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How Instagram Ads Could Affect Journalists

Allegedly, all good things must come to an end — so, use of the photo filtering and social network Instagram without advertisements (a very good thing, in my opinion) — will soon end.

Now that we know (even more definitively) that Instagram is on the verge of filling our news feeds with unwanted sponsored photos/posts, I wonder — will journalists take to the app any less to congregate around eyewitness photos of newsworthy events?

Instagram has always intended to be an actively monetizing platform, so this shouldn’t come as a big shock. The question is, even with a whopping 150 million confirmed Instagram users, can the app afford to lose people? And if they do lose those of who might decide to filter and share our photos someplace where our user experience is not disrupted by posts from car dealerships and retail shops, where will we go instead?

Despite the most dominant social network moves toward sponsored content, I think it’s safe to say we’re still not used to the idea of sifting through noise to get to what we want. Paul Tassi at Forbes writes that Facebook’s advertising efforts (they’ve got over one million now) are “out of control.” (I used to have Facebook before the sheer volume of ads stressed me out too much to get any fun out of the thing).

Here are some ideas to mull over while waiting for Instagram ads to go live:

There’s a chance you’ll see a dip in followers/reader engagement

Personally, I loathe ads. Yes, I am a journalist, and yes, I know that advertising pays my bills. Still, ads are annoying, plain and simple. When people check their Instagram, they’re hoping to scroll through some photos of someone’s Tahitian vacation, maybe the new TIME magazine cover, perhaps a gourmet meal or celebrity update. Ads get in the way, and if it bugs readers enough, they’ll ditch Instagram. If they’re not big on following the events of others in pictures, but just like to use Instagram to filter their photos, your followers are even more likely to leave.

…And if you do see that dip, you’ll have to adapt quickly

Go where the people are going. What’s your reader demographic? Find out and do research to learn what social networks are resonating with them — but don’t just find out what they are; find out why they’re so appealing. I’m of the mind that news publishers, to some extent, must give readers what they want. Of course, there is a fine line here, and I’m not making any sweeping statements about lowering of journalistic standards or being diggers of truth or our other noble motivations; I’m just saying — when it comes to social media, you’ve got to go where the readers are. Engage with them. Provide them content that will lead them back to your website, or newspaper, or whatever need your citizen journalism venture/niche blog is looking to satisfy.

Who knows what a decline in Instagram use might do for/to web journalists? Maybe readers will stick it out with Instagram’s ads like we’ve done, relatively speaking, with Facebook and Twitter. In fact, maybe people won’t mind the ads at all – but in case they do, and given Instagram’s weird past with users in regard to photo privacy and ownership, here are some photography apps you might consider in the meantime:

VSCO Cam (iPhone, coming on Android)

You’ve probably seen this one hashtagged recently if you have an Instagram. This one isn’t looking to create a photo sharing platform so much as offer editing gadgets based on real, photographer-friendly film stocks. Ideal for journalists not trying to doctor up on-the-scene images excessively, VSCO Cam still allows importing photos to Facebook and all the rest.

EyeEm (iPhone and Android)

EyeEm, based in Berlin, takes the idea of connectivity through images to a new level. Through hashtags and their unique technology, you can search for user photos not only based on the location but by what the photographer was doing at the time. Plus, you get different filters and the ability to share photos.

Starmatic (iPhone)

Starmatic’s filters are built around a 1959 Kodak camera. At least for a short time, Starmatic became the preferred method over Instagram, for whatever that’s worth.

Afterlight (iPhone)

On the surface, it’s just another photo-filtering app, but it has neat frames, a selling point for me. Only catch is it’s not free, but 99 cents.

How will ads on Instagram affect the user experience? What will that mean for journalists and publishers?

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