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Instagram's ad business is looking more and more like Facebook's ad business

Instagram is rolling out business accounts and promoted posts.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Instagram's ad business is starting to look familiar. Very familiar.

Facebook-owned Instagram has been stealing page after page from Facebook's advertising playbook, and on Tuesday it borrowed a few more ideas: Sponsored posts and business profiles.

Business profiles — think Facebook Pages — will let brands or companies add a contact button so that customers can click to call or email. A business profile will also open up more analytics so that businesses can see how well their photos and videos are performing on the service.

If they find a post performing particularly well, they can now pay to promote that post to get it in front of people who wouldn't otherwise see it. Before this, Instagram ads were separate posts — that is, they didn't live on as part of the advertiser's profile after the campaign was over. Now they can promote a regular post just like they can on Facebook (or Twitter or Pinterest).

Both of these changes matter to you, the user, because of Instagram's new algorithm, which will eventually push posts higher or lower in your feed. When Instagram announced the algorithm back in March, some brands saw it as a sign they would need to eventually pay in order to reach their followers, a strategy Facebook employed a few years back when it dramatically cut organic reach for brands.

Both of these Instagram changes could, theoretically, play into that fear. There was no way to boost a post on Instagram before Tuesday's update, which meant the idea of "paying to reach your existing followers" wasn't really an option. Now it is.

James Quarles, Instagram's global head of business and brand development, downplayed this concern, saying that promoting a post is intended to get it in front of new users, not existing followers.

"It's promote, not boost, and I think that's an important distinction," Quarles said. "You're trying to promote [content] to a different audience ... which is different from interacting or engaging with the audience you already have."

Business profiles, on the other hand, means Instagram will now be able to easily determine a brand account from a "regular" user account. Quarles says that, at the moment, business profiles and regular profiles will be weighted the same in Instagram's feed algorithm. You could imagine a time down the road, though, when that might not be the case.

Quarles was adamant that these changes aren't intended to impact Instagram's algorithm. "That's not the strategy," he said. Instead, the hope is to entice more businesses to use, and advertise on, Instagram.

Instagram has been testing these updates with some advertisers already, and will roll them out to advertisers in the U.S. and a few other English-speaking countries in June, with plans to have them worldwide by the end of the year.


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