Everybody wants to be Instagram all-star. And thanks to the platform’s recent additions of self-service ads and Facebook-powered targeting, the opportunities for marketers are huge.

So what’s holding you back?

For starters, if you’re read the recent reports showing that organic engagement on the platform is starting to wane, you might feel like it’s too late for you join in.

However, what you might not know is that even that data shows that it’s still far easier to build and interact with an audience on Instagram than on Facebook and Twitter. In fact, one Forrester study found that the platform drives more than four times the interactions per follower that Facebook and Twitter do.

Indeed, Instagram is one of the most fertile social channels when it comes to engagement. Imagine what you can do here with paid promotion. Organic Instagram posts alone draw a total of 3.5 billion likes per day. Despite the decline, or perhaps because of it, Instagram advertising opportunities are hotter than ever, as brands are adopting the platform at light speed to get in on the new and powerful advertising real estate.

The problem isn’t engagement, and it’s not that you’re too late. What really holds marketers back is viewing Instagram as an ad platform like any other. The promoted posts that perform the best here are those that work in the context of the Instagram experience – ads with creative that uses the same aesthetic vibes and the same emotional hooks that Instagram users know and love.

To make sure that your campaigns don’t flop, here are five tips for creating Instagram ads that convert.

1.User-generate content for authenticity

User-generated content (UGC) is among the most powerful ways to boost your company’s trustworthiness. We perceive posts authored by our peers (Read more...) being authentic, since we trust that the everyday citizenry has less of a vested interest in making a corporation look good than its employees and agents do.

Visual UGC, which is what Instagram is built on, is all the more impactful, as it allows us to actually see products being enjoyed in real-life situations, which makes it easier for us to imagine ourselves likewise enjoying these products. This is why UGC-style ad creative converts better on Instagram than polished studio shots created by professionals.

For example, Yotpo allows ecommerce marketers to solicit and compile customer photos and reviews, and the new Instagram advertising module lets you create and book campaigns from within your dashboard.

instagram ugc

New Instagram UGC ads in action.

2.Keep visuals light on text and light on brand

Visuals are essential for every type of social share, marketing campaign and nearly anything else posted online these days. They’re easier to digest than text, and they’re more effective for evoking emotions, which will maximize the chances that your message will be remembered. When it comes to visuals on social, Instagram reigns supreme.

It’s easy to forget that because promoted posts on Instagram appear in users’ newsfeeds, they perform best when they look like they belong there.

As soon as marketers start to think about paid placements, we’re tempted to make them look like banner ads, with large logos and headlines superimposed on the imagery. That kind of post simply isn’t going to resonate with the Instagram crowd, especially when they’re in the midst of scrolling through their feeds.

instagram levis

Levis wisely keeps its Instagram ads devoid of superimposed text and logos

Simply choose a powerful, high-res photo, and stay focused on the visual message at hand. A bit of light branding is fine, but when that becomes the focal point of the message, viewers will typically be turned off.

Although consumer goods lend themselves to visual social media content, there are plenty of B2B companies that are finding success on Instagram as well. GE’s Instagram account, for example, regularly posts compelling imagery, driving thousands of interactions.

instagram GE

General Electric’s Instagram posts consistently drive major engagement

As such, products that are especially strong aesthetically are those that are most likely to resonate with the Instagram crowd. It’s a visual platform, after all, which is why fashion and lifestyle brands do so well here. We can’t all be GE, but there are some great examples of brands driving major engagement here too.

2. Use call-to-action buttons organically

Call-to-action buttons are extremely powerful when used correctly, at the right time, the right place, and with the right micro-copy. Depending on the action you are trying to drive, however, the wrong CTA can kill conversions.

Instagram was once shunned by many marketers because only URLs appearing in user bios were clickable, but in recent months, the platform has diversified its “direct response” advertising product line, so that users can now tap on buttons in ads, which, if you’re advertising a mobile app product, can load app store landing pages as modal boxes within the Instagram app experience.

When advertisers promote app installs via paid posts on both Facebook and Instagram, the latter has been found to drive significantly better clickthrough rates and lower cost per install (CPI) rates.

Now you have even more reasons to make sure your landing page is mobile-friendly and that its UI and creative match the ad creative.

instagram NYT

Shrewd use of a the Download CTA button by the New York Times

CTAs currently supported by Instagram ads include Sign Up, Download, Watch Now, Contact Us, Apply Now, Shop Now, Book Now and Learn More. No, you can’t create custom CTA microcopy, but that could be a good thing, as the community of Instagram users has likely already grown accustomed to these limited options and what’s likely to happen when they tap on each.

If you’re promoting a lead capture landing page with your ad, it makes sense to use one of the more transaction-oriented CTA options, like Contact Us or Apply Now. If you’re promoting gated premium content assets, then Download or Learn More would probably be the best match.

4. Make sure your hashtags are optimized

Hashtags can blow up on platforms like Periscope, Twitter and Instagram in a matter of hours. On Instagram, according to data from Simply Measured, brands use an average of 2.5 hashtags per post, and posts with one or more hashtags in their captions see 12.6% more engagement.

A few things to keep in mind for hashtags in Instagram ads. Firstly, remember that hashtags are used differently here than elsewhere. With Instagram, people don’t follow topics with hashtags like they do on Twitter, instead including them in caption blurbs for clever color commentary.

On Twitter, moreover, it’s considered bad form to use more than two or three hashtags per post, whereas on Instagram, it’s common to see dozens in a given caption. Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per post.

To find the best hashtags for the content of your Instagram posts, you can use a hashtag search engine like Hashtagify, which will aggregate the latest uses of the hashtag you search for, display popularity scores, list recommend additional hashtags that commonly appear alongside yours, and even export lists of selected rows of results.

instagram hash

Example of search results on Hashtagify.me

Secondly, using informative hashtags is almost always more effective than abstract messages. This is why hashtags like #IceBucketChallenge spread like wildfire; it presents its message clearly with little to no explanation required.

A contingency plan is also a must have for hashtags. The internet has a mind of its own and can quickly turn something sour through scads of ironic and snarky comments (even the White House had to have a backup plan when the #ObamacareIsWorking hashtag spun out of control; it was quickly replaced with #ILikeObamacare).

Beyond that, ensure that your hashtag is easy to read and hard to misconstrue, keep it short, and always remember to monitor the conversation surrounding it.

5. Remember that your ads don’t need to be ads

Promoted posts aren’t the only kind of paid media available on Instagram. Today there’s a thriving ecosystem for sponsoring posts on influential accounts.

Marketplaces such as Speakr, BrandSlip and TapInfluence make it easy to buy and sell placements, while still more platforms can broker deals for shoutout mentions, acquiring entire accounts and even sponsoring shoppable selfies.

One of the most effective tactics in the book, influencer marketing on Instagram delivers more than eight times the impact that it does on Facebook, according to a study from RhythmOne (pdf). The data shows that when brands hire influencers to post on their behalf on Instagram, the posts see 177 user actions for every 1000 views, whereas on Facebook, the posts see just 21 user actions for every 1000 views.

Instagram influencer sponsorship marketplaces are surprisingly affordable, and they make it easy to find people with the most relevant follower communities. Manual outreach to these people would involve far more risk and time investment.

Get Insta-boosted

On Instagram, success requires a focus on mobile experience as well as an authentic, user-generated style. If you don’t prioritize these key elements, low clickthrough and conversion rates are inevitable. The key to getting to the core of this urban millennial-dominated channel is through emotional resonance and transparency.

Instagram ads can drive momentous success for your brand, as long as you take the time and care to understand what people expect from their Instagram feed experience.

This new, absurdly potent marketing tool is estimated to generate $2.81 billion next year – that’s how valuable it is to reach people on the mobile, visual social network.

Related reading

Food Tube
broken guitar
Facebook Buzzfeed Tasty

Let's block ads! (Why?)