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Instagram Ads: The Complete Guide for Business

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This post was originally published on the Hootsuite blog

According to a Pew Research study, 55 percent of all 18- to 29-year-olds in the United States are using Instagram. That’s a whole generation of people viewing the world through sepia-filtered glasses.

Companies who can harness the power of that platform to share what’s great about their business stand to grow their presence and profit among millennials considerably.

One of the best ways a business can make use of the photo-sharing platform is to invest in Instagram ads. Advertisers of all sizes are seeing fantastic results. From driving mass awareness, to increasing website sales and mobile app downloads, Instagram offers limitless possibilities for the creative marketer.

Bonus: Download a free checklist that reveals the exact steps an adventure photographer used to grow from 0 to 110,000 followers on Instagram with no budget and no expensive gear. Plus we’ll show you how you can use Hootsuite to grow your own following on Instagram and other platforms.

Why advertise on Instagram?

Instagram ads have proven to be an effective means for generating new business. A report from market research firm eMarketer predicts that nearly three quarters of American companies with 100 employees or more will turn to the photo-sharing app for marketing purposes in 2017—up from a little more than half this year, reports Mashable.

Instagram offers several compelling case studies demonstrating the effectiveness of their ad features.

They measure each campaign’s success based on metrics such as reach, ad recall, and awareness, instead of likes, comments, and follower counts over the span of the campaign.

For example, monthly book subscription service Read Dog Books used Instagram Stories to connect with its audience while running a single ad campaign on Instagram and Facebook to encourage people to subscribe. The result? A seven times return on ad spend.

A study conducted by Forrester in 2016 reviewed how the top 50 global brands market on social media. Forrester evaluated 11.8 million user interactions on 2,489 posts made by 249 branded profiles. Data was collected on how many top brands use each social network, how many fans they have, how often they post, and how often users interact with their posts. Forrester found that the average number of Instagram followers for a top brand is now over 1 million—almost five times higher than in 2015.

Instagram users aren’t just following their friends and celebrities anymore. They are following their favorite brands too. Could that be you?

Types of Instagram ads

There are three main types of Instagram ads to choose from. Whether your goal is to build brand awareness, get more website visits, or increase downloads of your mobile app, Instagram can help you access a huge, engaged audience. Read on for a rundown of photo, video, and carousel ads, and then watch the video below to determine which is the best option for your business.

Instagram photo ads

With photo ads, businesses can tell their story and feature products through visually engaging imagery. Market your brand to a broad audience or just the customers in your hometown with guaranteed impressions.

For example, Brazilian paint brand, Suvinil launched an Instagram ads campaign focused on a specific target audience—people over 35. With the help of Instagram’s segmentation tools, Suvinil targeted people who might be interested in buying their paint. People who announced moving, or had recently changed their relationship status, as well as people who had interests in pregnancy and decor.

In just 2 months, the campaign achieved a 15-point increase in ad recall on Instagram.

Screen Shot 2017-04-19 at 11.23.43 AM

Instagram video ads

You can make Instagram video ads up to 60 seconds long, but according to data from Wista, the first 30 seconds of a social video is what matters most. If you can hook your audience in that timeframe, they are more likely to stick around and engage.

Many brands have had great success with Instagram video ads. Creative app company Lightricks used beautiful Instagram videos to help them hit the top of the download charts with their new app Enlight.

Screen Shot 2017-04-19 at 11.25.44 AM

The direct-response video ads were a huge hit, boosting Lightricks’ conversion rate by 50 percent compared to non-Instagram campaigns. They achieved enormous reach and a lower cost per install, while racking up 40 million post engagements along the way. In the end, Enlight secured more than 300,000 downloads and hit the number one spot in the global iOS paid app charts.

Instagram carousel ads

With carousel ads, Instagram users can swipe to see additional images and a call to action button takes them to a website to learn more. Carousel ads are like the digital version of the multi-page print campaigns of yesteryear. Unlike print ads, carousel ads offer the added benefit of taking people to a website to learn more.

For example, a new restaurant could showcase how multiple ingredients come together to make a delicious meal. Once their appetite is whet, you can have a button that directs them to the reservations page of your website.

Running race organizer Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series wanted to encourage people to sign up for one of its events, so it created targeted carousel ads on Instagram to promote its one-day sale.

The team first targeted people who had registered for a past event, and then generated a new audience based on those runners’ friends and people who shared their interests. The company ran a teaser video ad in the two days leading up to the single-day Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon sale. The video boosted awareness of the race series and alerted people to the upcoming sale.

The race company then targeted carousel link ads to those people who interacted with the video. The ad featured runners holding signs announcing the lowest prices of the year, while a series of calls to action invited people to sign up.

Screen Shot 2017-04-19 at 11.26.36 AM

The Rock ‘n’ Roll team succeeded with its Instagram ad winter sale promo, achieving a 24 time return on ad spend and a 52 percent increase in registrations, year-over-year.

Call-to-action buttons

In late 2015 Instagram added several new features to its advertising platform, including call-to-action buttons such as Shop Now and Install Now. The Call to Action (CTA) button is designed to bring a business’ most important objective to the front lines of its Instagram presence. Call to action buttons link to any destination on or off Instagram that aligns with a business’s goals.

How to choose the best Instagram ad for your business

Watch the below video to learn how to choose an Instagram ad type that aligns with your business objectives.

Learn how to get even more out of Instagram with free social media training from Hootsuite Academy.

How to advertise on Instagram

To run ads on Instagram you’ll first need a Facebook page. Facebook now owns Instagram and the two platforms work in conjunction. Pages are for brands, organizations, and public figures.

Like Facebook profiles, Pages can be customized with stories, events and more. People who like a Page can get updates in News Feed. Learn more about setting up a Facebook page for your business with Hootsuite’s Facebook Marketing: The Complete Guide. Once you have that process down, you can get started with Instagram ads.

First, sign up for Business Manager

  1. Go to
  2. Click Create Account.
  3. Enter a name for your business, select the primary Page, and enter your name and work email address. If you don’t yet have a Page for your business.
  4. Move through the rest of the on-boarding flow by entering the rest of the required fields.
  5. Learn how to add people to Business Manager.

Once you have Business Manager setup, you can add your Instagram account

  1. Go to your Business Manager.
  2. On the left side of the page, click Business Settings then Instagram Accounts.
  3. Click Claim New Instagram Account.
  4. Add your username and password, then click Next.
  5. To authorize one or more of your ad accounts to use the Instagram account, check the box next to each ad account and click Save Changes.

Whoo! That was a lot of steps. Now you are ready to create your Instagram ad.

  1. Go to ad creation.
  2. Choose an objective from the list. Keep in mind that only the following objectives will allow you to create ads that will be eligible to appear on Instagram: Brand awareness, Reach, Traffic (for clicks to your website or to the app store for your app), App installs, Engagement (for post engagement only), Video views, and Conversions (for conversions on your website or app).
  3. Note: Some of these objectives may look different when you create an ad. Learn more about the changes to objectives.
  4. Next to Campaign Name, add a name for your campaign or use the default name that appears.

Now it’s time to choose the audience for your ad.

In the Audience section, create an audience for your ad. You can choose audience characteristics such as age, gender, interests, behaviors, ethnic affinity, location, and even politics. Learn about the targeting options available.

Like Facebook ads, Instagram ads offer options to pay per engagement or by impression (CPM). The average cost per click for an Instagram ad in Q3 2016 was $0.72. If your boss has given you a specific budget for your Instagram ad campaign, you can set it in the Budget and Schedule section, where you can choose a budget and set your ad’s schedule.

You can choose either a daily budget or a lifetime budget for your campaign. Choose wisely.

  • Daily budget sets your ad up to run continuously throughout the day, meaning that the algorithm will automatically pace your spending per day. With this option there is a minimum daily budget depending on different factors in your campaign.
  • Lifetime budget gives your ad a run for a specified length of time, meaning the algorithm paces your spending over the entire time period that you set for the campaign.

You can set your optimization and bid options manually. In the Optimize for Ad Delivery section, you’ll update how you want to optimize your ad. In the Bid Amountsection, you can choose a manual bid.

Next to Ad Set Name, add a name for your ad set or use the default name that appears.

In the Format section, choose the type of media you’d like your ad to include. Review the technical and design recommendations to make sure your photos and videos are putting their best foot forward.

Photo design recommendations

  • Image ratio: 1:1
  • Image size: 1080 x 1080 pixels
  • Caption: text only, 125 characters recommended

Photo technical requirements

  • Image ratio: Landscape (1.91:1), Square (1:1), Vertical (4:5)
  • Minimum resolution: 600 x 315 pixels (1.91:1 landscape) / 600 x 600 pixels (1:1 square) / 600 x 750 pixels (4:5 vertical)
  • Caption: text only, max 2,200 characters
  • Limited support for landscape format
  • Maximum resolution: 1936 x 1936 pixels
  • File type: .jpg or .png
  • Maximum size: 30MB
  • Your image may not include more than 20 percent text—Use Facebook’s text overlay tool to see how much text is on your image

Video design recommendations

  • Aspect Ratio: 1:1
  • File type: .mp4 container ideally with leading mov atom, no edit lists
  • Video: H.264 video compression, high profile preferred, square pixels, fixed frame rate, progressive scan
  • Audio: Stereo AAC audio compression, 128kbps + preferred
  • Caption: Text only, 125 characters recommended

Video technical requirements

  • Caption length text: 2,200 characters Max
  • Video aspect ratio: Landscape (1.91:1), Square (1:1), Vertical (4:5)
  • Minimum resolution: 600 x 315 pixels (1.91:1 landscape) / 600 x 600 pixels (1:1 square) / 600 x 750 pixels (4:5 vertical)
  • Minimum length: 3 seconds
  • Maximum length: 60 seconds
  • File type: Full list of supported file formats
  • Supported video codecs: H.264, VP8
  • Supported audio codecs: AAC, Vorbis
  • Maximum size: 4 GB
  • Frame rate: 30fps max
  • Bitrate: No limit to bitrate file if you’re using two pass encoding, as long as your file doesn’t exceed 1 GB. Otherwise, 8 megabits per second for 1080p and 4 megabits per second for 720p.
  • Thumbnail image ratio: Should match the aspect ratio of your video. Your image should include minimal text. See how the amount of text in your ad image will impact the reach of your ad.

Fill in the details of your ad. Choose your headline, text, and call-to-action button (if needed). Click Show Advanced Options for additional creative options. Keep in mind that creative options may differ based on the ad objective you choose.

Below Ad Preview, you’ll see all of the placements your ad will be shown on. By default, all of the placements will be selected. It’s recommended that you run your ads on Facebook and Instagram at the same time. But if you’d like to only show your ads on Instagram, click Remove next to all of the placements except for Instagram.

Once you’ve completed your ad (hooray!), click Place Order in the bottom-right corner. Don’t forget to review your ad closely before hitting the big green button. Since your ads have the potential to be seen by a large audience, you can’t risk a typo or inappropriate joke. If you’d feel better getting a teammate’s eyes on them before they fly out into the world, set your schedule to include a delay, but still place your order.

How to advertise on Instagram using Hootsuite

There’s no need to jump back and forth between Facebook ad tools and Instagram itself. With Hootsuite Ads you can manage and optimize Instagram ads (as well as Facebook ads) from the same platform that you do all your other social marketing tasks on.

Hootsuite Ads allows you to easily promote Instagram posts from streams, target and split test, preview ads, and measure success with built-in analytics.

How to advertise on Instagram using AdEspresso

If you don’t need enterprise-strength features and services, AdEspresso by Hootsuite makes it super easy to create, analyze, and optimize Instagram ads. Plus it’s designed—and priced—specifically for small and mid-sized organizations.

Instagram ads best practices

Know your audience

One of the most wonderful features of Instagram ads is the targeting capabilities. Rather than sending a photo of your business out into the ether, you can send it directly to people who might already be interested in what you have to offer.

Who might those customers be? Our handy guide to creating audience personas outlines the questions you need to ask yourself to determine who your customers are. How old are they? Where do they live? What sorts of jobs do they have? What do they do outside of work?

Learn how to get even more out of Instagram with free social media training from Hootsuite Academy.

Captivate with captions

Images aren’t everything. The caption on your Instagram post provides an excellent opportunity to show off your brand’s personality. Your brand voice is part of you broader social media marketing plan. Start by asking yourself: what are the qualities and values I want my brand to promote? Make a list and use it to shape your image. You might also try brainstorming a few adjectives that describe your brand and use those to refine the voice.

For more, check out our guide to writing great Instagram captions.

Use hashtags

Instagram posts with at least one hashtag average 12.6 percent more engagement than those with no hashtags, according to a study by Simply Measured. So use them when they are relevant to your post and target audience—but don’t use so many that they crowd your copy and make it difficult to read. Learn more about hashtagging like a pro in The Complete Instagram Hashtag Guide for Business.

Be consistent

Using the same filter or style on your brand’s Instagram posts can give your feed a consistent look. Your audience will recognize you right away in their feed. Researchers found that 90 percent of immediate judgments made about a product can be based on color alone. Not only that but “the relationship between brands and color hinges on the perceived appropriateness of the color being used for the particular brand.”

Pick up some Expert Design Tips For Your Social Media Images and choose your theme wisely.

Learn from the best

The Hootsuite social team created a special account called Hootsuite Showcase. Featuring spectacular accounts or campaigns on Instagram, it is a resource for inspiration and an easy way to see what others are doing on the platform. Each account or campaign featured on the showcase has been chosen for their thoughtfulness or creativity.

Viewed as a ‘Best of Instagram,’ there are plenty of lessons that can be learned from content featured on the Hootsuite Showcase. For a more detailed rundown, check out our post on 7 Lessons Brands Can Learn from the Most Creative Accounts on Instagram.

Get the most out of your Instagram ad budget with AdEspresso by Hootsuite orHootsuite Ads. Both are powerful options that make it easy to create, manage, and optimize campaigns.

View the rest of the IPG Social Media Boot Camp!

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