Squires joined Instagram in 2013 having previously spent four years working at Facebook. He is responsible for its ad product, including coming up with new formats, improving targeting and working closely with brands.
In Cannes Lions this year, Instagram placed the focus on growth and how it is helping its 200,000 active advertisers use the product. Alongside revealing the new audience milestone, it also revealed new tools for small businesses including business profiles and organic insights.
Instagram has taken a cautious approach to advertising, with Squires saying that was so the platform could get it “just right” and marry the combined needs of its users and advertisers. “[We wanted it to] fell really good for the community and to achieve business objectives for advertisers. Once we got that we felt really confident to expand,” he explained.
Here Squires talks through the ad journey Instagram has been on, why video is so important on social media and offers some advice for brands.
How would you describe the ad journey Instagram has been on?
It has been a slow build – we wanted to take it really slow to start to get the content and the ad products just right.
How do you ensure that what you have is working well?
We use a number of signals. For advertisers we look at engagement on ads, impact, dwell time, hide rates; we take all that signal back to understand how it resonates with individuals in different segments and that feeds into the auction system so we can in the future make sure we are getting the most relevant content to the right person.
What we have found is the more content we have in the system allows us to provide a better experience for people because there is more content to pull from to mix and match with something that might be really interesting to you. Before, when we had fewer ads to pull from consumers would just see whatever was there. Now we have thousands to pull from so we can get very specific around a user’s town, interests, what they’ve consumed in the past. We want to drive as much content as possible and drive that targeting functionality to ensure that the ad a user sees is going to be as relevant as possible.
Why is 500 million users such an important milestone?
It is a great signal of how the community continues to grow – the last 100 million happened faster than the previous 100 million so our growth continues to accelerate. And it is a great milestone to see how engaged the community is and how they are getting out of the experience. Plus 80% of our audience is outside the US.
What are the common mistakes brands make on Instagram?
I always advise clients, firstly when thinking about creative think about the mindset. Make sure you are communicating visually and it fits with the overall environment and is as good as something you would see organically on the platform.
On the creative side we encourage advertisers, especially with video, to think about the experience without sound. In many cases people do put sound on and have the full experience but in many other cases they are in a place where they can’t consume the audio so brands have to make sure they communicate an idea with someone that has not turned their audio on. It’s a tip that many brands miss.
The other thing I always encourage advertisers to do is in those first three seconds grab someone’s attention. In a TV commercial you have a full story arc and take 30 seconds to build the story to a punchline at the end. On digital you don’t have that luxury so those first three seconds need to communicate a key message. In case someone doesn’t continue on beyond that they have taken something away and they’ve recalled the brand or the message,
Can brands use a TV ad on Instagram?
It depends on the creative. It is possible. It can work but as a marketer I would encourage brands to think through the difference in mindset and use those queues to tailor the content to something that works digitally.
But brands have finite resources so it can be hard to create different content for every platform.
If you take something produced for TV it is not necessarily a lot of work to cut it up or do some different takes on it. I wouldn’t say you have to do 10 different videos.
It is taking that core asset from the beginning and thinking what are the avenues this content is going to be consumed through then you can think about how to tailor it for different forms.
Jim Squires, director of market operations, Instagram
It does not necessarily mean more resources or a big production exercise to go through. One of the themes we continue to see is the democratisation of content creation. A lot of the tools we provide – Hyperlapse, Boomerang – these are creative tools that mean anyone whether individual or big brand can really easily create content for the platform.
Should marketers be taking budget out of TV?
That is a marketer’s decision. The way I think about approaching it is what is the objective I’m trying to achieve, what is the audience I want to hit? Look at the overall medix mix, the objective and where can I most efficiently reach people and make decisions based on that.
You talk about those first three seconds being important but are they important enough to charge for?
A view on Facebook and Instagram is 50% in-view for three seconds. That is when you want to communicate information because that is when you get impact and a message people take away. What we’ve done is standardise and we believe that with our scale that is the right way to think about a view and the value a marketer will get out of it.
Do you think marketers are right to be concerned about viewability?
On any platform the viewer has the option to continue on. If you are watching TV you are not tied to your seat watching a commercial so there has got be some moment where you say enough of this has been consumed to have an impact. We think we have hit that right based on our research and what we’ve seen across the platform.
What is next for Instagram?
There will be a lot of efforts around creative tools generally: Hyperlapse and Boomerang and the democratisation of content. We want to inspire individuals and brands to do the best content so there will be more in that realm.
Supporting businesses on the platform – they were an important constituent in the community before we were offering ads and we want to support them in that. We have new business tools in the works to take us from a place where every account is the same to where we are allowing people to tailor their account based on who they are and what they are trying to achieve through business profiles, organic insights.
Thirdly is surfacing and allowing people to discover content. The ‘explore’ area of the app we continue to invest in and we are really interested in content that bubbles up to the surface. It continues to evolve but it’s a cool place to find anything from trending places around you to trending hashtags to new types of content or accounts.
It can also help brands pull inspiration from the community. Mercedes-Benz ran a campaign last year around the hashtag #ThingsOrganisedNeatly because they saw it happening in the community. People would go on a trip and take an aerial photo of organised items. They used that to create their campaign and it’s a way of making it feel like it really fits.
Our goal is to inspire with creative tools and to provide ability to be inspired – over time that will continue to come in different forms whether virtual reality or live and we will introduce that when it makes sense.