A Quick Guide to Using Instagram Ads and Other Features

Marketing Director explains social media instagram advertising

A Quick Guide to Using Instagram Ads and Other Features

Use our quick guide to start reaching your target audience with Instagram ads. Discover new Instagram features and changes like a push towards video ads. 

Advertising on Instagram can be tricky — it’s a highly saturated platform constantly changing to maintain an increasingly fickle user base.

However, if executed correctly, Instagram advertising can (and should) be a crucial part of your business’ revenue. 

With recent updates to how Instagram works and more updates on the way, there are many opportunities to raise brand awareness with Instagram marketing and get your eCommerce business in front of a primed, custom audience. However, with all the new features and the changing tastes of people (read: TikTok), it can be overwhelming to dive into the world of Instagram ads.

Not to worry! We’ve compiled some of the most significant changes to Instagram over the last few years and how to plan your digital marketing approach toward this crucial channel. 

This article will cover the current state of Instagram, some big-picture strategic decisions that affect the app, all the recent critical changes, and a bullet-point guide to getting your ads up and running ASAP.

The New Rival: TikTok

There’s no question that TikTok has serious lasting power. TikTok has quickly become a heavyweight in the world of video sharing for users and advertisers alike due to its quick, digestible videos, easy-to-use interface, shareable and mimicable trends, and, of course, a preponderance of Gen Z users.

The folks over at Meta (Instagram’s parent company) have noticed the growing power that TikTok has in what was previously their uncontested ground: photo and video social media. With TikTok’s surging numbers and engagement, the Instagram team has spent the last year hell-bent on maintaining Instagram’s competitiveness in this space (read: copying everything that works on TikTok). 

Instagram has always been good at reacting to potential competitors. We saw this first with the introduction of Stories in reaction to Snapchat’s growth, and recently, we saw the creation of Reels as a way to imitate the short bursts of content created on TikTok. The introduction of Stories changed the platform and how advertisers can place their ads, and we have seen that Reels has been no different.

Over the last few years, Instagram has continued chasing TikTok, re-adjusting the company’s focus and attention at the strategic level and rolling out new features that directly affect the user experience. 

Strategic Changes

Bye-bye Photo Ad Campaigns, Hello Video Ads

In June 2021, Instagram Product Head Adam Mosseri said that the app was “pivoting towards video and shopping” and away from the single image photo-sharing strategy with which Instagram made its name. Instagram already rolled out its Shopping in 2021, and now they’re pushing video by releasing new video-based formats like Reels and enhancing connectivity and interaction with existing video formats like stories, interactive ads, and more. 

All this is to say, Instagram wants to be a video-focused shopping platform, so expect to see engagement on photo posts decreasing. In contrast, engagement in video content and Shopping activations rises. So it’s an absolute no-brainer to weigh your advertising strategy towards these two explicit goals of Instagram and away from (but not entirely avoiding) photo content.

Send Your Target Audience Reeling

Perhaps the most obvious example of Instagram chasing that sweet, sweet TikTok money is Reels. Instagram launched Reels in August 2020 as a direct response to TikTok’s (and before that, Vine’s) 15-second eye-catching, interactive, repeatable video format. 

Although they haven’t explicitly said if they are using their algorithm to favor Reels content, Instagram wants Reels to succeed as their newest format. Therefore, they would be silly not to encourage Instagram users to use the platform by rewarding them with an easier path to engagement, just as they did when they rolled out video content on the platform.

We know Reels are here to stay, and Instagram sees them as the most crucial aspect of their platform going forward.  

So how do you take advantage of this? Well, you use Reels, but more importantly — you post consistently. Instagram has repeated ad nauseam that the algorithm rewards consistent Instagram posts and engagement on the platform with higher visibility — so ensure that you are using your highlight Reels as a crucial part of your Instagram advertising and marketing strategy.

Here is an article that dives deeper into the TikTok vs. Instagram Reels rivalry.

Death of the hashtag ad format

Hashtags are so 2010. That’s why Instagram is doing away with them. Okay, maybe they are not doing away with them entirely, but they have explicitly said they no longer place algorithmic importance on hashtags like they used to.

Instead, Instagram will use keywords in written captions to help connect people with things they want to see, so focus on writing captions with key phrases or words rather than jamming up your entire Instagram feed, scrolling through 2,000 hashtags of increasing irrelevance.

Important New Features

Instagram consistently updates, tweaks, and changes its constantly-evolving platform. Here are some of the most important features they rolled out in the last few years that will affect the Instagram ecosystem well into the future.

After much demand, Instagram has introduced the option to delete single photos from carousel posts. Since Instagram carousel posts typically earn 1.4x more reach and 3.1x more engagement than regular posts, this is good news for social media managers who want to refine their strategy or go back and delete an accidental upload.

It is interesting to think, though, that a push towards video views might mean making carousels obsolete, pushing users towards other formats like collection ads which appear as videos on a user’s Feed.

Using a desktop to upload photos and video

Since its inception, Instagram has been a mobile-native platform, only allowing you to look at and engage with Instagram posts on their platform. Unfortunately, this was a massive pain in the neck for designers, editors, animators, and creative professionals creating media on a desktop computer.

The ability to upload directly to your Instagram account is a huge quality-of-life improvement for creative teams with lots of deliverables. It allows for more efficient use of time and workforce, increasing the speed at which you can get ads up and running.

It’s important to note that Reels and Instagram Stories are unavailable, at the time of writing, which makes sense as they are mobile-native formats. 

Previously only available for accounts with more than 1,000 followers, Instagram allows people to add a Link Sticker to their stories. This feature enables interested audience members to immediately take action on a story to learn more, take a quiz, or make a purchase, for example. 

While everyone has access to adding a “swipe up” action at the bottom of a story, Instagram’s UI means that often it gets lost amid a chaotic, fast-paced swipe through a collection of highly-visual stories. 

With the link sticker feature, your Call-to-Action button (CTA) is direct, large, and easily clicked, improving CTRs and conversions in a single sticker. Ensure you include this in all Reels or Stories focused on conversions and lead generation.

“Add yours” Sticker

Another direct result of competing with TikTok, Instagram has rolled out an “add yours” sticker, which allows users to directly chain their content to other, relevant content in the same way TikTok videos are copied and reposted by other users. For example, this sticker will allow memes or trends to be easily copied and propagated between users. 

You can incorporate this in your advertising plan by seeking relevant trends for your audience and creating content that can play within these already-established memes. Having influencers take a trend and work your brand into it is a common and effective way of utilizing these existing trends in a tongue-in-cheek ad placement opportunity.

Quick Start Guide

Utterly new to Instagram advertising? Below is our quick guide to get you started on this social media platform. 

Set your budget

How much are you willing to spend on this campaign? Identify what you have available as a daily budget or a lifetime budget to execute a successful Instagram ad campaign. Remember that Instagram Ads cost is based on CPC (cost-per-click) and CPM (cost per impressions), with prices determined according to Instagram’s ad auction.

Identify your audience

Who is your customer? What is their age, race, gender, interests, and other relevant demographics? The more closely you hone in on who your audience is (and it takes watching your metrics and some testing!), the more effectively your ad set will target people. There are many targeting options, whether you’re a small business marketing a new product or an established brand expanding to another social network.

Select your Instagram format 

Which Instagram ad formats or types of ads are most important to you? This largely depends on your audience. For example, younger audiences tend to favor Instagram Stories ads + Reels; older audiences lean toward Feed. Maybe you’re creating content only for your Instagram Shopping page, meaning the images may be more product-oriented. 

Which format you choose all depends on your budget, audience, and campaign objective, but generally speaking, it makes sense to maximize your budget by 

Create your content

Pay attention to where your content is going to live. If it’s Reels or Stories ads, you’ll have to shoot it on your phone, or maybe you collaborate with an influencer. For Feed ads, you might want to spend more on producing high-quality content. 

Launch the campaign

Create a new campaign for your ads and get them live by posting them directly into the Instagram app through your business account! If you have a Facebook Business page, you can use Facebook Ads Manager to run ad campaigns. Huzzah! The hard part is done.

Track, analyze, and optimize

Optimization and learning are the most critical parts of social media marketing. Use the analytics dashboard inside Instagram to learn how your ads are doing. You can then use this information to rework your current ads while also gaining valuable data about your customers and their responses for creating and deploying your next ad set. 

Do More with First Media

Establishing a social marketing strategy from ground zero means you often start with little social presence and a limited relationship with your target audience. Developing a social marketing experience that reinforces your brand means devoting substantial time to creating new content.

At First Media, we come equipped with an established relationship with your potential customers. As a comprehensive digital publisher, all our content, distribution platforms, and solutions for clients fit under one roof – owned and operated by us. We know our audience and give our clients access to our experience, user knowledge, and platform by publishing high-quality, action-driven content, incorporating proprietary AI technology to inform our data, and executing shoppable content that works. Learn more about partnering with First Media for an edge with your social media marketing strategy.