How To Create Effective Instagram Sponsored Posts That Bring People Joy

Co-written with Eliot Robinson from @dunk.

If you’re using Instagram to grow a brand or business you’ve likely seen that blue ‘Promote’ button at the bottom of your post and asked yourself “Does that even work? Should I do it? How do I do it?”

Promoted or “Sponsored Posts” on Instagram do work in the sense that when you promote a post, Instagram shows that post to a new audience that would have otherwise never seen it. When you reach a new audience, more people discover your business, and if they like the content you create on Instagram, there is a higher likelihood that they’ll follow and engage with your account and/or buy whatever it is that you’re selling. The value in that is clear…

What isn’t as clear knowing whether or not you should paying money to promote posts from your account.

Why? Although promoting a post will ensure that more people see it, that doesn’t mean that they will get enough joy from your content for the promotion to be effective.

If you are promoting a posts that isn’t generating joy in the people who see it, you’re likely just paying money for them to get slightly annoyed at another Sponsored Post that sucks and takes up space in their home feeds. In other words, you’re wasting your money.

So, how do you create a Sponsored Post that gives people joy, as well as generate more followers, engagement and sales for your account?

Don’t create “ads”!

We’ve all been served “ads” since the day we were able to turn a screen, and given our familiarity with the medium, most of us have a general pre-conceived notion of what “good advertising” looks like. It usually involves slick editorial graphics or photography, sharp and catch-y text and a very clear visual communication of exactly what it is that they’re selling and how it’s great for the people who buy it. Something along these lines:

or

Those are clearly “Ads”, and they might work for big brands with big budgets on TV, a billboard or a banner on a website but they definitely do not bring people joy and they definitely will not work for a small brand with a shoe string budget on Instagram (which is most of us).

Instead of trying to create ads, aim to…

Create emotions!

Effective Sponsored Posts don’t require Ad Agencies or a lot of money, they require empathy and attention to detail when understanding what type of content creates joy and emotion on Instagram. When you create emotion, people are a lot more likely to want to learn about what you have to say, instead of being turned off by feeling “sold to” right off the bat.

Here’s how you create an effective Sponsored Post:

Let the data tell you what generates emotion in your audience.

A simple and objective way to measure which photos and videos create emotion is by measuring the amount of engagement (likes and comments) a post receives. The higher the engagement, the larger the amount of people that found an emotional connection with the post at one level or another.

Your aim is to understand what your audience connects with, and you can do that by using the Engagement filter in your Instagram Insights POSTS page.

Here’s how you do it:

Go to your Instagram Insights page, tap into the POSTS section and tap in the filter section at the top within that page.

Here, filter All posts by Engagement within the last 6 months and Apply.

At the top of this feed you’ll see the posts which get the highest engagement from your audience. These are the posts your audience has had the strongest emotional connection with in the last 6 months. THIS is the type of content that you should be doing for your Sponsored Posts in the future. The common themes you find in these photos and captions are likely to be effective as Sponsored Posts because they already have a measurable and proven track record of creating emotions (engagement) with your audience.

In contrast, at the bottom of this feed, you’ll find the posts that your audience had the least emotional connection with over the past 6 months. This is the type of content you should NOT be doing Sponsored Posts about. They clearly do not create emotion with your audience and are likely to be a bad investment as ads in the future.

In the example above, the data tells us that the audience for this account clearly has a stronger emotional connection to photos of the macrame makers themselves (it’s easier to have an emotional connection with a person than with an object) with large, elaborate and colorful macrames (mastery of the craft = admiration = emotion). If I were to do a Sponsored Post based on these insights, I‘m likely to get the best results from photos featuring a macrame maker holding a colorful and elaborate macrame piece.

The better you get at executing Sponsored Posts with content that gets high engagement, the more likely it is that those posts will drive traffic and/or sales.

Another great way to understand what type of content works is by checking the type of content Instagram’s own ads team features on their Instagram for business account. These are the Sponsored Posts they show as use-cases for people who want to do ads on the platform, so they are likely to be showing us what their data has already proven has the best results.

Based on the content they show, some general best-practices are:

  • Don’t use text in the photos: It’s a visual platform and text in photos is proven to have much lower engagement rates on Instagram.
  • People create emotions: We are social beings, seeing other humans pulls on our evolutionary strings and creates emotions, which generates engagement.
  • Bright, colorful and dense photography tends to be engaging: The more eye-catching your photography is, the more likely it is to drive engagement and generate better results.
  • Use visuals that stand out from your average home feed photos: The weirder, more interesting, captivating your visuals are, the more likely someone is to stop on their home feed, scroll back and read what you have to say. This will increase a Sponsored Post’s effectiveness and results.
Cute animals, unsettling (in a good way) photography or delicious looking food are usually sure bets to make us stop and look at something.

AB test to make your sponsored posts as effective as possible.

Now that you have a better idea of what type of content might be the most effective for you, it’s time to put them to the test and understand what will give you the best results!

Here’s an example of the process that can be applied to any Instagram account:

PS — Before you start, download and set up the Facebook Ads Manager app. You’ll need to turn your Instagram into a business account as well as create a Facebook page in order for this to work. Once you’re set up…

Promote the content which already has the highest engagement: Analyze which of your posts have gotten the most engagement over the past 6 months and select the top 4 to start testing. In @pinlord’s case, these were the top 4:

You can either edit and tweak them so they are relevant as an ad or you can create new ones that mimmic their visuals and content.

Test which performs better as a Sponsored Post by testing them under equal conditions: To understand which post will be the most effective as a Sponsored Post, Promote them and make sure to indicate the same outcome, destination, action button, audience, and budget & duration for each. By doing this, you can compare results.

Let them run for their indicated duration. Then…

Use your Facebook Ads Manager App to compare the cost per click to identify which post is the most effective: On the app’s home page, scroll down and you’ll be able to see the cost per link click of each campaign.

Here, identify the post that had the lowest cost per click:

It’s no surprise that the photo that had by far the best results was the one with the most bright, colorful and dense visuals.

The post with the lowest cost per click is the most effective because it got the most people to click on the link (or whatever else you’re promoting) for the lowest cost.

Now that you have the data to know what will work as a Sponsored Post for you, it’s time to…

Improve results by tweaking what already works and testing again: Did the post with the lowest cost per click have a specific type of imagery or specific caption/topic that made it differentiated from the others? Your aim is to figure out why it did so well, create new posts that improve upon the elements of what made it successful and then test those to compare the costs per click again.

In @pinlord’s case, dense and colorful imagery was what made the first post effective, so to improve upon it, they shot new photos that were similar but better than the original as well as offered a “Buy anything from my website and get a free random pin” code to give people even more value.

Be empathetic when creating Sponsored Posts. Ask yourself what sort of Ad would make you less annoyed if it came across your home feed. Sponsored Posts that offer you value with exclusive discounts, etc, will likely do better than a Sponsored Posts that’s only trying to sell you something.

Promote it and make sure to indicate in the same outcome, destination, action button, audience and budget & duration as the original.

Let it run for its entire duration and then compare the costs per click again:

The cost per link click was lower when the content was improved. The ad is more effective.

If the cost per click of the new Sponsored Post is lower, then you’ve successfully created a more effective ad and you should continue to improve upon that formula if you want to get better results in the future.

If the cost per click is higher, then you did not improve upon what made the original effective and it’s time for you to go back to the drawing board and start testing again.

Once you know what works, don’t be afraid to spend money!

After many rounds of testing, you’ll eventually find the Sponsored Posts that get you the best results and the lowest costs per click. Don’t be afraid to spend money on it to grow sales and followers fast! Instagram ads are relatively new so strike now while you can still get great results from them. Like Facebook, the costs are only likely to go up in the future as more and more people realize how effective they can be!

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