Instagram Ads: Everything You Need To Know

By Olsy Sorokina


Image via Instagram
Image via Instagram

It’s been a year since Instagram launched Sponsored posts that allow brands to advertise on the network. Instagram ads first appeared in the feeds of users in the United States on November 1, 2013, and crossed the Atlantic to United Kingdom the following September. Earlier this month, the announcement of Sponsored posts appeared on the Home feeds of Instagram users in Canada. While some users worry that the ads will disrupt their experience of their friends’ brunch photos (#nomnom!), marketers everywhere are salivating over access to the most popular network among young people.

So what does the arrival of Instagram ads mean for your strategy? We’ll explain everything you need to know.

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.

What are Instagram ads?

Instagram ads take form of a typical Instagram photo (or video, for US brands only at the moment). When talking about the future of advertisement on Instagram, the company made their intention to leave the Home browsing experience undisturbed for users very clear. What distinguishes an Instagram ad from other photos is the “Sponsored” mark above the top right corner of the photo, the spot where the posting time is normally displayed. Instagram Ads sponsored Users can like the photo or follow the brand’s account, just as they would with any other Instagram user; but they also have a chance to provide feedback about the ad by selecting the appropriate option in the ellipses button at the bottom left.

Why advertise on Instagram?

In light of Instagram ads rolling out in the United Kingdom at the end of September, GlobalWebIndex released an analysis of Instagram users. The report deems Instagram highly attractive to advertisers, thanks to the social network’s young and relatively affluent user base. And that user base keeps growing—earlier this year, Instagram revealed that their monthly active user base has reached 200 million, and another report showed evidence of Instagram currently being the fastest-growing social site around the world. Two months after the first US launch, Instagram released the results from the pioneer brand campaigns on their business blog. The network measured the campaign’s success based on metrics such as reach, ad recall, and awareness, instead of the likes, comments, and follower counts over the span of the campaign. The test round of Instagram ads also showed to have a high impact with a low ad impression rate. For a more detailed breakdown of the test run, you can read the Levi’s and Ben & Jerry’s Instagram ad case studies. With these numbers, it’s no wonder advertising on the popular network is rumoured to cost up to half a million dollars per month.

Who can advertise on Instagram?

Not just any brand can pay to appear in the users’ Home feeds just yet—only brands with existing successful Instagram following are chosen to advertise their posts. “Our aim is to make any advertisements you see feel as natural to Instagram as the photos and videos many of you already enjoy from your favorite brands,” Ads on Instagram’s Q&A page states. For more information and inspiration for all things Instagram straight from the source, follow the official Instagram for Business blog.

How brands can gear up for Instagram ads

For now, brands with access to Instagram’s Sponsored posts remain an exclusive club, as the network focuses on meeting their honourable goal of incorporating ad content into the users’ Home Feeds as seamlessly and non-intrusively as possible. So what is your brand supposed to do in the meantime? Instagram gives an example of brands whose Instagram strategy (and high profile, undoubtedly) has earned them the right to be visible on the Home Feed—with brands such as Levi’s, Macy’s, Ben & Jerry’s and Burberry among the chosen few. Gear up for Instagram ads by taking a page or two out of these brands’ Instagram strategy.

A behind-the-scenes look

Customers interact with your product or service in person, so many of the selected brands use Instagram to reveal something otherwise inaccessible to people outside the company. For example, Burberry’s Instagram account is full of backstage photos from fashion shows, photoshoots, and even garment-making process of their signature fabric prints.

A preview of the #Burberry Spring/Summer 2015 Womenswear collection – prints and pleats #LFW A photo posted by Burberry (@burberry) on

These photos are the customers’ backstage pass to your brand culture, so you can also use them to tell the story or emphasize an aspect of your work that you are particularly proud of. Levi’s, a brand worn and loved by several generations, reminds their Instagram followers of their history.

Inspiration source

Instagram was made for the primary purpose of sharing visually appealing information, and the goal of each Instagram user is to make their carefully composed and edited photo stand out in their followers’ Home feeds. The same principle applies for brands: before the introduction of Sponsored posts, after all, they were just another Instagram user (perhaps with a slightly higher-than-average follower count). Many brands make use of branded hashtags, or hashtags associated with the lifestyle that appeals to the brand’s target audience. Adidas, for example, shares these stunning views in preparation for the next winter sports season.

Macy’s works with multiple brands, which can be seen as both an advantage and a challenge: the department store company creates an opportunity to appeal to fashionista followers by sharing outfit inspirations, using the official brand hashtags for items or the popular hashtags #ootd (“outfit of the day”) and #tgif for greater exposure.

Trading my my booties & nude gloss for a look that’s more #fridaynight #tgif #tonyatakeover

A photo posted by Macy’s (@macys) on

Warming up to the idea of Fall #ootd A photo posted by Macy’s (@macys) on

Customer shares

Perhaps it’s the intimacy of having access to the photos in the palm of your hand, but mobile users are more likely to interact with a brand on social media than those browsing social networks on their laptop or desktop computer. Since Instagram doesn’t look like it’s giving up its deserved spot in the top 10 apps, smart brands encourage consumers to share their Instagram photos with their followers and the business. Ben & Jerry’s customers, for example, share a first-person view of their ice cream flavour combinations by including the brand’s Instagram handle in the description. Warning: the following pictures may cause an extreme craving for ice cream.

Ice cream o’clock. photo by @laurenpagz

A photo posted by Ben & Jerry’s (@benandjerrys) on

Yummy. photo by @500daysofyummer A photo posted by Ben & Jerry’s (@benandjerrys) on

Reposting photos taken by customers is a win-win for everyone involved: the customer gets the visibility within the brand’s high-volume following, and the brand gets both a default product testimony and visibility among that user’s following.

Think outside the box

All is good for brands with physical products, such as fashionable clothing or appetizing ice cream, to show off on their Instagram accounts. But what about brands who offer a service that requires more thought on creative direction than just the choice of filter? PayPal, an online money transfer company, took this as a chance to show their ability to experiment: PayPal’s Instagram account features established photographers’ works to interpret “people-isms” given to them by the e-commerce brand. For a brand whose motto is “re-imagining money,” the power of imagination is evident in their Instagram strategy.

For more resources on improving your brand’s Instagram strategy, check out these blog posts: Top 3 Instagram Trends for Marketers 5 Brands Using Video on Instagram 8 Brands Using Hyperlapse for Instagram Perfect Your Instagram Strategy With Vidpiq and Hootsuite Stay tuned for a more in-depth look at the advantages and challenges of advertising on social media platforms, including Instagram, coming up on the Hootsuite blog in the next month.
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