NOTE: This blog post is part 23 of my INSTAGRAM SERIES - content all about helping YOU manage your way around instagram. In the INSTAGRAM SERIES I've touched on subjects such as how much money should bloggers and influencers earn, how the algorithms really work and is your instagram account worth following. Just click here to find all the other parts in the series. Now on with today's post...
INSTAGRAM ALGORITHMS ARE AWESOME! Said no one ever! Or did they? Well, you may be surprised to learn that when I was researching the instagram algorithms for one of my INSTAGRAM SERIES posts last year I came across this guy on twitter who was raving about how awesome the algorithms are and how his blog traffic and business had exploded since they were introduced. WHAT!? I thought - as did a number of perplexed tweeters. HOW? He explained that he used instagram ads and promoted posts and noted that IG algorithms’ ability to target the right audience for his blog was incredible!
That different take on the algorithm stuck with me, so much so that when I heard THE social media expert Gary Vee REPEATEDLY say that entrepreneurs/business owners/probloggers who don’t use ads now, whilst they were still affordable, are making a MASSIVE mistake, I took serious note. Was I playing it small by not going down the paid instagram route?
So for the first time ever this year I played it bigger and invested in instagram ads. I also did a little survey asking YOU about your thoughts and experiences with instagram ads, as well as researching the topic further online and combining all my findings with my personal experience. Today’s blog post brings everything together, so that YOU can make an informed decision as to whether instagram ads are for you ;)!
WHO ‘‘SHOULD’’ USE INSTAGRAM ADS?
INSTAGRAM ADS ARE NOT FOR YOU IF…
…you use instagram for fun, as a hobby with no desire or ambition to turn blogging, instagramming, food photography or whatever else into a side hustle or full-time gig. In that case, spending your hard earned cash, right now as I write this post in 2019, on ads may not be the best way forward. Instead, focus on doing what you love, getting better at your craft and enjoying instagram in its purest form - as a space to share creativity and to get inspired.
INSTAGRAM ADS MAY BE WORTH CONSIDERING IF…
… you have ambitions in the short- or long-term to turn your creative endeavour into a money spinning side hustle or full-time profession. That’s because ads can be really powerful if you plan to sell products, run workshops or get paying brand collaboration deals in the not-to-distant future, all of which rely on you having a large (enough) audience. Ads are particularly great if you have a blog, podcast or super helpful freebies that you can direct people towards, giving them something valuable that will have a positive impact on their lives. Needless to say, for maximum impact, there should be a clear connection between the ad you place, the value you offer and the audience you’re trying to attract. NOTE! Let’s be super clear though, right now as I write this post in May, 2019, you can totally run a successful instagram account, grow your audience and your business without ever using a single ad! Whether it will stay like that, needs to be see…
WHAT ARE INSTAGRAM ADS AND WHAT OPTIONS ARE AVAILABLE?
Promoted posts are probably the easiest way into the world of instagram ads. Essentially all you have to do, is pick one of your instagram posts and - assuming you have an instagram business account - ‘boost it’ for as much or as little money as you like. In return, instagram pushes your post in front of more people. You get to decide who these people are - from age, gender, location, interests etc.
PROS: Promoted posts are super straight forward, super easy, no tech knowledge necessary. You reach a larger, targeted audience and - based on your feedback and info I found online - get more likes on a post than if you hadn’t promoted it.
CONS: Personally, I have chosen not to go down the promoted post route. I’ll speak to that a bit more below, but in essence, it’s much harder to offer value and therefore convert a ‘liker’, into a true, loyal fan.
There are two major differences between promoted posts and instagram ads. Firstly, unlike promoted posts, your instagram ads do not show up on your instagram grid AKA they are hidden from your main feed. The second major difference is that it’s bl**dy hard to set up! So hard in fact, so counter intuitive, that I had to hire someone to teach me how to do it and - realising it was too time consuming and complicated - I asked him to be my ads manager long-term! To save money I am sure you can find lots of helpful youtube videos that will talk you through the process, step-by-step, but I found it invaluable to have someone by my side who really knew what works with ads, how to set them up, etc.
PROS: When done right, ads are VERY powerful. You can add value by linking it to a blog post, a freebie or anything else on your blog that makes your audience’s life better! By sharing something helpful, you build a stronger connection to the person seeing your ad, making it more likely to convert them into a long term audience member! It’s for this reason, I love it so much.
CONS: You need to create an image and text to make your ad, you need to have a really good understanding of how to create and use instagram ads and either spend some money having an expert teach you how to do it or spend time learning how to do it via youtube.
WHERE TO PLACE AN AD: IN INSTAGRAM’S MAIN FEED OR ON INSTAGRAM STORIES? WHAT WORKS BEST?
You now have the option of placing your ad in the main feed, with people stumbling across it as they scroll through their home feed OR you can place an ad in stories. Personally, I wanted to try both, but time ran away with itself and I was only able to experiment (so far) with ads placed in the main instagram feed. I’m SO sad I can’t share my personal take on using stories ads here BUT,…
…based on feedback from some of you awesome peeps in my audience (thank you SOOO much for sharing :)), placing ads on instagram stories resulted in more views and better conversations versus placing the exact same ad in the main feed. Seeing that I can’t share personal anecdotes, I’ll direct you to this blog post instead, which confirms y’all’s findings and experience.
THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION TO ASK BEFORE PROMOTING A POST OR PLACING AN AD ON INSTAGRAM IS: WHY?
What is your objective, what are you trying to achieve with your instagram ad? Do you want a post to get more likes, do you hope to gain more followers, perhaps sell a workshop or your presets? It may seem obvious, but being clear about what you’re hoping to get out of your investment is key to to deciding…
whether ads are actually the right course of action for you,
where you should place your instagram ad
and what the ad’s content should look like for maximum impact.
I hope I’m not being patronising here (please forgive me if I am), but looking at some of the ads that appear on my feed I get the sense that a lot of people aren’t asking themselves these crucial questions and then not only creating less than optimal ads, but also left wondering why their ads don’t work!
Personally, I really wanted to increase my mailing list and using instagram where I have my biggest audience just made sense. I spent considerable time thinking through the copy and visuals of my ad, my call to action and then just went for it! I’m glad to report that it was a big success, so much so that I’m in the throws of doing it all again this season!
THE BIGGEST INSTAGRAM AD MISTAKES
NOT SETTING THE CORRECT FOUNDATIONS FIRST
Getting your instagram to look and feel just right so as to attract the audience you want isn’t easy. It takes a lot of work! Using ads with the aim of growing your audience, when the foundation of your instagram gallery isn’t solid, is like pouring money down the drain! In fact, most of you who’d used instagram ads/promoted posts in the hope that you’d grow your audience this way reported that the ads had not positively impacted your audience numbers at all.
Hence, if you’d like to grow your instagram audience, please start by improving your instagram grid, your captions, your connection and communication with the audience you already have, no matter how small and thereafter, perhaps exploring ads and boosted posts! BTW if you’d like help on that front, please tune into this episode or this episode of my podcast.
YOU WANT TO GROW YOUR INSTAGRAM AUDIENCE THROUGH A BOOSTED POST
Connected to the point just mentioned, from your feedback and my own experience as an instagram user, promoted or boosted posts that direct the user to an IG profile seldom lead to new followers. Unless your images are exceptional, I rarely follow an account that I discovered via a boosted post. And this sentiment was echoed by my community who reported that they view promoted profiles with a hint of suspicion.
As stated above, you’re more likely to gain new instagram audience members by upping your photography and caption game to ensure you and your instagram profile really stand out ;).
NO CALL TO ACTION
Sometimes I see a really cute boosted post, but am left wondering what to do with it. If it’s not clear from the first two lines what’s expected of me, I’ll click the heart button and move on. To avoid spending ad money that doesn’t convert into anything further, make sure you’re abundantly clear in your caption what you’re offering and what you want the reader to do.
NOT USING YOUR BEST WORK
I totally get why it’s tempting to boost a post that underperformed - it stings when you put your heart and soul into a photo that no one likes. I’ve been there, believe you me! Thing is, if I may give you some tough love, growing your instagram is less about your feelings and more about how you make other people feel. Hence, if you want to boost a post, go with the one everyone loved, the one that blew it out of the park. You’ll get a better response, I promise. NOTE! I used images for my ads which consistently performed well to ensure I got a good return on investment (see above).
NOT TAKING THE LONG TERM VIEW
It’s so invigorating to see the numbers behind your name grow on instagram. Though I’m not immune to the instagram high connected to growing IG audience numbers (I talk about it openly in this podcast episode), I also know that taking a long term view and nurturing my mailing list rather than my IG audience is a better way to spend my ad money. As a result, I’d ask you to think twice about using instagram ads solely with the aim of growing your instagram audience. Instead, perhaps make it more about growing your mailing list which is a long term game, rather than about instant gratification. How does that sound?
It was lovely to get your feedback on this one, as a handful of you reported using ads successfully to sell a product or a workshop. That’s SO cool and I’m rather jealous you made it work. It goes to show that it is indeed possible, BUT from my understanding of marketing and sales, from listening to numerous podcasts like this one and this one and just from observing my own behaviour, I don’t think ads are the best way to sell, at least not at the moment (this may change in the future as we get used to buying more things directly on the instagram platform). Personally, I want to feel like I know the person or brand I’m buying from. I want to have engaged with them for a while to be sure that the item they are selling is legit.
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT INSTAGRAM ADS THAT ARE HOLDING YOU BACK
When I asked my audience on instagram whether using ads was weird or pathetic, there was a significant number of people who though that indeed it was. Moreover, some of you reported that you wanted to give instagram ads a go but were worried about what other people would think of you, concerned that people would believe you to be ‘‘pathetic’’ or ‘‘inauthentic’’.
I’m grateful for how honest you all were on this topic - thank you so much for that. I would however urge you to reconsider. Firstly, what other people think of you shouldn’t stop you from building the business or brand that you want ;). Secondly, do you think the stunning restaurant in your neighbourhood is pathetic for dropping leaflets through your door? Do you think companies who place TV or radio ads are desperate or that the fabulous dentist who placed an ad in a newspaper to build his/her practice needs to get a life? I didn’t think you did!
Advertising your business isn’t something weird or strange, it’s perfectly cool if you believe in your message and what you have to offer. I believe so wholeheartedly in my instagram food photography challenge in my workshops, my presets and all my freebies. I want the people who’ll benefit most from what I offer to know about The Little Plantation. Consequently, using instagram ads seemed a great way to do that, so there you go!
BTW, I believe that promoted posts/ads are going to play an important role as we move forward on the instagram platform. Organic growth and engagement have declined, and I’m pretty confident will continue to do so. That’s a topic for a whooooleeeeee other blog post, but I mention this point because I believe that instagram ads will become more important for pro blogger as we move forward. We’re not there yet, but I urge you to watch this space!
A final note, some of you stated that you felt resentful towards instagram for ‘forcing’ you into a position where you have to pay to reach your audience. I’ve written in depth about my feelings about instagram’s algorithms and general approach to bloggers and small business owners, but I am also aware that instagram doesn’t owe me anything. Hence, if I want to grow my business, my feelings just have to take a backseat and rather than dwell on any negative emotions, I have to shift into the ‘glass-half-full' mindset and make the most of the opportunities paid ads currently offer me ;).
HOW MUCH MONEY SHOULD YOU SPEND ON INSTAGRAM ADS
Many of you explained that you’d like to use ads, but were worried that they were quite expensive. Some of you stated that you just weren’t sure how much to spend. I can’t fully answer this question for you. It all depends on your budget, your ‘why’ and your business/blog overall.
My aim was to convert at least 1 person to a mailing list subscriber for every £1 I spent. Luckily, I was able to convert at a spend of £0.08 - £0.73 which I was rather pleased about! In other words, by spending as little as £0.08 I got a new mailing list subscriber. It’s less than I pay for buying, cooking and shooting an image for instagram in the hope to grow my audience. You might do even better than that.
CONCLUSION: ARE INSTAGRAM ADS WORTH IT FOR BLOGGER AND INFLUENCERS?
I personally got a lot out of using ads and I would definitely use them again. However, I’ve just completed my 2nd year as a full-time blogger/creative business owner and am now at a place where I feel comfortable taking the next few steps and investing in me and my blog. I also feel I have a really good sense of what works, who I’m speaking to and what I can offer my audience. If you’re in a similar position, I invite you to consider ads as well. If you’re not there yet, or if it all feels scary, then listen to your gut and spend your money, energy and focus on the things that will make the biggest difference to you in this season of your life. The reality is, organic reach and growth on instagram is getting trickier. That’s just a fact and something we have to brace ourselves for. Perhaps, with that in mind, ads may not be such a bad idea after all.
NEED MORE INSTAGRAM HELP?
Then why not tune into my podcast: Eat, Capture, Share where I talk about all things food photography, food blogging and instagram? Alternatively, please consider attending one of my in person or online workshop or work with me on your instagram strategy through my virtual instagram mentoring sessions.
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