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How To Succeed With Paid On Instagram

September 21, 2023

Every day, more than 500 million people log into Instagram to connect with friends, family, and passion points. For advertisers, half the battle is already won because users are prepared to actively engage with and discover new content.

Consequently, the key to winning on Instagram is tapping into that “leaned-in mindset” by reaching out to users with the right creative at the right time.

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Creative is the key to with paid posts on Instagram

Platform-tailored creative is critical to driving business results with paid posts on Instagram. Brands need to be cognizant of the environment in which their ads are serving, taking into account the difference in user behavior on Instagram from the rest of the digital ecosystem.

The vast majority of content is consumed without sound, thus advertisers cannot rely on audible cues to drive resonance. Teams need to ensure throughout the creative process that their messages will be delivered effectively in the sound-off feed format.

Instagram is perhaps social media’s greatest treasure trove of visual content, with each user’s feed curated to their specific interests. There’s even a slime account, with over 675 thousand followers eagerly awaiting the next video release.

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Given the degree of competition, advertisers need to earn each user’s attention. Video creative consistently drives strong results through its ability to grab users through story-telling, convey value propositions, and create brand equity.

Thumb-stopping visuals are essential to arrest scrolling and drive message retention through video consumption. It is critical to remember that with the rise of mobile and the aging up of digital-savvy consumers (especially millennials and Gen Z, Instagram’s most active demographic), average dwell times per individual piece of content are lower than ever -- and they’re trending down further.

Compared to the desktop environment, mobile scrolling rates are over 40% higher. And the scroll speed variation across generations (for example between Baby Boomers and Gen Z) is massive. Brands need to focus precisely on how to best capture user attention in the small window of time available and it starts and ends with creative.


Context trumps content

100% of Instagram ad inventory is on mobile, so advertisers need to adjust content aspect ratios to maximize their real estate on a handheld device. Vertical formatting is a small tweak that can have a significant impact on advertiser success. The more screen time and space a creative gets, the more likely it is to grab the user’s attention.

Vertical creative also opens up additional inventory via Instagram Stories. Brands routinely see more efficient results when supplementing their campaigns with placements in Stories (which boasts over 300MM monthly active users).

Instagram recently rolled out the Story Carousel ad unit which takes advantage of the twitchy behavior of users as they quickly thumb through stories. Advertisers can use these carousels to stitch together three consecutive videos, giving every impression slot three opportunities to grab the user’s attention, all in a single cohesive story-telling ad unit.

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Ideally, brands should be creating content tailored in theme and in format specifically for the Stories placement. That said, Instagram recently launched tools to allow advertisers to automatically adjust existing creative to fit the full-screen story format. Depending on the size of the asset, Instagram can blur the edges of photos or videos to fit seamlessly between user-stories. This simple modification to campaigns can lead to significant boosts in efficiency with no incremental creative costs.

For additional guidance on creating content for Instagram Stories, Facebook IQ’s write-up is helpful. As Instagram continues to refine its offering, these fast-paced and mobile-optimized storytelling assets will continue to be tremendously efficient drivers of business results when placed in front of the right users.


Tapping into culture

There are countless interest niches on Instagram, ranging from the everyday to the bizarre, and all present unique opportunities for brands to insert themselves into social trends. Perhaps the most significant phenomenon on the platform has been the explosion of meme culture.

Memes use humor to convey cultural idiosyncrasies in a digestible format -- they are the digital manifestations of ideas or feelings that everyone is familiar with but oftentimes unable to describe.

Many influencers have capitalized on meme culture, with accounts such as @betches and @beigecardigan racking up millions of followers by creating and aggregating memes from across the internet. In 2018, memes are as indigenous to Instagram as carefully curated travel photos, which creates a fascinating white-space for advertisers to explore.

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Chase recently launched a meme and GIF campaign to promote its P2P payment functionality, showcasing a concerted effort to reach millennial audiences with the right creative on the right platforms. BelVita is taking a slightly different approach, having users submit their own memes to Instagram to enter into a sweepstake.

Both are excellent examples of advertisers understanding the interests of their target consumers, and creating content that is able to convey brand messaging in a seamless, native manner.


While creating the right brand messages is critical to success, all that work would be wasted without sound targeting, and Instagram provides the tools needed to reach the right users.

The best Instagram strategies marry the right targeting with the right creative so that ads feel contextually relevant and provide value to users. Given its scale and nuanced targeting, Instagram has become an excellent platform to build brand equity with both existing and future customers.

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Utilizing tools like Audience Insights can help you glean an understanding of the interests and demographics that define customer segments. This data can help inform both targeting and creative direction as you look to tap into message themes that resonate with your most valuable users.

“Lookalike” modeling uses signals across Facebook and Instagram to help you reach users similar to your core audience and connect with them in an efficient and scalable way. This has proven to be an invaluable tool for driving both brand and sales lift.

Test, learn, optimize

While creative and targeting guidelines can provide the foundation for success on Instagram, it’s important to recognize that performance can always be improved through iterative testing, learning, and improving. Different business goals and brands need different strategies to drive optimal business results.

Advertisers need to consider the intrinsic segmentation of their customer base and home in on those differences to optimize across segments. Does the creative strategy resonate more with millennials or baby boomers? Which brand video drives the most lift among moms? Does that change depending on how old their children are?

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Instagram provides advertisers with an almost infinite selection of targeting parameters and combinations. The key is uncovering the most meaningful ways to divide your users, ranging from life stages to interests and everything in between.

From there, it’s imperative to set up controlled tests to collect actionable and accurate data. Instagram has a host of reporting metrics to dive into and analyze, so it’s important to align on your KPIs heading into a campaign, from delivery costs to eCommerce and other factors unique to your business. Finally, when enough data has been gathered, pick your winners, optimize, rinse, and repeat.

And of course, nothing on Instagram is static either. The platform is constantly evolving and it’s critical to keep up by learning and testing new capabilities as they arise.

Helpful resources

Here are a few helpful resources to stay current on Instagram features and develop and refine your media strategy over time:

VaynerMedia sponsored the category "Best Use of Instagram" in the Native Advertising Awards 2018.NAP_soundcloud_banner