29 Nov 2019

Promotion on Instagram: where subscribers and sales come from

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Engaging an Instagram audience is not a trivial task. The methods for getting leads depend on the objectives of the account (reach, subscribers, sales), some of them can be free and some can be very expensive. Some of them are quite questionable, but depending on your objectives and the way you apply these methods, even they can work with flying colors.

We continue our series of publications based on the webinars organized by our partners Epicstars. In the previous episode we talked about arranging an Instagram profile and choosing between a personal and a business account. Today we are talking about the methods of acquiring new audience. Some of the methods are suitable for publishers, some are suitable for brands of advertisers, and some approaches will serve the purposes of all participants in the CPA market.

The methods for promoting an Instagram account are as follows:

Let’s consider each one of them in more detail.


Subscribers use hashtags to search for photos, accounts, services and products. This is a free method of driving organic traffic — its volume may not be very large, but it is definitely targeted traffic. However, placing hashtags is a skill to be learned:

  • You shouldn’t use frequently encountered hashtags, meaning the ones that have over 300-500 thousand references — they are unlikely to yield you any result (#london, #USA, #summer — they are totally irrelevant to you product and will not bring you customers). Choose the tags based on your keywords. Let us take an account of a beauty salon as an example. Hashtags #beauty, #hair, #nailart will not deliver any perceptible effect, because hundreds of thousands, if not millions of photos are tagged with them. Instead, use the tags related to your topic (#beauty_salon_soho, #nail_design_london, #balayagemoscow, #blond_barcelona), narrow down the search queries. The tags you are using are the ones the person should be entering in the search field — put yourself in the user’s place and figure out which phrases your potential customer/subscriber would use.
  • The tags also work well for segmenting the posts in your account, that is, for content navigation. You create brand hashtags (#brandname_reviews, #brandname_clients) and use them with the corresponding posts. This way you will not lead the user to other websites, because all the necessary information is available right on Instagram. Remember, these tags should be unique (so that when clicking on them the user sees only your posts on the subject in question).
  • Do not overdo it with the number of tags: even though Instagram allows us to use up to 30 hashtags in one post, it is better to limit yourself to the most important 10-15 tags. There is a small life hack that will allow you not only to use many hashtags at once, but also analyze their effectiveness. Start with preparing a tag cloud made of 100-150 hashtags related to your topic, split them into groups of 10 and attach to different posts. As a result your posts will appear in all the 100 search queries, yet there is no tag spam under every post.
  • It is believed that the tags in the body of the post don’t look very nice (in fact this kind of content in the image description carries no valuable semantic weight). Therefore you can place the tags in the first comment, so that they do not jump out at the reader, or hide them (write a separate post in the first comment or leave an emoji and place the tags in the reply to that comment).

Mass following and mass liking

This tool raises a lot of controversy and questions. Mass following (and mass liking) is the automation of subscribing and liking activities in the hope of getting a mutual reaction. In the summer of 2019 Instagram did everything to restrain mass following, and now this action raises even more questions than before. You should not rely on this instrument as the main source of attracting your customers, because in essence these are shady mechanics, that the social network is not particularly fond of and the users find it cloying. It no longer brings such results as three or four years ago.

Many beginner bloggers start wo ndering: perhaps, I should get subscriber bots first, and start promoting my account after that. If you’re choosing between sub bots and mass following, it is better to go for the second option, collect the first couple of thousand of subscribers, and after that work with organic tools, paid advertising, as well as put more effort in the content. Naturally, conversion to mutual subscriptions in this case will be less than with the bots, that are ready for anything. But these will be actual users, who actually found something special in your account since they decided to subscribe in return.

There are also positive examples. Mass following and mass liking go well if you need to interact, for example, with the audience of an event you’ve attended. This event is likely to have its own brand hashtag, and you can gather an audience that published posts with that hashtag, using programs, and automatically like the posts with that hashtag. If you were a speaker or a partner at that event, perhaps, people noticed and remembered you, and that would be an additional point of contact to encourage them to follow you on Instagram.

Nevertheless we would still like to remind you that mass following and mass liking are shady mechanics, that are not legal under the rules of the network operation, which means that all these tools are unofficial. It is important to study the information regarding the limits, the rules and the working conditions in the social network in order to avoid getting banned and blocked. The current situation develops in such a way, that with increasing frequency the accounts using such services get if not totally blocked, than banned from specific activities (for example, liking or posting), they can also get “shadow banned” — their posts simply do not appear in the feeds of their followers.

Auto greeting in Direct

This is a good tool that helps convert new followers into customers, especially during the periods when you are actively advertising. If you have launched an advertising campaign (targeting in Instagram), set up an auto greeting, that will appear in the user’s personal messages right after subscribing.

This tool is sometimes regarded as “spam”, but it all depends on the way you use it. If you send out meaningless messages, like “Thank you for subscribing, follow our posts”, the user thinks: “Good Lord, why else would I subscribe?!”, he gets a negative impression and that could make him lose interest in following you (he will take this greeting for intrusiveness). But if you manage to pack some kind of an offer or a bonus, a checklist, a video into that first message, in other words, if you give something useful to the subscriber, he will want to interact with you (answer a query, show interest), and that will have a positive effect on your further relations with that user. It increases the chances that he will come to you later to use your services.


This is a mechanism assisting in attracting new followers to your profile, that is why contests can and should be used, but with a clear understanding of their purposes and objectives, i.e. why you hold them (to avoid having a contest merely for the sake of contest).

Contest can be either interactive, or creative:

  • Interactive contests include such activities as “tag a friend in your comment”, “keep your comment the last for the longest time”, “spell out a word without getting interrupted”… In other words, any activity that does not require serious intellectual effort from the user, but aims at interacting with the content.
  • During creative contests the user needs to draw, take a photo, shoot a video on a given topic, post something with a specific hashtag, come up with a name for a photo — essentially apply imagination and minimal art skills.

Interactive contests always attract more participants than creative ones. The main condition of any contest should be subscribing and tagging one or two friends in the comments, in order to increase the coverage of the contest.

Contests with partners are very effective. For example, there are two accounts belonging to a hotel and a restaurant, they have approximately the same audience and each of the accounts offers the certificate for the services of their partner as a prize. This way the accounts exchange audiences and get an increase in their followers + this gives a positive effect on the images of the brands involved.

You need to understand that after any contest people will be unsubscribing, it is inevitable. 30% to 50% of the people who joined the contest will unsubscribe. These are often promo hunters, freebie lovers, and there is no escaping them, but they can be worked with, too. Later they may become active followers, write comments and react to your Stories, and you need to make content for them too.

The results of the contest are best revealed in the format of a video or a live broadcast in order to avoid the comments that the contest is rigged or phony. There are special services that allow you to determine the winners. They allow you to choose a winner randomly, based on the criteria that you specify. As for the prize, it is better not to give out iPhones and other “universal”, abstract gifts, but to present the prizes connected with your brand — a certificate for your services or your product.


This tool is suitable for pe rsonal blogs, because it drives sales through expertise. Marathons can be personal (during the marathon the participants should publish posts mentioning you and your personal hashtag), or group (when several experts broadcast something every day, publish useful posts and exchange audiences). This is a good option if you are a coach, psychologist, designer, marketing professional — this tool is great for personal brand development.

It is best to participate in marathons where there are not too many experts, otherwise the subscribers will have a hard time following everyone. The most comfortable number of experts is 10-15 persons — both for the subscribing users and for you as an expert, because your task is to capture their interest so that they remained your followers after the marathon. Adequate marathon duration is 3-10 days. And do not forget to come up with an original hashtag that would help you track the posts!


Giveaway is a promotional mechanism, where 30-40 sponsors chip in together for the prizes and promotion and create a separate account for the giveaway (raffle). They pay for advertising with a top blogger, the blogger promotes their joint account encouraging the audience to subscribe to it and to the accounts of the sponsors in order to get the chance to win valuable prizes (laptops, smartphones, etc). A lot of people fond of freebies and prizes show up, they simply subscribe to these accounts (with no intention of following them further), and once the contest is over they start unsubscribing en masse.

It is not similar to the expertise thing, like in a marathon, because in a marathon you have a chance to get a person interested in you and your content. In a giveaway this possibility is virtually non-existent. Therefore, if you are getting into this thing, you will have to go from one giveaway to another without stopping just to maintain the number of subscribers at the same level.

Giveaways raise many questions: is it worth getting mixed up with them or not? The answer is: perhaps better not. The main problem of this format is that it pushes you into an endless vicious cycle: people subscribing — unsubscribing — and another giveaway and followers.

Giveaways have a very severe effect on statistics: in fact, they are killing it. Your coverage drops heavily, your users stop seeing you and it doesn’t come to any good.

Untargeted audience arrives: if you are being promised that for your 30 000 rubles you would get 30 000 followers, perhaps, that will be the case in the beginning, but after the contest 20 000 will unsubscribe. At the same time, everyone remaining will be too expensive and not very active, and in reality you will pay for a real audience more than you were originally promised. If the giveaway organizers “guarantee the arrival of subscribers”, then with 100% probability you can expect bots driving up the numbers, because nobody can guarantee a large number of participants in advance. After all, when fewer subscribers come than promised, the organizers will drive up the numbers, and it will turn out that you used your money to buy very expensive bots. There is also a risk of getting banned — people may start complaining about the giveaway account and its sponsors, if they cannot subscribe to all of them at once. In addition, many begin to complain after the contest out of spite that they did not win, and that can lead to negative consequences (all the way to the ban).

Targeted advertising

In Instagram there are two ways to set up targeted advertising: with the “Promote” button in the account itself or via the advertising account in the AdsManager on Facebook.

If you are setting it up via Instagram (when we are dealing with a business account) each post comes with a button “Promote” under it. Once clicked it helps set up an audience, give it a name, choose its interests, GEO, sex and age, set a budget, duration and send the ad into rotation. This is one of the simplest ways for beginners, it is intuitive and can bring decent results, but still it is better to study how to set up advertising via a Facebook account.

On Facebook you get more customization options, for example, retargeting (impressions for those who have already visited your website), you can upload your own audience (if you already have a database in the format of e-mails and phone numbers), create LookAlike audiences (made of people who are similar to your clients). Also, from the beginning of 2019, it became possible to configure impressions for those users who performed actions in your account (visited, liked, saved posts, wrote messages). This will give you a chance to interact with an audience that has already been warmed up, instead of just looking for some cold interest-based audience, that has not had a first contact with you yet.

1) To open advertising options you should push “Promote” button under he photo in your business account. 2) This is what a targeted advertising post looks like in Instagram feed.

It is preferable, that the creative image you use for advertising include a text message. Ideally this should be a call for action or a time- and quantity-limited offer. You can also use humor in the advertisement, so that the user does not immediately catch on that this is an ad (and, well, enjoys interacting with it).

If you are using advertising in Stories, be sure to use arrows right on the image to point to the link you are attaching or “Swipe up” phrase, so that people understand what they need to do to see the full offer, because unfortunately, not everyone knows what they should click on.

Buttons “Shop Now” and “See More” with arrows help, but GIF-sticker “Swipe Up” will help user to understand what exactly he should do.

Make users understand what you expect of them — tell them outright what they should do.

You also need to break through banner blindness and work with it. If the user spots an advertisement at first glance, his mind automatically blocks the information in the post, he simply becomes unreceptive. Try to circumvent these “mind games”, stand out, do not use simply pretty (yet conventional) pictures, but creatives that make the user pause in the process of endless feed scrolling and take a closer look.

Let’s also talk about how you should not do it.

First of all, you need to take care of the format of the creatives that you place so that they fit in the frame of the screen, so that the image would be cropped the right way. Another important point: when you give personalized advertising, for example you say “Hey, girl”, you mean that you target female viewers, therefore you should establish the right targeting settings.

Advertising with bloggers

Although this is not a built-in tool inside Instagram itself, the effectiveness of the method has already been proven by many advertisers. The market for working with bloggers is structured this way: there are advertisers, there is a target audience to be interacted with, and there are bloggers who have the target audience that the advertisers need.

Blogger selection and formats of work with them

You can work with bloggers in different ways:

  • Through agencies. This format is suitable for large companies with clear KPIs, budgets, and understanding of goals and objectives. As a rule, all the work is performed on a turnkey basis. The agency works for a commission, it varies from 30% to 100% of the total advertising budget that you allocate on bloggers.
  • Blogger exchanges and platforms. This is a way to automate the process of selecting a blogger, analyzing his audience and making a deal. Here in one directory you can find all the bloggers of the major social networks, see the price of a post, statistics, receive a guarantee of a safe transaction (when you do not transfer the money to the blogger directly, but put it on the balance of the platform and it goes to the blogger only when the assignment is completed properly and on time, without breach of deadlines). You establish the conditions and select the bloggers, who fit your parameters and are prepared to work with you.
  • Search for bloggers directly. Through hashtags, geo location, using the data from competitors, checking out your followers and those whom they follow. Choose those followers that best match the portrait of the target audience, find the intersection in their subscription database, and work specifically with these influencers. If the influencer’s audience is fairly homogeneous, then the chances are high that his followers will become your customers.

Blogger size: TOP and MICRO

The effectiveness of advertising in a blogger’s account depends not only on your budgets and the size of his follower base, but also on the tasks that your brand focuses on:

  • Microbloggers. Influencers and accounts with up to 100 000 subscribers. These are suitable for small and medium-sized businesses. Their followers are not particularly spoiled by advertising, they have an involved live audience, that generates real conversions (subscribers, traffic, comments, involvement). They have their disadvantages: they may be more irresponsible and not entirely professional in their work with advertising content.
  • Top bloggers (celebrities, actors, singers, TV personalities) with 100-300К+ followers. These are suitable for large brands and image projects, where there is no straightforward objective “to get a click on the link”. Conversion to direct sales will most likely be very low, and CPM (Cost-per-Mille, the cost of 1000 impressions) will be high. The primary goal of placing advertising with such bloggers is to get maximum coverage, increase brand awareness, announce the launch of a new product or service.

Analysis of the results of placement

When you begin to work with bloggers, remember to track the results of that work and collect your own base. Be sure to enter all the results in a table, customize it to fit your requirements. It must contain the following data: blogger’s nickname, link to or screenshot of the advertising post, parameters that are important specifically for your business (coverage, views, traffic, click-throughs, number of subscribers). And be sure to indicate the cost of advertising placement in order to calculate how much each client/follower has actually cost you. When you’ve worked with 20-30 bloggers, you will be able to observe the f ull picture, and you will know which creatives, bloggers and audiences work and which do not.

Basic mistakes

Naturally, you are bound to make mistakes in the process of work — nobody’s perfect — that is what tests and experiments are for. But to make sure you do not waste your time and money, we will talk about the most common misconceptions and mistakes, from which you can protect yourself at the start, as well as give you some tips:

  • Careless approach. That is when you think that posting cat photos and memes is sufficient and there is no need to bother with content, that the subscribers will flock to purchase your product or service. In fact, working with social networks requires a systematic approach, strategy and planning, just as with any other promotion channel.
  • Lack of objectives. That is when you don’t understand why you want to advance in social networks, why you need Instagram, and why Instagram needs you. Decide what useful (targeted) actions Instagram can bring for your business or personal brand and what benefit your content will bring to users.
  • Absence of content-plan. That is when you haven’t prepared in advance, when you spend every day randomly looking for things to post. As a result, irregular posting leads to a drop in coverage, declining statistics and the loss of your own style.
  • Unengaging content. Instagram is a visual social network, first of all people pay attention to the picture, and only after that they inquire what there is inside. Only high-quality photos are selling, pixelated out-of-focus images look like you really do not care what the viewer thinks. You don’t need professional photo equipment — even modern budget smartphones take great pictures, and there are plenty free lessons on mobile shooting on the Internet. Light, composition, plot, refinement — spend a couple of days learning the basics and polish your skills in actual practice.
  • Excess of selling content. When the user sees “Buy it! Buy it!” in every post, it is off-putting. People come for useful and interesting content. If they find it in your account, they will purchase what you offer anyway without openly advertising posts.
  • Don’t run off in all directions. If your resources and budget are limited, focus on one social network, the one where your target audience prevails. Create a community in one social network and start getting results from there. Only after that it is worth trying to experiment with formats and create channels on other platforms.
  • Invest in paid advertising. Sadly you will have to spend money on targeting and/or posting with bloggers: even though free traffic and search traffic work here, they are unlikely to take you to a wide audience in a short period of time. Remember: the more you analyze advertising campaigns and advertising with bloggers, the more you compare them, the less money you spend and the cheaper each next target action costs you. Which leads us to the last paragraph…
  • Analyze everything you do, what results your actions bring. Draw conclusions, start over and try again. This is an on-going process of continuous improvement — it is the essence of development, and even if something is not working out for you at the moment, it is not the end. It just means that you have not tried everything yet.
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