How New York Media is using Instagram to drive commerce for advertisers and for itself

New York Media has found a new place to monetize audience trust in its recommendations: its Instagram feed.

Over the past few months, people who follow the publisher’s Instagram account (or those belonging to some of its verticals) have seen sponsored posts from its accounts showing branded content meant to drive sales on an advertiser’s site. It is currently running a campaign for Mr. Porter, the menswear brand of digital fashion retailer Net a Porter, targeted at men who follow New York and The Cut.

In some ways, the Instagram distribution strategy is another step down a well-trod path: Using social platforms to extend distribution for branded content publishers produces for advertisers.

But it also represents another step into territory where advertisers ask publishers to treat their most expensive ad formats as vehicles for performance. While New York’s campaign with Mr. Porter does not include any kind of affiliate commerce relationship, the publisher hears more and more advertisers ask for one.

“The line between affiliate and marketer is starting to break down,” said David Spiegel, New York Media’s head of sales. “We’ve had some come to us with that ask. But I don’t think the industry as a whole is ready to break down those silos.”

While many publishers have embraced Instagram as a platform for creating branded content, it has been far less useful as a channel for distributing branded or commerce content.

But over the past year, publishers and advertisers alike are both looking at Instagram as a place to drive commerce. Spiegel said that advertisers increasingly ask for branded content to appear there, part of a broader trend of publishers and advertisers starting to take cues from one another on platforms.

“Brands tend to use Instagram to assert a lifestyle that’s enabled by the products they produce whereas publishers tend to use Instagram to highlight content they’re producing,” said Apu Gupta, the founder of Curalate, a tool that helps drive referral traffic from Instagram. “I do think these two groups are increasingly borrowing from each other. What’s driving this is the increasing realization that product discovery is a lucrative opportunity. Stumbling upon something you never knew you needed in your life is a gratifying experience.”

At the moment, distribution through New York in this way is added in as a premium, rather than a set cost that can be added to any campaign. “You try to put it all together as a recommended strategy, rather than as a Chinese menu,” Spiegel said.

Strong fashion and culture coverage made it easy for New York Media to add branded content and commerce to its mix of revenues. In the space of two years, New York has grown shopping recommendations from an idea into a 16-person vertical, The Strategist, that tripled its revenue over the past year. A standalone 35-person content studio, New York Stories, which formally announced this September, works on advertisers’ branded content campaigns that typically command a six-figure price tag.

“We’ve always been a good publisher, especially on the higher end, trying to drive purchase consideration,” Spiegel said.

Instagram has been useful for driving both. The Strategist began allowing retailers to shop directly inside its Stories content last summer, and it has been using Instagram feed posts published across New York vertical accounts to drive traffic to its affiliate commerce posts. This kind of hybrid approach is more an experiment than a scaled, commonplace one, said Socialbakers CEO Yuval Ben-Itzhak.

While advertisers have been asking New York for both feed and story placements, New York has found that story placements are actually more effective.

Robert Glazer, the founder of affiliate agency Acceleration Partners, said that publishers would welcome the opportunity to start using Instagram ads more as an affiliate marketing channel.

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