending and what new audiences are already interested in.
How Explore Ads Will Take Shape
Instagram is taking pains to ensure the interaction remains as natural as possible.
The Explore feature is arguably popular because it remains nearly free of text — it’s a grid of photos and videos, an appealing visual. To keep the Explore tab itself clutter-free, the app will only display ads once a user has clicked on a piece of content and started scrolling through similar content. In that vein, the ads will appear similar to those displayed in a user’s normal feed.
““The move to bring ads into the Explore experience has some logic to it,” writes Josh Constine at Tech Crunch. “Even before monetization made its way to Instagram in the form of feed advertising, shoppable links and sponsored content posted by influencers, brands and businesses had started using the platform to promote products and to connect with customers. Now instead of trying desperately to game the Explore algorithm, Instagram can just sell businesses space instead.”
Watch: Josh Constine at Tech Crunch provides a 1-minute demo video of how the new Instagram Explore ads will work.
Instagram will start by testing the ad placement themselves. The test ads will focus on IGTV, which has been less than successful since its launch.
Once Explore ads go live, they won’t interrupt operations for current advertisers. “Advertisers will buy the slots through the same Facebook ads manager and API they use to buy Instagram feed and Stories space,” Constine writes. “At first advertisers will have to opt in to placing their ads in Instagram Explore too, but eventually that will be the default with an opportunity to opt out.”
Instagram wrote that it is introducing ads in Explore “slowly and thoughtfully” for the remainder of 2019 — which many commentators take to mean that the app will be ramping up ads after an initial test phase.