Considering how heavily we rely on social networks for staying in touch with friends, connecting with businesses and building relationships with influencers, it’s important for us to acknowledge that these networks are totally free to us as users. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – all of them: free.

To continue existing as a free tool for users, social networks such as Instagram need to make a profit – just like your business. Cue advertising. Businesses (like yours) pay money to gain access to and brand awareness among relevant audiences.

Because these networks know so much about you (via the information you’ve provided directly and through your behavior), the ads you see are relevant to your interests. They still may annoy the consumer side of you, but a vegan is likely never going to see an ad for bacon – and that makes for a more pleasant ecosystem.

What does any of this have to do with you and your business?

Instagram ads provide an opportunity to reach and engage potential customers in an impactful and meaningful way. Allow me to explain.

Why advertise on Instagram?

Instagram just announced that they’re making a very Facebook-like change to its algorithm. Rather than in reverse chronological order, Instagram will order posts “based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content — your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post.” This means brands might lose the reach of a previously reliable marketing channel, the same way they did with Facebook Pages.

Their reason for the change? Instagram says it’s because the average user misses 70% of what’s in their feed, including photos from their closest friends. It also means that brands are encouraged to advertise in order to reach an audience big enough to have an impact.

Why do audiences on Instagram matter? According to a recent study by Forrester, Instagram drives more engagement than any of the other major social networks, beating out Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Advertising on Instagram also does away with the pesky link problem on the platform. Surely you’ve either used or seen the“see link in bio” caption. That is, if you even read that far, since captions are now collapsed after three lines of text. With ads, you have a “learn more” button directly on the post – so no need to caption “link in bio” when you advertise.

Instagram ads allow you to capture the attention of potential customers and make a direct and targeted offer. Here’s what you need to know to create an impactful Instagram ad campaign.

Setting up your Instagram ads

Facebook owns Instagram, so you’ll need to go through the Facebook Ad creation tool to create an ad. The ad manager gives you total control of the ad creation and reporting process and it’s self-serve, so you can be up and running in minutes. It also offers scalable pricing to meet your budget and highly specific targeting to reach your ideal audience.

Step 1: Visit the Facebook ads manager platform.

Step 2: Click “Create Ad” in the upper right-hand corner.


Step 3: Choose your campaign objective – that is what action you want viewers to take. At this point, you still haven’t seen anything about Instagram. Don’t worry, you’ll get there. The options are:

campaign objectives - instagram

To give you a better idea of which campaign objective is the best fit for your needs, here are some potential scenarios for each:

  • Clicks to Website: you just launched a new product and want viewers to learn more
  • Website Conversions: you want viewers to buy the product or service you posted an image of in your ad
  • Mobile App Installs: you want viewers to download your new mobile app
  • Mobile App Engagement: you want existing users to engage with a specific feature 
  • Video Views: you have a crowdfunding campaign you want to introduce or you want to showcase your company culture for a recruitment campaign
  • Reach and Frequency: you only care about brand awareness and want to share a particular message with more people
  • Post Page Engagement: your business hasn’t launched yet, but you want to gain a following on Instagram now

Remember, not every campaign objective option on Facebook’s ad manager applies to Instagram – only those above. When you hover over an option, it will say something about Instagram if it applies, like this:


Note: If you’re sending people to your website or are focused on website conversions from your ad, you’ll need to set up a pixel on your site to report conversions and gather insights about how people use your website. For more on that, check out Facebook’s guide to implementing pixels.

Step 4: Define your audience.  

This is where you’ll determine who will see your ad. One option is to follow Facebook’s steps for setting an audience based on demographics such as age, gender, location. With this option, you can also target people based on their interests (think: Page likes) on Facebook and their engagement or lack thereof with your page.

This is a great option if your objective is to build brand awareness among a new audience; if you’re focused on casting a wider net and getting the word out.


Or, the other option is to create a custom audience based by clicking “Create A Custom Audience.”


If your objective is “Mobile App Engagement,” you’ll want to create a custom audience based on App Activity so that you’re only targeting current users.

If you’re focused on driving conversions among people who’ve already visited your site, Website Traffic is the option you’ll want. You’ll need to have the Facebook pixel we mentioned installed for this one.

If you want to target your existing customers to advertise an event, increase engagement or introduce a new product or feature, you can upload your Customer List. If they use the same information to sign up for your product or service as they did Facebook, the ad will reach them. You can also create a lookalike audience – where your ad will reach people who have the same interests as your customers, but not your customers themselves. Sounds a little Big Brother-ish, but it’s effective in reaching a relevant audience.

Step 5: Set your budget.

When setting your first ad budget, start low and increase daily budget based on your results. This approach also allows you to test different copy, creative, etc. without spending too much on an ineffective ad.

Facebook offers several handy scheduling and budget tools. Rather than being charged per impression (because, really did they pay attention to your ad?), you can be charged per link click. You can also schedule when your ad runs or accelerate your ad to run more often and sooner if you’re sharing time-sensitive information.


After you’ve defined your audience and set your budget, you can start building your ad.

Step 6: Set up your ad creative.

Now for the fun part! Choosing the images and copy for your campaign. First, in the right-hand section of the ad creative page, you’re going to “Remove” all feed options other than Instagram – since we’re focused on creating an Instagram campaign.


Then, on the left you’ll choose which account you’re advertising on, the text for your ad up to three images, descriptions for each, where they will link to and your call to action.

CTA - Instagram - Ads

Step 7: Review and place your order. Once you’ve reviewed your order and are happy with the details, click ‘Place Order” and you’re all set!

Not so fast….

For your ad to really stand out and make your audience want to learn more, shop, book, download – whatever it is you want them to do – it needs to be compelling and the experience after the viewer clicks needs to be thoughtful.

How to create a compelling Instagram ad

It’s no secret that visuals are everything on Instagram. At the very least, your ad needs to be interesting, but it should really be compelling. Compelling can be accomplished through beautiful or shocking images, a funny meme, a witty play on a current trend, clever copy – you get the point. Needless to say, it needs to be well thought out and strategic.

Make sure to use high-res images. Images should be appealing and attention-grabbing, but also unique in order to stand out.


This Levi’s ad is effective because it’s seemingly genuine (it might look like something a friend of a Levi’s customer would post), lovely, and appeals to its younger, outdoorsy target audience.

An ad can also be effective by simply hitting close to home for its target audience.


This Talkspace ad is simple, bright (grabs your attention) and clearly states what it is offering – a simple and less expensive alternative to therapy.


This Postmates ad is clever. They clearly know their audience and are playing on something a customer might see in their feed – a funny conversation between friends.

Before deciding on the creative for your ad, make sure you understand your audience. Talk to existing customers about their social habits and what interests them. Consider your user personas and what they might be doing when browsing Instagram in their free time. Also, Instagram has increased the frequency in which ads appear – so you really need to stand out among other advertisers.

Ask yourself: how can you capture their attention during one of their few spare moments?

Think through the next steps for the viewer

So you’ve created an effectively compelling ad, your viewer clicks to learn more … and then what? Like with any paid advertisement (or organic post for that matter), you need to think through the entire experience or journey.

The page that your Instagram ad directs viewers to should first and foremost be optimized for mobile. It should also provide the most important information for your potential customer on the top-of-fold. It should be relevant to the ad and deliver on what the ad promises. If you try to use click-bait techniques, you’ll only hurt your reputation.

westelm-instagram-ad westeml-instagram-landing-page

This may seem overly simple, but it was crucial that this West Elm ad link to the chandelier it was advertising. What if it was sold out when we clicked through? What if it wasn’t the first item and we had to scroll through to find it? That’d be a poor user experience.

vynl-instagram-ad vynl-instagram-landing-page

The landing page on this Vnyl ad on the other hand, needs a little bit of work. It’s neat that they used a user-generated photo for the ad and tagged them for credit, however, when you click more, the page is lacking some crucial info. The copy certainly appeals to me. The Jay-Z comment speaks to how I feel about streaming platforms, I’m passionate about human-curated music, etc. However, I’d like to know how much it costs, who the curators are, if you get to choose a genre, etc. It prompts you to sign up a bit too soon.

Think through all possible scenarios when designing your landing page. Know your audience and what information is going to be most important to them before they make a purchase.

Experiment with formats, images and text

Once you get comfortable with creating basic Instagram ads, start experimenting with different formats and creative to determine what performs best.

For example, Instagram now offers Carousel Ads, allowing you to add up to four images for Instagram. You can use these to showcase different product features or tell a story.

Videos are another engaging and powerful ad format worth testing out. Brands have used them for anything from teasing a movie trailer or music video to sharing simple recipes or highlighting a fashion line. Here are some tips from Instagram for how to optimize your Instagram video ad for maximum impact.

After setting up your ad in whatever format, make sure to keep an eye on reporting. Compare how formats are performing in terms of cost per click, sign ups, purchases, etc. Once you figure out what’s resonating most with your audience, continue iterating on that format with different creative, copy, etc. Consider broadening your audience or testing it on a slightly different customer persona to see what happens.

One of the most fun things about ads is the ability to test, iterate and learn what makes your audience “click.” Give it a try and let us know how it works out for you!

Need help with your Instagram ads? There’s a Peep for that! 🙂