It's official: one of the fastest-growing social-media networks worldwide is now offering advertising opportunities for marketers large and small. After months of testing its new ad format to a limited audience, Instagram rolled out the platform to advertisers everywhere on Sept. 30. If you're looking to integrate the ads into your social media marketing strategy, you've come to the right place! Keep reading for an in-depth guide to Instagram ads.
1. Understanding the network
Experienced digital marketers will be familiar with Instagram, the social network that has experienced a meteoric rise since its $1 billion purchase by Facebook three years ago. Today, the network boasts 400 million active users, propelling it to a high ranking behind industry giants like Facebook and its Chinese competitor, QZone.
Compared to its direct competitors, Instagram boasts a relatively young audience with 53 percent of its user base being 29 years or younger. Thanks in part to this young demographic, the network is one of the few which doesn't see college graduates as the top education demographic, though 31 percent of its users do have at least some college experience.
In other words, the network has long offered a premier opportunity for brands to expand their reach to millennials, promoting consumer-based products and services in the sub-30 age range. In fact, 32.5 percent of U.S. companies now use Instagram for marketing purposes, and eMarketer expects that number to rise to over 70 percent by 2017 -- surpassing Twitter.
If I were a better person, I'd put money on the new ad capabilities for that induction of brands into Instagram.
2. The ad format
If you've been using Instagram since its early stages, you might think of the network as a digital photo album. And in essence, that remains true -- thanks to a layout that emphasizes pictures and the multitude of available filters, Instagram offers the perfect opportunity for brands to visualize their imagine and provide behind-the-scenes photographs of their operations. But now that the network has entered the ad landscape, it can offer so much more than that.
Currently, Instagram offers three types of ads to marketers: Image ads, video ads and carousel ads. Considering that the platform is owned by Facebook, it should come as no surprise that all three are closely related to their Facebook counterparts.
- Image ads are the equivalent of Facebook's Link Ads but with a heavier emphasis on visual. They offer brands the opportunity to add a call-to-action button to their ad, which enables them to drive web visits in addition to raising brand awareness.
- Carousel ads are similar to image ads but offer additional functionality in the way that Facebook's carousel ads are essentially enhanced (and diversified) link ads. Instead of just one image, you add multiple images within the same ad, which enables you to showcase multiple pictures and calls to action with a single targeting option and ad copy.
- Finally, video ads do little more than drive video views -- you can add up to 30 seconds of moving images, but call-to-action buttons are not yet available for this ad type.
While Instagram does not currently offer conversion optimization, the network has promised to add that feature in the near future.
3. Facebook integration
Here's without a doubt my favorite part of Instagram ads -- the set-up integrates seamlessly into Facebook's Power Editor, enabling marketers to take advantage of the numerous advanced targeting methods that they've come to love on the world's largest social-media platform. The new Power Editor even lets you create an integrated Instagram / Facebook marketing campaign that ensures you reach your target audience through a variety of channels.
When Facebook purchased Instagram in 2012, many users and marketers worried that it would mean the end of the picture network's independence of its larger brethren. The introduction of widely available, integrated Facebook ads have made that worry a reality -- but early on, it looks like marketers are benefiting rather than suffering from this integration.
Considering that Instagram ads became widely available less than a month ago, we don't yet have compelling statistics that show the network to be more effective than its competitors. But a variety of marketers who were able to take part in earlier tests, from Starwood to Levi's, have claimed to find significant success and favorable return on investment in their paid Instagram efforts. For what it's worth, the network itself is already showcasing a variety of success stories in promoting the new ad features.
4. Integrating Instagram into your social-media marketing
Considering the early excitement around new ad features on the world's fastest-growing social media site, predict a large number of advertisers flocking to this shiny new toy. In fact, I encourage it. If only 32 percent of marketers are currently using Instagram for marketing purposes, the amount of competitive noise should be significantly less than some of the more established sites. But when moving to Instagram, it's important to integrate the new capabilities into your existing strategy rather than simply racing ahead.
Fortunately, the network has made this integration easy by working flawlessly alongside Facebook ads. But as most marketers know, that doesn't mean you should simply duplicate your efforts. Instead, you should develop ads that fit within your strategy and match the network's audience.
Business models that can provide easy visuals, from multimedia companies to fashion outlets, will find Instagram to be a great fit for their audience. Business-to-business companies, on the other hand, may not easily find footing on this consumer-based network. Put simply, Instagram ads make sense only if the network would have made sense for you even without the paid possibilities. If you haven't seen the need for an Instagram presence in the past, you should not change your mind now.
If, on the other hand, you're looking to enhance your presence on Instagram and spread awareness of your brand beyond your current followers, the new ad capabilities are huge news. They are without a doubt the new, shiny toy in social media marketing -- and I look forward to tracking just how well they perform compared to other networks.