How to gain followers using Instagram Ads

With the release of Instagram’s business profiles, advertising has become a lot easier for marketers and brands, but what does it mean for people wanting to promote their personal Instagram? I did a few tests and the results are interesting, but aren’t exactly what I’d call great value for money.


Promoting a post is as simple as navigating to the post in your profile and pressing the Promote button. This process is simple however it also sacrifices some much needed functionality, because as soon as a post has been promoted you lose all ability to edit the post after that. I’m not sure of the reason why Instagram did this, but it does makes it hard to choose a caption. On a promoted post I would like to add a call to action in the caption, however if I edit the caption to include one it will forever be there.

Selecting the right post

You want to choose a post that best represents your profile. Unfortunately you cannot promote photos that are portrait — only square or landscape. Portrait photos are automatically cropped which is a little annoying. It would have been easy for Instagram to add a crop tool so you can choose the best part of the photo.

“Cropped automatically”, who thought that was a good idea?

Choosing an Audience

Instagram lets you choose between creating your own audience or finding one for you. This makes a huge difference — you definitely want to create your own. I ran some tests to see the difference in impressions and engagement between the two (Automatic and Custom) audiences.

Selecting a Custom audience results in way more impressions and a higher engagement rate. Original posts have significantly higher engagement, but that is expected.

You get to pick the audiences location, interests, age and gender. I was surprised with how refined you can make the audience. For the underwater photo, I targeted the audience that I thought would appreciate the post the best. I chose English speaking countries, aimed at males and females between 14–40 years old. The keywords I used (GoPro, Hawaii, underwater, snorkelling etc.) were descriptive of the photo. Setting a custom audience clearly makes a difference as the table below shows.

Creating a custom audience wins out in every statistic.

So after setting out to grow my account how much did it cost to gain a follower. Here’s the bad news; from the limited testing I’ve done I think it’s safe to say it’s not a feasible way of growing account.

$36 for 100 followers is not the way you’re going to get instafamous.

Don’t get these numbers confused with those sites that sell 1000 followers for $5. They are fake followers and a waste of time. The followers gained in this process are real and active.

Issues with Instagram Ads

The promotions are catered towards actual businesses with the call to action on the promotion being ‘Visit your website’ or ‘Call or visit your business’. I’d like to see a third option being ‘View Profile’ or ‘Follow’. I selected the website option and used a link direct to my profile. Not the ideal scenario as the link opens the web version of instagram and doesn’t navigate directly to my profile within the app — I thought about adding the URL scheme but they are different for iOS and Android so it wouldn’t work for everyone.

The extended UI is not all native code so it does not have the same polish as the rest of the app. I experienced a number of issues and crashes throughout the Promotion and adding payments process. When trying to add a PayPal account I end up on a random Facebook profile (Matthew Rizzo). Turns out his Facebook username is so I’m assuming theres some broken links in the app that ends up navigating to Matthew’s profile.

So until Instagram adds a ‘Follow’ or ‘View Profile’ action button which I believe would dramatically increase the amount of followers gained per promotion — I’d say leave it to actual business/services to advertise using Instagram Ads.

My Instagram profile can be viewed here.