Since it was launched in 2010, Instagram has gained a huge audience - it was estimated to have more than 800 million users in March 2018. The platform's demographic is relatively young, with the majority aged under 35
Advertising was introduced in late 2013, with various business tools introduced over the next few years, and by 2017 over one million businesses were advertising on the platform. It's estimated that Instagram ads have driven more than one billion user actions. Mind-boggling numbers indeed!
Should I jump on the Instagram bandwagon?
There is no doubt about it, we are living in a world addicted to social networks and online shopping. Those figures above show that Instagram isn't just about seeing what your friends and favourite celebs are up to - businesses and brands have carved out a profitable space as well. Which is good news for small businesses working to a tight marketing budget.
Instagram is a visual platform - so, before committing to advertising, first feel confident that you can create quality visual content.
Think about the audience as well. A small business promoting trendy hand-made jewellery or artisan food will dovetail well with Instagram's audience - which is largely engaged with content focused on fashion, sport, beauty, food, music, TV and film. Using it to sell central heating supplies may be a tougher ask.
Which ad type will you choose?
There are four formats for advertising on Instagram:
This is the most basic format, and a very easy introduction to advertising on Instagram. You simply use a single image - landscape or portrait, both will work - and add a call to action banner and description.
Have plenty of images to work with? A carousel ad allows you to upload up to ten images that will rotate. If you can recall multi-page magazine advertising where a brand would place ads on a series of pages to develop their message, the Instagram carousel ad format essentially does the same job.
And of course you don't have to just upload images - you can intersperse with video and written content that will drive home the message. You can even add music to play over the sequence.
Do think about how each image works - you want a cohesive look and not a poorly-put-together hotchpotch that compromises your brand or product quality.
With up to 60 seconds of time to play with, you'll want to grab attention as quickly as possible with your video content. Remember that people's attention spans are getting shorter and shorter - research suggests that the first 30 seconds of a video are the most important.
I'd go so far as to say that you've got about 10-15 seconds in which to create interest, before your audience scrolls down to the next story.
The newest addition to Instagram's advertising options, Stories adverts appear as full-screen ads. They only have a 24-hour lifespan, before disappearing from your feed and profile, so it's quite a good option if you want to promote a time-sensitive offer.
Decide on your call to action
Once you've decided what is the objective of your Instagram ad, you can choose the appropriate call to action banner. Options include 'learn more', 'shop now', 'book now' and 'sign up' - direct actions that will drive traffic to your website and, hopefully, convert into sales.
You can also target your audience by age, gender, interest and location, so you can be sure of reaching an audience that should be receptive to your brand or product.
What does advertising on Instagram cost?
If you've ever advertised with Facebook then you'll be able to understand how Instagram advertising is charged (Facebook bought Instagram in 2012). Basically, you choose what you want to spend each day or during a specific time period, so you can stick to a predetermined budget.
Once your ad campaign is active, it's important to measure its success. The available metrics will help determine whether your ad is delivering decent ROI.
It may take a few goes to get it right, but Instagram advertising is well worth a try - without breaking the bank.
Written by Sarah Orchard.
Sarah Orchard has more than 15 years' top level marketing experience on leading UK and global service sector brands.