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Advertising | Instagram | Social Media | Strategy

Instagram Ads: The Fundamental Guide

The Pros and Cons of Instagram Ads

Instagram is one of the most cost-effective and powerful advertising platforms available to modern marketers. This article will explore the benefits and drawbacks of using Instagram ads as well as a tactical implementation plan if you’re ready to take the next step.

The Pros of Instagram Ads:

  • Instagram ads aren’t intrusive. Whether leveraging newsfeed ads or story ads, Instagram users don’t find ads disruptive, in fact, most users actually enjoy the ad content they are being served.
  • Instagram users are among the most engaged. Regular Insta users spend 53 minutes per day on the platform.
  • Shopify integration. If you leverage Shopify to enable e-commerce, then you can easily integrate Shopify with Instagram and sell products instantly through the platform.
  • Access to Facebook data. Ever since Facebook bought Insta, the two networks have been connected, enabling audiences to easily transfer, as well as the ability to launch entire Instagram campaigns straight from your Ads Manager dashboard.
  • Users like businesses on Instagram. Ninety percent of users follow at least one business account, 78 percent see brands as popular, 76 percent as creative, and 72 percent as committed to building a community.
  • Users discover brands on Instagram. In fact, 83 percent of Insta users discover new products and services on the platform.
stats on instagram as a tool for brand discovery

Source: SproutSocial

The Cons of Instagram ads:

  • Younger audience demographics. The largest Instagram user segments are 18-24, with a 75 percent penetration rate in the US and 25-30 with a penetration rate of 57 percent. This means that high-cost business-based products might not reach the desired (older) audience on this platform.
  • Influencers run the Gram. Users flock to names like Cristiano Ronaldo (234M followers) and Arianna Grande (196M followers). Messages delivered from the likes of these names hit much harder than any brand can ever hope to alone—but this presents influencer marketing opportunities.
  • Fashion and beauty focus. If you look at the top 20 most popular brands on Insta, they all fall within the fashion or beauty categories with the exception of Starbucks coming in at #20. This means that B2B products have yet to achieve such brand prevalence and user preference as of yet.
most followed brands on instagram

Source: Business of Apps

example of great instagram video ad
example of great instagram story ad

How to launch an Instagram ad campaign

1. Start with your unique selling proposition (USP)

If you haven’t already, use the tactics outlined in our Facebook Ads article to help you isolate your USP.

2. Use Facebook Ads Manager to build your campaign

Although Instagram allows you to run ads directly through their platform, the best way to enhance your campaign targeting, monitor performance, and save time is to use Facebook Ads Manager. 

Here’s how it works:

  1. Connect your Facebook business page to your Instagram business account (if not done already).
  2. Navigate to Facebook Ads Manager. If you choose to run ads natively on Instagram, you will be drastically limited in your segmentation and targeting variables.
  3. Select “Create”.
  4. Choose an ad objective that supports Instagram as a placement.
  5. Select “Continue”.
  6. Fill in the details for your ad set.
  7. Choose your placement option. If running “Manual Placements,” you can choose to place your ad on Instagram. Or, if you choose “Automatic Placements,” your ad will run across a variety of formats on both Facebook and Instagram and optimize the value you get out of your expenditure.
  8. Select continue.

Find out more here.

3. Choose your ad format(s), objective(s) and CTA(s)

If you choose to use manual placements, then Instagram offers six different ad variations that B2B companies can leverage to enhance lead generation efforts.

Here are the six formats and some further objective/CTA details:

  1. Story ads. Story ads appear in between the organic stories of Instagram users and can be used in both photo and video format. These ads are best used to complement photo ads in-feed and receive the highest engagement levels of all ad formats on the platform.
  2. Photo ads. These are the equivalent of standard feed ads, but they’re all about the imagery on Instagram. Photo ads are most effective if your brand is already creating high-quality visuals or has the means to do so.
  3. Video ads. These also appear as in-feed ads but offer advertisers 120 seconds to broaden their sensory appeal through auto-play content in either landscape or square format. Video ads are most effective for simple offerings where an emotional response can be evoked in a short period of time.
  4. Carousel ads. This is a variation of photo ads that allow users to swipe through a series of product or service offerings that all have their own associated link. These are beneficial for advertisers that are looking to highlight multiple products, tell a multi-part story, or really explore a complex service offering.
  5. Collection ads. This is an edgy ad option that was essentially built for the ecommerce application, as it allows users to click an ad and be directed to an Instagram-based storefront where users can actually make a purchase.
  6. Ads in Explore. Explore is where users go to discover content from accounts that they aren’t following. These ads do not appear directly in the explore recommendations, but rather, in the newsfeed after a user has clicked on a post. Both regular photo and video content can be used in Explore for additional placements. 

Across these placements, there are a variety of objectives and CTA buttons available to marketers. Here are a few of them:

  • Available objectives include app installs, brand awareness, catalog sales, conversions, engagement, lead generation, messages, reach, store traffic, or web traffic.
  • CTA button options include: apply now, book now, book test drive, call now, check availability, contact us, donate, download, get directions, get showtimes, get quote, get offer, install now, learn more, listen now, open link, order now, play game, preregister, request time, see menu, send message, send WhatsApp message, shop now, sign up, subscribe, use app, or watch more.

Your choice in ad format(s) and CTAs should be informed by your broader social media marketing strategy and overall marketing objectives. For example, if your marketing success is measured based on app installs, then pairing a story ad campaign with a “app install objective and either a “download” or an “install now” CTA would be a logical tactic.

Explore Instagram business ad formats further here.

4. Create compelling visuals/videos

Imagery and videography are more important on Instagram than Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter because Instagram was born as a visual-first platform.

Here are some tips for photos:

  • Shoot in 1:1 ratio (1080×1080) for newsfeed photos and 9:16 (1080×1920) for stories.
  • Focus on realism. Real people and real photography are two of the most powerful tools available to Instagram marketers. Skip the after-effects and think more about capturing an authentic shot that tells a story.
  • Try and say it without the words. Unlike platforms like LinkedIn where it’s advised to use text in your imagery, Instagram newsfeed photos generally perform better without the text or with minimal text.
example of a great instagram ad visual

Source: WordStream

Here are some tips for videos:

  • Shoot in 1:1 ratio (1080×1080) for newsfeed videos and 9:16 (1080×1920) for stories.
  • The first second matters A LOT. Instagram users are perpetual scrollers, so you don’t have time to be artsy with slow openers. What can you show in the first second that will compel your audience to stop and watch further?
  • Add captions. Like most social media platforms, autoplay audio is set to mute by default. Captions ensure that viewers get the message regardless of whether or not they have their audio turned on.
  • Evoke an emotional response. Try and think of creative ways that you can use your product or service to make prospects feel something.
  • Organic sells. The less your video looks like an ad, the more likely it is to perform. If your content can mesh and blend well with the other content in your prospects’ feeds, it will be met with much warmer perceptions.

Source: AdEspresso

Here are some tips for stories:

  • Shoot all photos/videos at 9:16 (1080×1920).
  • The first slide of your ad is make or break. A study by RivalHQ determined that brands are losing about 20% of their audience by the second frame of their story ads. Great ways to grab attention right away include distinct colors and interesting graphics.
  • Clear and concise messaging. You have a maximum of 15 seconds to convey your message in a single slide. That means you need to get to the point as quickly as possible.
  • Maintain brand visibility. It can be especially easy for your branding to be overlooked on story ads as there are often so many other stimuli. Try to cleverly integrate or overlay your branding into visual elements, or focus on your products in the imagery that you use. Also, try and keep your colors on-brand.

Source: SproutSocial

These are some general guidelines that should help to improve your overall performance, but the reality is that you won’t know definitively what will work best for your brand until you experiment with some different content.

5. Create ad variants

Following the same four-variant principle that is most effective on LinkedIn and Facebook, it is generally advised to craft two text samples and two image samples that can be split tested in a four variant campaign. This will allow you to test different visuals and content to determine top performers. 

Here are some tactics to test in your ad variants:

  • Single line text for newsfeed ads. Instagram users don’t give the text much attention, so try keeping it to a single line that reinforces the CTA or message delivered in the photo/video.
  • Product images. If you have a physical offering, try and showcase it with high-resolution photography in either newsfeed or story ads.
  • Video testimonials. If you have a B2B service offering, testimonials can be an effective way to provide social proof in an engaging matter.
  • Experiment with CTAs. “Learn more” style CTAs are generally more effective for complex offerings, whereas “Shop now” can be a powerful purchase driver for B2C products.

6. Monitor and optimize your campaigns

Instagram ads should be optimized in a similar fashion to their Facebook peers. In fact, if you are running both simultaneously, you can easily monitor and optimize all of your ads from the Ads Manager dashboard.

That being said, here are some Instagram specific recommendations:

  • Benchmark CPLs, click-through rates, and other key metrics against averages in your industry to accurately measure performance.
  • Introduce challenger ads. Once you’ve identified the top-performing variants in a given campaign, you need to turn off the bottom performers and introduce new challenger ads. The best practice is to leverage either the same image/video as a top performer, but try new text—or vice versa.
  • Experiment with special offers. Although often perceived as spammy on other platforms, offers can actually be an effective way to drive clicks on Instagram. 
  • Try lookalike audiences. If you have a large following, you should try running follower lookalike campaigns that will allow you to reach prospects that have the most in common with your biggest fans.
  • Refresh graphics/videos every few months. Struck gold on an ad? Just like a gold mine, it will eventually run dry. That’s why it’s important to have new content ready to inject into those top-performing campaigns for when their effectiveness begins to dwindle.

For further optimization insights on Ads Manager, check out the Facebook Ads article.

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