Essential Guide to Instagram Ads - A Review


A review of The Essential Guide to Instagram Advertising - an ebook by Hubspot and Iconosquare

Although I've been doing a lot of thinking about how creative businesses can best use Instagram to increase their reach in an organic way, I have only recently started thinking about paid Instagram advertising, and how it works. When I spotted Hubspot and Iconosquare's free ebook - The Essential Guide to Instagram Advertising I thought it might prove to be a helpful read. And so it was. In fact, if you're thinking about implementing paid Instagram advertising, then I highly recommend you download it and read it through thoroughly for yourself.* 

For the rest of you who'd like to read something a little more brief, I've put together a summary of the document, with some of my own notes here. 

A History of Instagram's Features

The document begins with an overview of Instagram's evolution, from its launch in 2010, to its purchase by Facebook in 2012, the introduction of sponsored photo ads in 2013, right up to the launch of dynamic ads in May of this year. 

The evolution of Instagram's features. Image credit: Hubspot & Iconosquare

The evolution of Instagram's features. Image credit: Hubspot & Iconosquare

The article then puts forward a few arguments for using Instagram advertising, which are hard to ignore.

Why use Instagram Ads?

  • the sheer size of the potential audience (over 500 million users)
  • it being the leading platform for visual content
  • the speed with which visual messages are assimilated
  • the type of content which can be shared, and 
  • the ability to select a target audience

When is the best time to advertise on Instagram?

The writers move onto the topic of timing, noting that Instagram advertising is NOT beneficial if you're a brand new company looking to find new customers and grow your brand. Where it DOES help, however, is if you already have some traction through your website, social media and blog and want to boost what you already have going on. 

What do you need to start?

Strangely enough, you don't even need an Instagram account to get going. But you do need a dedicated business Facebook page. Without an Instagram account you won't be able to comment on your ad but you will still be able to moderate it via your FB adverts account. 

Defining Your Goals 

The critical success factor, according to Hubspot & Iconosquare, is having well defined goals in mind before launching paid Instagram advertising. Here are some very specific goals that work well for Instagram advertising: clicks to website, website conversions, mobile app installs, mobile app engagement, video views, reach and frequency, page post engagement, mass awareness. 

Goals for Instagram advertising. Image credit: Hubspot & Iconosquare

Goals for Instagram advertising. Image credit: Hubspot & Iconosquare

Content, Set Up & Measurement

The article lays out your content choice options when it comes to Instagram advertising: video, stills or carousel. As far as setting up the advert is concerned, they go into the practical details which are worth reading if you're going to give Instagram ads a try. They also warn that Facebook is fairly strict with their regulations which would affect companies that sell or market products like alcohol.  

Then there's the million dollar question - how do you know if your ad worked or not? This is where performance measurement comes in. There are a few things that can be measured when it comes to Instagram ads: number of clicks, post likes, cost per click, cost per view, click through rates, cost per lead, and lead to customer conversion. The more familiar you are with these terms, the better your understanding will be of your advert's performance.

An Experiment

Probably the most interesting part of the article is the record and results of their own advertising experiment. Iconosquare and Hubspot set up a few ads with a variety of parameters. They used image, video and carousel, altering each slightly. They also tested out different kinds of images:

  • calls to action (an image with a clickable button),
  • stock type photos (images you might find on shutter stock)
  • 'native' images (ones that you would expect to find naturally on Instagram)
  • 'click-bait' (a cute puppy, or a baby pic unrelated to your product)
  • content image (an image of the product you are buying, such as an app, or pdf download), and
  • text (an image with max 25% text overlay).

In addition, they tested different copy (or captions) alternating between the use of: just the title, a description of the benefits gained, a call to action, and a humorous or tongue-in-cheek caption. 

The results

The results of the experiment showed that a static image or carousel worked best, as opposed to video. Although video seems to perform well on Instagram generally, this doesn't necessarily apply to Instagram adverts.

The best results occurred where the image and caption clearly defined what the advert was and included a call to action. The cutesy, humorous puppy approach, the 'pretend organic' or 'native' instagram post, as well as the content images did not perform well. Interestingly, this very direct call to action approach not only got the best click through rate, but also cost the least of all the tests. 

I don't know if this is true, but my gut says that when it comes to adverts on Instagram, users recognise adverts from a mile away, and aren't suckered into believing your 'organic' image is really authentic. On the other hand, an advert that says its an advert by loudly identifying itself as one by including a call to action performs well. People know what it is and can respond directly if they want to.

The message? If you are going to advertise, be up front about it and tell people why you're there and then tell them what you want them to do. 

Cheat sheet showing the best performing type of ad - a static image with a clear call to action. Image credit: Hubspot & Iconosquare

Cheat sheet showing the best performing type of ad - a static image with a clear call to action. Image credit: Hubspot & Iconosquare


Questions I haven't covered here:

How much will Instagram advertising cost me? How do I actually do it? Should I even use them in the first place, or should I trust that my business account will grow organically? These are questions I'm keen to explore. In the meantime I'm furiously writing about using Instagram in a more organic way for your business, and look forward to sharing the resulting ebook with you soon. 

If you're using paid Instagram advertising, I'd love to hear from you. How is it going? What are the wins? What are some of the challenges you're facing?

* Disclaimer: I hope this link stays active for a while. If not drop me a line and I'll try to send you an active link.