Startup connects brands with influential Instagram users

Online photo sharing services like Instagram and Pinterest can be remarkably effective branding tools. While neither platform officially employs ads, the social media teams of marketing-savvy companies often build relationships with well-followed users, either paying them to post photos of their products, or giving them stuff in trade for doing it.

Mercedes, for example, recently loaned a CLA to five top Instagrammers who took photos of the 4-door coupe during a five-day road trip. At the end, the one with the most “likes” got to keep the car.

But identifying and cultivating relationships with social media darlings individually puts an additional burden on most companies’ already stretched marketing resources. Brandnew IO wants to lend a hand. The Berlin-based startup, founded earlier this year, connects brands with influential users on Instagram and Pinterest and pays those users to share the brands’ images.

Brandnew IO
Brandnew IO works with influential Instagram users to promote brand content.

It’s not just pimping out popular feeds, though. These “publishers”—people with an average of 300,000 followers—obviously have a vested interest in not annoying and losing fans. As such, they’re under no obligation to promote content that doesn’t mesh with the ethos of their feeds.

So far Brandnew IO has about 180 publishers, people who tend to be photographers, aspiring celebrities, and bloggers who post images focused on subject areas such as fashion, beauty, and cars. Their collective reach, Brandnew IO founder and CEO Francis Trapp told me via Skype, is a massive 55 million followers.

Similar to a CPM model, Brandnew IO charges client companies per 1,000 users, with niche campaigns—ones that reach people who only upload photos of car rims, for example—going for a premium. Targeting a broader market, such as folks who like to upload photos of fashion or beauty, costs less.

Brandnew IO also provides advertisers with analytics that help them gauge the effectiveness of their campaigns.

While Trapp says Brandnew IO is required to label the images publishers post as advertisements, he believes sponsored content posted by users is more effective than banner ads.

“When you look at the photos we publish throughout our campaigns, they appear in the Instagram user photo feed and [are] completely merged with the surrounding photos so it’s 100 percent native,” Trapp says. “As a result, the KPIs and conversion rates and engagement rates are a lot higher, for example, than Facebook ads and Facebook sponsored posts in the news feed.”

Instagram and Pinterest themselves are both keen on monetizing their platforms with ads. Last week at a fashion event in London, Instagram co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom said it has plans to launch ads within the next year. A few days later Pinterest CEO Ben Silberman said in an email to users the photo-pinning company will be playing around with promoting a handful of pins in search results and category feeds.

Silberman promised that promoted pins will not involve “flashy banners or pop-up ads.” Systrom’s remarks hinted that its approach might also be one in which users aren’t pushed overt ads, but rather shown products within the context of their feed, prompting them to like and comment on the post.

Such a tack would make sense considering the way companies have tended to connect with fans on these platforms so far. Followers follow because they have an emotional connection with a brand and the absence of jarring ads puts the onus on companies to share engaging content so as to woo users and win more hearts, not to mention pins and comments.

As for Brandnew IO, Trapp says he plans to grow his six-person team to 10 or 15 by the end of the year. The company just closed a six-digit round of seed funding, which it will use to acquire more advertisers and publishers as well as connect with additional photo sharing communities.

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