Growing an Instagram Page with a Performance Mindset

Last Summer I was contracted by an influencer agency to help build an in-house creative performance marketing team. At the time, my only experience with Instagram was from my personal account where I overshare travel photos to make my life look more interesting than it really is (#tooreal?). But with this new exposure to the wild world of influencer marketing I decided to start a non-personal Instagram page to familiarize myself with post promotions and business account features. The page I created is called Super Nostalgic, and as of typing this it's reached nearly 400,000 followers. I'm going to talk about how I achieved this in only 10 months; but first, some nostalgia:

Prior to launching Super Nostalgic, I had zero experience growing an Instagram page. The only thing I knew was performance marketing, so that's the mindset I was in when developing my growth strategy.

Instagram's best tool for driving new followers is its native Promotions feature. Once you've switched to a business account you'll be able to boost almost any post (save for images/videos that are below minimum resolution requirements). Boosting a post is a paid solution for reaching new users who might enjoy your content.

If you're used to Facebook's ad platform you're going to be a bit depressed by Instagram's Promotion Insights dashboard. Calling it lackluster feels generous. That said, it's not completely useless, but it will require a bit of manual work if you're treating this like a performance campaign.

Instagram insights boosted post optimization data

I decided to treat this like a CPA campaign - or in this case a Cost-per-Follow (CPF) campaign - and started thinking of it like a mobile app campaign. Instagram's promotion insights don't calculate CPF for you, so you're going to have to crunch the numbers manually. And if you delete a promoted post in order to re-promote it with different campaign settings, all the previous follows data from will still be visible, but your spend will reset to zero (see image above). Just remember to jot down the follows count before your promotion starts spending so you can subtract that value later when you measure performance.

Optimizing for Cost-per-Follow (CPF)

When I started promoting posts I chose the content based on popularity (highest Likes). I found that a good CPF for my promotions was around $0.10 - $0.20. But it didn't take long for me to drive that cost down to sub $0.01. I accomplished this with the following tactics:

  • Leveraging organic performance
  • Audience hacking
  • Competitor research
  • Monitoring creative fatigue

Leveraging Organic Performance

If you navigate to the Content section of your Insights tab (in the Instagram app). you can sort your posts by various metrics. I started running promotions for my top 3 posts that drove the most organic Follows. CPFs on these promotions were significantly lower than the posts I had been promoting based on Likes. Future promotions would confirm that high organic Follows = low CPF when promoted.

Pro-Tip: Posts with the most Likes does not always correlate to most Follows. My most Liked post is my 5th higher driver of Follows. My third most Liked post isn't even in my top 50 most Follows.

Audience Hacking

If you have run an Instagram Promotion you'll know how tedious it is creating a custom audience in the app's interface. You'll also know how limited the functionality is. There's no region targeting, no language targeting, no interest reach visibility, etc. Thankfully there's a clever solution you can take advantage of:

Step 1: Create a custom audience in Instagram. Name it and give it some basic targeting info. Save the audience but don't launch your promotion yet.

Step 2: Go to your Facebook Ads Manager dashboard from a laptop/desktop browser. Navigate to the Audiences page in the Business Tools menu.

Step 3: Find the audience you just created in Instagram and click Edit. From here you can customize the audience the same way you'd customize a Facebook audience, including language targeting and interest narrowing. Best of all you can add region targeting, like "worldwide" or "emerging markets."

Note: This only works with audiences you initially create in the Instagram app. Also, if you enable any features that aren't available in the Instagram app (including "worldwide" targeting) you won't be able to make future adjustments in Instagram, only in Facebook Ads Manager.

Competitor Research

Chances are your Instagram isn't 100% unique. There are similar pages out there with followers you want to target. In the same way you might use Sensor Tower or Apptica to conduct competitor ad research for a performance campaign, you can employ a similar tactic for growing your Instagram page.

Once you've created a list of competitor pages, you'll want to narrow down their top Liked posts. There isn't a way to gauge top Follows posts (unless you want to tediously measure lift post-to-post over time), but top Liked content can still drive Follows, so it's a decent place to start. The easiest way I've found to spy on a competitor's top Liked posts is to use one of those "top 9" apps that get super popular around the end of the year. Just use your competitor's username instead of your own to snag their top 9 most Liked posts of the past year.

Instagram competitor research
Captured with an app called Best Grid

Monitoring Creative Fatigue

Just like your performance campaigns, creative fatigue is an inevitable problem for Instagram Promotions too. The easiest way to combat this burnout is with the following steps:

  • Monitor CPFs daily
  • Run short campaigns and cycle between them (fatigue won't last forever)
  • Cycle several custom audiences
  • Keep posting new content until you find better performing posts

Facebook Ads Traffic

If Instagram Promotions just aren't your thing, you can always run campaigns from your Facebook Ads Manager. When setting up a new campaign, just click "Use Existing Post" when you get to the ad creation step. From here you can select an existing post from your Instagram page.

However, I wouldn't really recommend this (at least not as your Plan A). While this does allow you to also advertise your Instagram posts across Facebook, Facebook Audience Network, and Messenger, there are two major downsides:

  1. There's no way to track follows or CPF in the Facebook Ads platform. Your best option is to manually observe lift in your Instagram Insights dashboard, or with a third-party analytics service (SocialBlade is free and stores two weeks worth of data).
  2. You can only send traffic to your Instagram page via a URL. This means that even if a user clicks your ad within the Instagram app they will still be redirected to a web version within the app (see below). The user remains logged in and can still follow your page, but the jarring experience might hurt conversions.
Instagram boosted post user experience

Takeaways

  • Optimize your promotions for CPF
  • Use the Insights tab to find posts with high organic follows for promotion
  • Posts with high Likes don't automatically imply high Follows
  • Improve audience targeting with Facebook Ads Manager dashboard
  • Leverage "top 9" apps to conduct competitor research for new content ideas
  • Cycle promotions and audiences to prevent ad fatigue

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