Is there a universal recipe for optimal post frequency on Instagram? 20+ marketing experts share their insights and best practices for growing your Instagram community.
| Jul 19
Melissa King on February 19, 2021 • 15 minute read
In 2020, Instagram had 1 billion active users. If you have an audience that uses Instagram, that’s a lot of eyes your ads can reach. For businesses new to Instagram or digital advertising, however, Instagram ads might seem intimidating at first.
If you’re considering diving into the world of Instagram advertising, we bet you have plenty of questions. We surveyed marketers about their Instagram ad spending and best practices to help you make the most out of the platform.
Let’s go over the basics of Instagram ads and what you can do to optimize your advertising practices.
According to Instagram’s advertising page, you can set a maximum budget for your ads. But, what does a business spend on average on ads to get effective results? Do you have enough room in your budget to dedicate enough money to Instagram?
We asked the experts about their experiences.
To determine how much Instagram charges for ad views, we first asked marketers about their average CPM (cost per one-thousands impressions):
For more than half of the professionals we consulted, one thousand impressions cost $4 or less. Since Instagram lets you cap your ad spend, you can let your impressions rack up without having to worry about going over budget. Your ad’s CPM will depend on the targeting settings you choose, and Instagram will outline the costs before you run it.
Of course, plenty of businesses run more than one ad, so it can be tricky to calculate ad spend based on CPM alone. To help you get an even more specific idea of the cost of Instagram advertising, we also asked marketers about their average monthly spend:
A little over 30% of respondents spend $500 or less on their Instagram ads, meaning that the platform is pretty accessible to companies with tighter advertising budgets.
As you can see from the 11% or so who pay more than $10,000, Instagram ads also have a high-cost ceiling when you need to run a massive-scale campaign.
Like with many marketing channels, Instagram ads’ ROI (return on investment) depends on factors unique to your business, such as your audience and strategy.
At first glance, Instagram might not seem like the best choice for social media advertising. When we surveyed marketers in 2020, less than 10% of them told us that Instagram drove the most traffic to their website compared to other platforms.
But, as marketers, we have to think holistically about the factors that go into social media traffic.
Instagram has a visual focus and younger audience that lends it well to some industries more than others — think lifestyle brands.
Plus, even if your company doesn’t fit in one of those industries, you won’t know where your audience stands until you get to know them through research.
We recommend identifying your target audience, then evaluating if they would use Instagram enough to make advertising there worth it. You can also test out a few ads before you invest in full campaigns.
Editor’s note: As you refine your Instagram audience, try using the Instagram Business (Audience Overview) dashboard on Databox to see who’s following your accounts. Then, you can adjust your ad targeting by location, age and gender to aim for better performance.
If you want to boost your Instagram traffic but don’t know how to feel about ads, you can try promoting one of your existing posts. This feature gives you a feel for the platform’s advertising capabilities, but you won’t have to take the time to create an ad from scratch. Follow these steps to promote one of your Instagram posts:
Keep in mind that Instagram reviews every promoted post before they boost it. You’ll get a notification when they accept or reject your ad and when your campaign ends. Instagram story promotion follows a similar process to post promotion.
To create an Instagram ad independent of a promoted post or story, you’ll need to go through Facebook’s advertising tools. After you connect your Facebook and Instagram accounts, you can make an Instagram ad by making an ad on your Facebook Page and choosing to run it on both platforms or using Facebook Ads Manager. Take these steps to make an Instagram ad in Ads Manager:
You have to have a Facebook Page to make Instagram ads outside of Instagram. If you don’t have one, you can still promote posts and stories.
Stephane Riel of RielDeal Marketing recommends creating an Instagram Ad with Facebook’s interface over promoting a post because of its targeting features. “Play around with specific targeting by creating the ads within Facebook Business Manager instead of just boosting the ad from within the Instagram app. [It] will also give you added control over targeting for specific campaigns,” says Riel.
When we surveyed marketers about their spending on Instagram ads, we also asked them for advice on creating Instagram ads that get results. Here’s what they had to share:
Instagram got a name for itself through images, but today, video also has a major presence on the platform. In fact, video could be key to improving your ad metrics. We already discovered that video could drive more clicks on Facebook, and the same could prove true for Instagram.
On a human level, leveraging ad formats that use motion makes sense, as Jellyfish’s Kineta Kelsall points out. “Instagram ads should be built using motion, especially in stories. Users are more likely to engage with creative that moves rather than static imagery that isn’t optimized for the platform. Movement creates a feeling. It emotionally primes audiences,” Kelsall says.
If you pay attention, Kelsall emphasized the power of motion over video alone. If you don’t have the time or resources to produce a video, you can try converting a GIF to an Instagram video or posting a carousel ad.
You can learn how to turn a GIF into an Instagram-friendly video from HubSpot. The first part of the article covers how to do so with a GIPHY GIF, but we recommend using the methods below that section to change an original GIF into a video. That way, if you have branded GIFS on-hand, you can use them as a starting point for a video Instagram ad.
Motion can also happen on the user’s side when they scroll through a carousel. Choose a series of high-quality images to keep potential customers swiping.
Plenty of Instagram users skim their feed and stories rather than diving into every piece of content they find. So, as Alistair Dodds from Ever Increasing Circles explains, you should make the first few seconds of your video ads count to encourage that deeper dive.
Dodds advises, “Ensure the first 2 to 3 seconds are attention-grabbing. It doesn’t matter how great your ad offer is or how well you’re matching the product/service to the target audience — if you can’t grab attention in those crucial first couple of seconds and hook someone in to watch the rest, then your ad is going to bomb.”
So, how do you hook viewers? According to Dodds, you need to “get creative and split test opening sequences to a small segment of your audience on a reduced budget until you find the best performing intros. And then front load onto your full creative ads.”
Instagram ads have plenty of metrics to track to help you understand how they perform compared to each other. Keep an eye on CTR (click-through rate), bounce rate, and impressions to see which versions draw viewer attention and quality traffic.
If Instagram ads are your first foray into social media advertising, choosing the right creative and audience targeting can seem intimidating. With virtually unlimited possibilities, how do you know what approach you should take first?
It turns out that you already have a great starting point — your existing branding and audience.
Sparkr Marketing’s Wendy Margolin encourages you to “Test your content out organically first with your audience. Once you know the kind of images, videos and captions that perform well for your followers, you can then use that same content in an ad.”
Margolin recommends starting with promoted posts before testing out an original Instagram ad since they already have organic engagements. “It’s a good idea to use the actual post from your feed as an ad so that it already has some comments and shares on it,” they tell us, continuing, “Next, show that ad to your warm audience of email subscribers, website visitors, video viewers and Instagram engagers.”
With your existing content primed for promotion, “you can duplicate that same ad and show it to your cold audience, made up of a lookalike audience,” Margolin concludes.
Matt Lally of TheGiftYak agrees on a broader level, stating, “My recommendation for any advertiser is to stay true to your mission. Some businesses find success with long-form copy that tells a crafty tale of the product. Other companies hit it big on Instagram ads with direct response ads and lots of emojis. I’d certainly say test both, but don’t try to fit a peg into a circle if that’s not what your brand voice is.”
In other words, you don’t have to perform a huge brand overhaul to get into Instagram advertising. Let your unique voice be itself and nurture it as you go to help it perform on the platform. Just like Facebook, Instagram is great for organic brand building, so you’ll have a solid foundation to build your ad campaigns on.
Editor’s note: You can get a top-down overview of your Instagram account’s current performance with the Instagram Business (account overview) dashboard for Databox. Analyze metrics like number of followers, impressions and reach to understand how your Instagram performs organically.
A 2020 study by Social Insider found that carousel posts get the most engagement out of any other format on Instagram. On average, they get a staggering engagement rate of 1.92%.
Jonathan Aufray from Growth Hackers Agency has a tip for maximizing carousel posts’ potential: “…create a 10-image carousel where in the first image, you will either ask a question or craft a powerful call-to-action, enticing viewers to scroll left to see the rest of the carousel.”
The data backs up Aufray’s advice. Social Insider discovered that carousels with messages that encourage the viewer to swipe left boost average engagement to 2%. Interestingly enough, the posts with the higher engagement specifically included the word “swipe” or the phrase “swipe left,” so keep that in mind when creating your carousel.
Platforms like Instagram democratize video publication, letting users with various levels of video quality get their work out there. That’s a great thing. But, as a brand, you need to present your best creative to make a good impression on your audience. Fortunately, modern technology makes high-quality video creation pretty accessible.
Sky Alphabet Social Media’s Steve Yanor points out that you can make a professional-looking Instagram video with tools you probably already have and an eye for detail. Here’s what Yanor recommends:
“First, always build your creative in 2160 x 3840 4K video. Final Cut Pro is perfect for this. Make it exactly 15 seconds and once you’re happy with the result, AirDrop it to your phone, publish it as a story and run it as an ad.”
Yanor uses Apple products, but the same principle applies no matter what hardware you use. Look for a video editing software with 4K support, send the final video to your phone and upload from there. You can find free and paid video editing programs on the market that can format in 4K, and plenty of modern phones can record in that resolution.
Your attention to quality should go beyond the CTA, Yanor adds. “You get a “swipe up” button which is key to the engagement, so make sure the link goes to a fast-loading AMP page or an “instant experience” page built for Facebook’s platform,” they suggest. In other words, make it as easy as possible for people to view what you’re directing them to.
Facebook, the main advertising platform for Instagram, has lookalike audience targeting features that let you target users that behave like those who already engage with your content.
Setting up a Lookalike Audience based on engagement involves these actions in Facebook Ads Manager:
To target website visitors, follow the same steps you would to make an engagement-based custom audience and choose a Website Custom Audience instead.
Influencers are a hallmark of Instagram marketing. You see them working with lifestyle brands all the time, but did you know that businesses in just about any industry can tap into the power of influencers? Consider working with a micro-influencer who your customers will know and trust to create a partnered ad.
JP Brosseau of Phoneloops puts it this way: “Instagram is an excellent platform for marketing and brand building. However, with over 8 million registered business accounts, it is extremely competitive. If you want to get desirable results in such an environment, my tip is to team up with Instagram influencers.”
When Brosseau mentions influencers, they don’t necessarily mean influencers in the traditional sense. In fact, going a little outside of tradition can work in your favor. “It would be best if you focused on working with people whose audience matches your target market,” Brosseau advises. They don’t necessarily need to have a “celebrity status” but should be highly engaged in [your] following. The key is to find people who look more like everyday consumers. They tend to be very relatable and trustworthy.”
According to Brosseau, these Instagram users can become a valuable resource in building trust in your brand. “When a so-called micro-influencer features a product on their channel, it comes across as a trusted reference from a friend rather than a celebrity advertisement. This type of influencer marketing will help increase your brand awareness, grow your follower base, and drive significant sales,” they say.
As you work with a micro-influencer, make sure to set clear goals and metrics to track your campaign’s performance. Outline your KPIs (key performance indicators) and deliverables before you get started. Depending on the campaign, you could also use a unique URL or promo code to directly track the conversions you get from your collaboration ad.
All of the hard work you put into your ad creative, audience targeting, and influencer partnerships will go to waste if your ad doesn’t appear in front of your audience in the first place. To ensure that Instagram recognizes your ads in its algorithm, you need to speak its language.
It Media’s Ashley Monk elaborates, “To create a highly engaging Instagram ad, you need to ensure first and foremost you’re optimizing for all placements. For instance, stories need to be formatted vertically while feed content needs to be a bit more clean and polished.”
Try looking over the design requirements for Instagram feed ads and stories ads to get an idea of the right resolution and aspect ratio for your ad. Like Monk mentioned, feed ads have more finicky requirements. For feed ads, we recommend making images on the larger end of the acceptable range of sizes for a better viewing experience on all devices.
Monk also notes that your audience plays a major role in optimizing your creative, saying, “Ultimately, the demographic you cater toward will play a larger role into the creative that works the best, but for Instagram, highly curated photos and branded graphics with concise calls to action perform well.”
It’s also worth mentioning that feed ads and stories ads handle links differently. Instagram doesn’t recommend putting URLs in feed ads because they don’t become clickable, but you can direct customers to the link in your bio and use a bio link service. Meanwhile, you can add a “swipe up” link to a story to use as a CTA.
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