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The marketer's guide to a winning Instagram strategy

The marketer's guide to a winning Instagram strategy Adam Berke

With more than half a billion users and 200,000 active advertisers, Instagram is expected to top $3.2 billion in revenue this year. Remember when some thought $1 billion was a crazy price tag for the acquisition? Their growth shows no sign of slowing. In fact, it's expected that half of all social network users will be using the app by 2017. Fueled by such high growth, Instagram is quickly becoming a channel marketers can't afford to ignore.

People are spending an increasing amount of time on mobile devices, and within mobile devices, they're spending an increasing amount of time in apps. The massive amount of engagement on Instagram is a big part of that trend and marketers need to be where the people are. However, despite its massive reach, it's still a relatively new environment for ads with the ad platform only becoming fully available at the end of 2015. As with any new platform, especially one built on a native ad format, best practices take some time to emerge. With the first phase of adoption under our belt, here are a few tips for making the most of the platform.

Connect with shoppers who are ready to buy

Instagram's visual focus has transformed it into an e-commerce hub. Using the platform for things like loyalty campaigns or special discounts will drive more on-site sales for your company. 70 percent of Instagram users have searched for a brand, and more than 40 percent say that they follow, or would follow, a brand to access special offers. Shoppers are coming to Instagram with the intent to buy, something marketers should be quick to capitalize on.

Even though Instagram's push into e-commerce is relatively recent, it seems to be paying off. Instagram boasts the highest browser-to-shopper conversion rate of any social media platform -- meaning advertisers who invest in it are likely to see positive returns on their campaigns. Since 75 percent of users take some action after seeing an Instagram post, marketers have an opportunity to turn passive consumers into loyal customers.

Target the right user with the right image

This year, Instagram introduced a major new capability for brands: Dynamic ads. You can use these ads to show the most relevant product images based on a shopper's browsing history and purchase behavior. Personalized dynamic creative is a must have for many verticals, especially online retailers, and has been measured to increase ROI by 44 percent. With the help of a Facebook Marketing Partner, advertisers can now run these ad units across all inventory sources.

Turn your fans into content creators

It's well documented that Millennials trust and remember user-generated content more than traditional media. Search for hashtags on Instagram related to your product, like #cycling if you're selling bicycles. If you find great content (and you will), ask these customers if you can use their photos in your marketing.

Hyatt, for example, has used user-generated Instagram content in its email marketing. When a customer shows interest in a destination, such as Hawaii, the hotel chain will use location tags to identify images of the islands taken by other users on Instagram and include them in emails to the customer. Since users typically look for authenticity from companies, marketing campaigns that include non-professional content are driving sales more successfully than overly polished ads.

Tag customers in comments and share their photos on your brand's account to create a personal connection with your audience. Posts that mention users see up to 56 percent more engagement than posts that ignore the practice. The more engagement you can generate on Instagram, the more likely your product will come to mind when your customer is ready to buy.

Don't make me think

Nothing ends a sale faster than creating confusion for your customers. Help guide them along with Instagram's eight call-to-action (CTA) buttons: Book Now, Contact Us, Download, Learn More, Shop Now, Sign Up, Watch More, and soon, Donate More. Using CTA buttons will help you drive customers to your site and close sales.

The days of posts with a "link in the bio" caption are over. Instagram's direct engagement tools can help drive app installs, send traffic to a landing page, or encourage your customers to sign up for your email marketing. Since CTA buttons can also appear as full-width banners below your sponsored post, Instagram advertisers are seeing fewer accidental engagements and a greater return on their ad spend. The visual app's format lends itself to different metrics than you might use on Facebook. Expand your focus beyond click-based metrics to hone in on how users actually engage with your ads.

Cross-device is here to stay

Instagram is a truly mobile-first platform. Since mobile apps account for over 52 percent of all the time spent on digital media, adding Instagram into your advertising mix is an essential part of any cross-device strategy -- one that aims to identify and reach users across channels at any time. With 43 percent of marketers using technology to implement a cross-device strategy, it's quickly becoming table stakes for small businesses and large corporations alike.

As users continue flocking to Instagram, marketers should give it a serious look as they build out their paid social strategy. With its fast-growing user base and wide range of direct engagement opportunities, Instagram is becoming an essential brand opportunity. Marketers have an obligation to take Instagram seriously, or risk losing out to those who do.

Adam Berke (@adamberke) is an online marketing industry expert, and he is president and CMO of AdRoll, a growth technology used by 25,000 brands worldwide to accelerate their businesses. Bringing his experience working with an unparalleled diversity...

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