Instagram: The Journey from Add-on to Necessity

With more than 400 million active monthly users, Instagram surpassed Twitter and quickly became the go-to social network for the younger generations. As a brand, if you haven’t followed the trend, you likely will before 2017, as eMarketer predicts that 71 percent of U.S. brands with more than 100 employees will be on the platform by 2017.


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Photo from eMarketer.

The principles of the platform are similar to other social channels. Use captivating, high-quality creative; include informative creative copy; use hashtags; have a link in your bio – pretty basic stuff. So it’s not the “how Instagram?” many brands miss, but rather the “why Instagram?”

Since 2012, potential organic reach on Facebook decreased by 60%, whereas it increased by 200% on Instagram, thus making it such a viable platform for brands – both B2C and B2B (pictured below). In 2014, marketers had the potential to reach 26 percent of adults without paid ads.

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Photo from AdRoll webinar called “Instagram marketing in 2016: organic, paid, partnered” on January 14, 2016.

The continued growth of the platform likely lifted that number higher in recent months. The reason reach is so high for Instagram posts is because posts are displayed chronologically, and users see every post they are subscribed to. Unlike Facebook’s algorithm, which displays organic content to less than 10% of fans.

Similar to other major social networks, the decision by brands to join Instagram has been initially moderate. There were some that jumped on right away, but others that took a more methodical approach. However, based off the continued growth and various studies, more and more brands will continue to try capitalize on the platforms potential. And they should. There are more than 70 million photos posted and 3.5 billion likes per day on Instagram.

There are multiple optimizations for increasing post visibility, including hashtags, @ mentions, tagging the people in the photo, adding a location, including a website link in the bio, etc. And statistics show what you’d expect, the more optimized a post is, the better it performs.

Instagram Fast Facts:

  • Photos receive 36% more engagement than videos
  • Brand engagement is 4.21%
  • Mentions in captions result in 56% more engagements
  • The average post is up 416% over two years
  • Posts with locations get 70% more engagement
  • Posts with at least one hashtag receive 12.6% more engagement
  • 70% of users are outside the United States

One of the more interesting takeaways is that images perform better than videos do on Instagram, contrary to other social networks that are becoming more and more geared toward video.

Instagram Success: Adapt to Audience

Understanding, and capitalizing on, how your audience communicates on the platform is the key for unlocking its potential.  Not only do you need to talk the talk, but you need to walk the walk. Frequent users of Instagram visit the channel multiple times a day. Some brands realized just what it takes to stay prominent. Those brands that do utilize Instagram have already seen its value with 78 percent of brands posting on the channel daily.

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Photo from eMarketer article.

Instagram Advertising

It’s no surprise that Facebook takes the cake when it comes to social media advertising spend. As the first social network to surpass 1 billion registered users, it’s one of the most established platforms out there in terms of audience size and targeting options. In 2015 alone, Facebook pulled in a whopping $16B in ad revenues – the next-highest spending platform was Twitter, at just $2B.  And the trend is set to continue, with Facebook’s ad revenues projected to increase by 32% this year.

For many marketers, this is all old news. The question now is: where do we go next?

Purchased by Facebook in 2012, Instagram officially began to allow advertising on a large scale just four short months ago. As a platform that is still very new to advertising, it has a great deal of undiscovered potential.

For those marketers already taking advantage of Facebook, expanding to Instagram advertising is a natural next step. Its integration with Facebook’s ad management tools allows for easy setup and transition of campaigns from Facebook to Instagram. This cross-management also means you can utilize pre-existing audiences and targeting. Now, advertisers are able to use insights from Facebook tests to inform Instagram advertising, as well as match and target specific audiences across both platforms.

Instagram Advertising: Creative

One thing to note is that Instagram advertising creative is similar to platforms such as Twitter in terms of lifespan. It must be updated much more frequently than creative used in Facebook. Additionally, ad serving in Instagram tends to hover around a frequency of 1.0, whereas Facebook may often serve ads to individuals three or four times.

Some advertisers may be intimidated at the thought of having to increase production of creative in order to keep up with the decreased lifespan and frequency of ad serving in Instagram. Luckily, many tests show that performance can be very similar across both platforms when targeting and creative are kept constant. This means that any mobile-ready creative you’ve found success with in Facebook will likely do well in Instagram, too.

Below is a comparative performance analysis among advertisers running mobile app install campaigns across the two platform. We are able to see that costs and engagement rates tend to stay fairly constant:

instagram advertising

Photo from Marketing Land.

However, Instagram-specific creative is also effective, and worth creating. Some tips: Keep creative on Instagram simple. Use images – rather than words – to convey your message. Subtly allude to your brand within the image. Attract attention with your creative to adapt to the behavior of Instagram users (users are more visual, scroll through timelines more quickly, etc.)


instagram advertising

Photo from Marketing Land.

Instagram Advertising: Using Hashtags

We know that hashtags on organic posts equals the ultimate power couple. However, they are not very useful on paid ads because hashtags do not pull up paid ads, at this time.

If your brand chooses to use hashtags within its ads, be aware that the hashtags will not pull up your ad in any searches. If a user clicks on a hashtag within an ad, it will take them to a live feed displaying all of the most recent posts to use this hashtag – however, the original ad will not appear here at any time.

Ads are only viewable to targeted audiences, and not through hashtag browsing. Therefore, the only uses of hashtags within ads at this time are aesthetic appeal or contextual relevance (i.e. the use of #tbt to describe the post). Hashtags are basically the trophy spouses of social media advertising – they might look good, but they really don’t have any substance.


Looking forward at Instagram Advertising

It has been well established that Facebook is a rapidly growing, high performance advertising platform – but what do we know about Instagram so far? Unfortunately, Facebook has yet to publicly disclose a breakout of its Instagram revenue in earnings reports. However, eMarketer projects Instagram net mobile ad revenues worldwide to bring in nearly $1.5B in 2016.

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Photo from eMarketer article.

Instagram is also projected to surpass Twitter by 2017, at which point in time nearly 71% of all US companies are expected to be using the platform for marketing.

If your brand missed jumping on the Facebook wave before it became a tsunami, make up for lost time and get on the Instagram love boat now. The proof is in the pudding. It will soon be the best way to reach your audience.




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