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How to Advertise on Instagram: The Complete Beginner’s Guide

How to Advertise on Instagram The Complete Beginner’s Guide

“Wait a second, did you just say ‘Advertise’?” Yes, we did. “But what do photographers have to do with paid promotion, exactly?” Like it or not, the day you became a professional shutterbug, you also entered the very exclusive club of small business owners. Which means that from now on, you don’t only have your job to do: you also have to find jobs to do.

Due to the cost and limited access to the relevant outlets, photographers traditionally don’t advertise their services like most typical businesses. Luckily, the creation of the Internet and social media platforms, like Instagram, totally reshuffled the cards. The first step is to create a photography website. Then, for a handful of dollars, you can run your own Instagram advertising campaign and efficiently target the right people who may commission you for a wedding, a portrait or a magazine cover.

You might be thinking: “Since the return on investment is so high, why don’t all photographers just invade Instagram with their promoted posts?” Well, simply because they don’t realize how easy the whole process really is. If you’re intimidated by words like ‘target audience’, ‘pay-per-click’, and ‘call to action’, then tune in: this guide will explain everything you need to know, in order to run a knockout advertising campaign on Instagram.

Why you should advertise on Instagram

As a photographer, Instagram is probably one of your favorite social platforms (for obvious reasons). And if you're wondering how to make money on Instagram, you'll want to invest on an ad campaign. Here's why:

  • Instagram marketing is not free, but not far from that. You can start advertising with a very modest amount (a few dollars), that you will progressively increase as you see the users coming to your page and website.

  • Instagram claims to have more than 700 million monthly active users. This community is not only huge, it’s also highly engaged, even for branded content. Research shows that the Instagram engagement rate is 70% higher than the one of Facebook, and 669% than that of Twitter!

  • In contrast to traditional media like TV and newspapers, the advertising system on social media (PPC, for Pay-per-Click) is targeted, which means that you can decide which kind of users, based on certain characteristics that you define, will see your post. On Instagram, the ads look almost no different than regular posts. They are less invasive, and as a result, are more positively welcomed by users.

  • Finally, the Instagram ad system, which is based on the Facebook one, is entirely DIY. You don’t have to go through a marketing professional anymore. You can tweak everything, choose the exact amount of money you want to invest, and start and stop the promotions whenever you wish. Instagram analytics also provide useful insights that help you target your ads. The bottom line: you have full control over all your ads.

Step 1: Build your strategy

Just like you wouldn’t go to an interview unprepared, starting a campaign on Instagram without a plan would be a mistake. The first thing you need to do is make sure that you have clearly identified the goal of your campaign. Is it to promote your latest photography project? To bring more clients to your photography website? To boost your number of Instagram followers? Setting an objective is crucial, since it will help you find the right image to promote, along with shaping the most enticing caption.

The second level of your strategy: picking the right target audience. As we said, the amazing thing about Instagram features is that they allow you to precisely choose the kind of people you want your ad to reach. For your first few campaigns, you can go for the “automatic” mode, known as the “Custom audience”, that allows Instagram’s algorithm target people that have already interacted with your page. But soon, you’ll feel ready to reach out to new folks, and switch to the “manual”, or “Lookalike audience”. You’ll have access to dozens of options, from the classics (location, age, gender), to the most elaborate (education, interests, relationship). The best tip here is to browse the accounts of your existing followers, and use their most repeated characteristics to define the profile of your new target.

Step 2: Prepare your post’s content

At this stage, you haven’t entered the ad system just yet. However, it’s a good practice to have your content ready beforehand, so that you will be able to focus on the “technical” aspects of promotion (budget, dates, etc.) while in the system.

The image

Instagram gives you the possibility to use:

  • Images: a single photo, or a carousel made of two to five pictures.

  • Slideshows: three to seven images that play as a video.

  • Videos: up to one minute.

As a photographer, the most recommended option is to go for one single, but splendid, photo. You should have plenty of those, stored and ready to use at the drop of a hat. Think of your image as the king of your paid post: it should immediately catch the user’s eye, and make them stop scrolling their phone and pay attention to what you have to say. Studies show that the most engaging photos are mostly inspirational, with sleek colors, a beautiful landscape, very little text on it, and preferably showing some people. Of course, it’s not an eternal rule and many B&W or super artsy photos have reached tremendous scores on Instagram too.

No matter the photo you choose, make sure it follows these guidelines:

  • File type: .JPEG or .PNG.

  • Recommended image sizes: 1080*1080 pixels for a square image; 1200*628 pixels for a landscape.

  • Do not add more than 20% of text on your image, otherwise Instagram’s algorithms will penalize you with a smaller reach.

The caption

In online marketing terms, a caption is the portion of text that introduces your post. It should be catchy, fun where possible, informative and straight to the point. One of the most crucial parts is the CTA (call to action), where you invite the reader to do a specific action. It should be short and use a commanding verb, like “Know more” or “Book now”, directing to your website’s link. Due to the attention span of Internet users being extremely low, never put more than one CTA in your caption.

The best Instagram ads are actually the ones that don’t look like ads. So when you write, make sure you’re not too formal or serious. Simply be relaxed and engage your audience as you would in your most successful unpromoted post (in online marketing lingo, these types of posts are called ‘organic’ ;)). As a general rule, what worked well organically is likely to perform well as a promotional post too.

Finally, try to be short. Instagram leaves you up to 2,200 characters to write your caption. But it’s recommended to keep it under 125 – the amount that is displayed without relying on the user to click “More”.

Step 3: Set up your ad

Since Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012, the two platforms have merged, including their advertising systems. Which means that even though you want your ad to run on Instagram exclusively, you’ll have to do all the setup through Facebook’s Ads Manager, or the Power Editor. Power Editor gives you control over your campaigns, but its series of raw numbers make it a bit difficult to approach. Ads Manager was conceived for small businesses and will totally satisfy your needs as a photographer.

This short video tells you everything you need to know, in order to set up your ads. Let’s break down the major steps of the process:

The objective

You’ll have the choice among several different campaign objectives. Not all of them are available for Instagram, and some (like App promotion) are not relevant for photographers. This leaves us with the following goals:

  • Boost your posts. The aim here is to get more reach, i.e. to have your post seen by more users than it would without paid promotion. This is great if your aim is to grow your Instagram audience and/or brand awareness.

  • Send people to your website. By choosing this objective, the algorithms will target users who are more likely to click on your photography website. That means you’ll have a higher chance of receiving a mail or a phone call to be hired.

  • Increase conversions on your website. We are talking business here! Whether it’s getting booked or selling photos online, it’s the perfect shot to convert Instagramers into clients.

The audience

We already covered the difference between the “Lookalike” and “Custom” options. Just keep in mind that the more precise you are in defining your target audience, the more likely it is that they will be interested in your content, and the more Facebook will charge you to reach them. Once you’ve defined your audience, the system will give you a sense of its size through the “Audience Definition” gauge, as well as an estimate of the reach of your ad.

Remember that you can always save the audience you created to use later. This is a useful feature that allows you to experiment and optimize your ads in the future.

The placement

After specifying your audience, you’ll be asked to set your placement – that is to say the platform where the ad will run. For Instagram exclusively, simply uncheck all the boxes, except for “Instagram”.

The budget

You have the option to select either a daily budget or a lifetime budget for your campaign:

  • Daily budget sets up a certain amount to be spent per day.

  • Lifetime budget gives you control on the overall amount spent, regardless of the amount spent daily.

In both cases, it’s a good idea to start your first couple of campaigns with a small budget, and to grow them progressively based on your experience.

The schedule

You need to select a start and end date for campaign, down to the very minute. You also have the possibility to run the campaign during certain hours or on specific days.

budget and scheduling

The optimization

Here, you have three options:

  • Link clicks: your ad will be delivered to get the most clicks to your website at the lowest cost.

  • Impressions: your ad will be shown in people’s social feeds as many times as possible. This option raises your chances of getting engagement from comments and likes.

  • Daily Unique Reach: your ad will be delivered to people up to once a day.

The bid amount

Don’t forget: on Instagram, you’re competing with other advertisers trying to reach a similar audience in a constant auction process. If you choose “Automatic”, you’re leaving it up to Facebook to deliver your ad. Whereas “Manual” allows you to set a price for link clicks.

The delivery

The most recommended option, “Standard”, will show your ad throughout the day – as opposed to “Accelerated”, which is only useful if you’re trying to reach an audience quickly.

The settings

Before hitting the publish button, you’ll have a few more things to set up. First, add your website’s URL, to receive the traffic your ad generates. Then, select a CTA button. Several options will be displayed like “Learn More”, “Book Now”, “Contact Us”, etc. You can also choose to have no button at all.

Once your image is uploaded and your text is set, check out the preview of your ad to make sure everything looks right. Make sure to double-check everything, because your ad has the potential to be seen by a very large audience, and carry your photo brand to the next level.

Step 4: Check and optimize

Congratulations! Your first Instagram ad is now up and running. But don’t think it’s over just yet. Keep a close eye on your post all throughout the promotion, to monitor how users engage with it. Don’t hesitate to pause the promotion and tweak the caption in order to optimize the results. Monitoring is also crucial, because it will help you improve for your next campaign. You’ll access all the stats you need, from the number of engagements to the reach and money spent, right in the Facebook Ads Manager.

Note that your ad will create an influx of traffic to your page, that will benefit the rest of your posts. So make sure to follow up with a series of excellent organic posts, to keep your new followers excited.

Step 5: Be patient

Be realistic with your expectations. Don’t expect a peak of bookings right after your ad starts running. As all other branding efforts, this one can take some time. Besides that extra traffic on your website, the most immediate effect to expect in the beginning is to get more followers, which means a stronger Instagram page, leading to better performing posts (organic and paid) in the future. The funnel may be long, but it will inevitably lead to more clients. So keep calm, and keep on posting!

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