We Tried Running Ads on Instagram Stories. Here’s What We Learned

In March 2017, Instagram released the Instagram Story ads feature to all business accounts. Hootsuite’s social marketing team quickly ran a series of tests using the new ad format. In this post we share with you what our team learned so that you’re set up for success when you give it a try.

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Running ads on Instagram Stories: 7 lessons from Hootsuite’s social team

1. It’s best to start with existing content

Creating high-performing Instagram content is about trial and error. It can be expensive if you don’t know what your audience wants.

Before you put time and effort into creating Instagram-specific ads, repurpose content that you’ve shared organically so you have an idea of what kind of engagement it will get. Trying running a few tests with different types of repurposed content. Define a set of criteria for each ad so you understand exactly what you’re testing.

We used graphic videos as our first set of ads because we already had that content on hand. After seeing that they weren’t performing, we switched up our strategy—but having that initial test helped us understand what our audience wanted and why.

2. Live action videos convert better than graphic videos

The vast majority of Instagram Stories feature real life scenes (i.e. live action). Graphic videos break up this user experience. It didn’t match the aesthetic of what people were seeing in other Stories, and as result, clearly stood out as an ad.

When you’re creating your story, think about user experience. What would they expect to see? Make sure you create ads that don’t divert too much from that experience.

3. Existing fans are more likely to engage with your ad

Facebook, which owns Instagram, allows you to target people with Instagram ads that have liked your content on either platform.

We saw success when we served our Instagram Story ads to people who already engaged with our content—they liked a Hootsuite video on Facebook or a photo on Instagram, for example. Advertisers can use this engagement data to create custom audiences.

This re-engagement method is super effective because we know we’re engaging people that are already interested in our content.

You can also share and target audiences across Facebook and Instagram. For example, if you have a popular video on Facebook, you can retarget that Facebook audience on Instagram with a Story ad.

4. It’s important to follow the recommended ad specs

Reviewing Instagram Story ad spec requirements is an important (but often overlooked) part of creating ads. Instagram Story ads have different requirements than other ads, so it’s important that you know exactly what the specs are before you create new content.

Important ad specs to keep in mind:

  • Maximum file size
  • Video length
  • Dimensions
  • Supported codecs

If you want to use existing videos, make sure that they meet all the requirements of the ad format before you repurpose them.

5. The Story format offers new brand opportunities

Instagram Stories are shorter (only 15 seconds) than other social video formats. They also tend to be more personalized and intimate.

Take advantage of the Story format by having some fun. Show a side of your brand that your audience hasn’t seen. We recommend taking a brand awareness and storytelling approach to build engagement.

6. UTMs are the easiest way to track performance

Make sure that you have a clear call to action (CTA) that encourages people to swipe up for a link. Include a UTM parameter to track how people are engaging with your content.

We tried arrows, stickers, and action-oriented copy signalling to the viewer that they need to swipe up to get more information—and they’ve all worked really well.

7. Ads designed for mobile perform better

More than 80 percent of social network users access social media on a mobile device.

That’s why every Instagram Story ad should be optimized for a mobile viewing experience.That means thinking about things like vertical ad units, responsiveness, and text size. You should also create ads that are optimized for silent viewing (with captions and the like), so that people can watch without earbuds.

Instagram Story ads are a fun way to reach new audiences on social. With audience targeting features made available by Facebook, along with Instagram’s growing user base, these ads are definitely worth a try. Follow these tips while running your own Instagram Story ads.

Want to take your social advertising skills even further? Sign up for Hootsuite Academy’s Advanced Social Advertising course now and start learning for free.

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