Your startup guide to running Instagram ads that convert

The $1bn acquisition of Instagram by Facebook in 2012 kick-started a gradual shift from a photo-sharing app to an effective sales and marketing tool for startups and scaleups. 

Instagram currently has more active users than all other social media channels, bar Facebook. And, with 2.89 billion monthly active users at the time of writing, that’s a tough one to beat. A recent survey by Hootsuite showed that 81% of users are using Instagram to research products or services and 50% of people have visited a website to make a purchase after seeing a product. 

Despite leading in the total number of active users, engagement is significantly higher on Instagram than on Facebook. A recent social media study noted that brands see a whopping 1.6% median engagement rate per post on Instagram, miles ahead of Facebook’s 0.09%. In fact, engagement on Instagram posts is significantly higher than on all other social platforms. Why? It could be because the user experience across ads is so well-considered (you often don’t realise that you’re viewing sponsored content) and everything is kept within the app; you aren’t redirected out of Instagram if you click to browse a brand’s website. 

If your startup is in a position to allocate a percentage of its gross revenue for paid advertising, Instagram offers strong lead-converting potential. In this article, we provide startups with a practical guide on running ads on Instagram. Covering types of ads, which ones to choose and best practice advice on optimising your campaigns.

  1. Types of Instagram Ads 

Instagram Photo Ads

Photo ads comprise of a single image, a brief description and a call to action; great if you have strong visual content. The call to action button can be customised – from ‘Donate now’ to ‘Sign up’ or ‘Get quote’ – and can link to a location of your choosing e.g. your website, or back to your Instagram profile depending on your campaign goals. Photo ads are great for promoting app installs, generating leads and increasing traffic.

Instagram Video Ads

Video ads that feature within a user’s content feed take the same format as image ads. Video ads are capped at 60 minutes long, but we don’t recommend using the full duration! The optimum duration for an Instagram video ad is 15 seconds.

IGTV ads

Instagram launched IGTV in June 2018 to compete with other social channels offering long-format videos. IGTV enables brands to post videos up to 60 minutes long. Ads can last a max of 15 seconds and, just like YouTube ads, are served to users midroll.

Instagram Story Ads

Story ads will feature within a brand’s stories. Instagram stories have very high levels of engagement; according to Sprout Social, there are 500 million daily Instagram Stories users globally. Story ads offer a mix of content formats and styles, from video, photo, carousel, GIF, stickers or filters. HootSuite recommends that startups look to make story ads as stylistically close to user-generated content as possible for higher success rates. 

Instagram Carousel Ads 

Carousel ads may feature image content, video content or a mixture of both. They’re great for demonstrating groups of linked products and can feature within brands stories or pop up within a user’s feed. Instagram carousel ads enable you to promote up to 10 content items at a time. 

Instagram Reels ads

Similar to stories, Instagram Reels are a short video content format, but instead of disappearing after 24hrs they have the longevity of IGTV. Instagram offered ads through Reels to a global audience in June 2021. Reels ads are full screen, vertical videos and as Instagram states, they are “the best place…..to reach people who don’t follow you”.

Instagram Shopping ads

Shopping ads enable you to promote items for purchase directly within the app. If a user taps on a shopping ad it will direct them straight to a product page where they can make a purchase. Shopping ads are great for not only raising brand and product awareness but also driving up your conversion rate. 

Instagram Explore ads

The Explore page on Instagram displays content curated based on individual taste and what’s culturally relevant. Unique to each individual, it features a selection of images, videos, stories and reels to help users discover trending content, products and brands that may resonate with them. Instagram states that running ads in Explore is great for targeting people with a ‘discovery mindset.’ Instagram found in a recent survey that 83% of people use Explore to discover new products or services. To run ads within Explore,  

  1. How to choose which ads to run

When starting out, use statistics from your organic content to assess which content types are performing best. Make use of the brilliant analytics tool available on Business accounts to determine which types work for your brand. Do your users prefer long-form video content or short-form? Do your photo posts get lower levels of engagement than your stories? Try to run ads in the format that your prospective audience are most connecting with.

And, as with all marketing campaigns, defining your goals is a key starting point. What do you want to achieve with your ad campaigns? Are you trying to drive traffic, increase sign-ups, sell products, raise brand awareness or push downloads? Where in the funnel are your target audience? Some ad formats will suit different objectives better than others.

Finally, continually review your strategy, assess and adapt. Change your approach – try different copy, modify your images, tweak your targeting – keep refining until you see results.  

In our next post covering best practice tips to creating and running Instagram ads, we look at microtargeting features, tips on creating effective visual content and factors that influence the cost of running your campaigns.

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