Why you shouldn’t run ads from Instagram, ever

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I’ve made this mistake so you don’t have to. Running the same ad from Facebook Ads Manager gives you 20–30x better results.

Ifyou’re using Instagram business or creator account, you will always see that Boost post button. So tempting to click. You see that you can spend only one or two dollars a day, and you thought, that’s less than the price of a cup of coffee! Why not give it a try?

Well, here’s why running ads from Instagram sucks: you get a lot of likes, but it doesn’t translate into growth in follower numbers. I made that mistake and I’m sharing the results here so you don’t have to fall to the same trap. And after a few experiments that I used to grow my Instagram followers from 0 to 15,000 in 2 months, I figured out a better way to run ads on Instagram, not from Instagram, which made my cost per click (CPC) 20–30 times cheaper.

In this article, I’ll talk about:

  1. The limitation of Instagram ads manager
  2. Using Facebook Ads Manager to run ads on Instagram
  3. How to optimize your ads even more and get cheaper CPC

If you’re a beginner, I’d encourage you to read from the start. If you just want to know how to optimize your ads to run on Instagram from Facebook Ads Manager, you can jump to this section.

Let’s dive right in!

The limitation of Instagram ads manager

Instagram is smart. They want to make running ads as easy as possible. In contrast to the confusing Facebook Ads Manager interface, running ads from Instagram is laughably easy.

Its simplicity comes with a tradeoff: it’s effectiveness. You can only boost your post as is, with no way to preview or edit your ads.

If your goal is to get followers instead of just likes, boosting your posts on Instagram is a waste of money.

It’s actually easy to understand why Instagram ads are not effective. See the picture below — can you notice the difference?

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The left one’s CPC is $3. The right one? $0.1.

The right one is still not a great ad, but it still performs 30 times better than the left one. I know, I can’t believe it either: 30 times better. And it’s simply because I replaced the long caption of the post with a clear action item: Swipe up for more tips!

Here’s why Instagram ads manager sucks: You can’t edit your ads.

When you boost your post, the caption of the post becomes the caption of the ad. This looks particularly awful on Instagram stories as you can see above — it’s way too long and the screen looks too busy. That’s a shame since ads on Instagram stories receive twice the engagement than ads on Instagram feed¹.

When your ad’s caption is too long, people have to make two decisions: Do I want to read this? After they said yes to the first question, they are faced with the second decision: Do I want to click this ad?

The second ad’s caption, meanwhile, is so simple. It’s a call to action — to swipe up. There’s only one decision: Do I want to swipe up?

Straightforward call to action = more action.

And you can only make your caption more straightforward and actionable by using Facebook Ads Manager.

What I’m going to show you next is how to use the Facebook Ads Manager to grow your Instagram account follower.

Using Facebook Ads Manager to run ads on Instagram

This guide is for you if you want to grow your Instagram followers through ads. It’s not useful if you only want to get likes and engagement on your post.

(Although, if you fall under the second category, think again. What’s the point of spending money just to get a one-off like? Isn’t it better to grab their attention to follow you once, and you’ll subsequently get more likes from them?)

Facebook Ads Manager has a confusing interface and its vast options can be overwhelming. The key is to ignore everything else² and just set up the steps I laid out here, as they are the most impactful ones to reduce your CPC.

Step 1: Choose Traffic as your campaign objective.

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Traffic means you’re driving people to a URL of your choice. This URL can be your website/blog, or it can be your Instagram profile.

Choose Traffic, ignore the other options, and click Continue.

Step 2: Choose Website as the Traffic destination.

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This option is already pre-selected for you, so don’t change it and you’re good.

Step 3: Set up your Audience

If you’re opening Facebook Ads Manager while reading this post, you’ll realized that I skipped Dynamic Creative and Offer section. Good — just skip them. Told ya the key is to ignore everything but the key setups.

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You need to define 4 things:

  1. Location
  2. Age
  3. Gender
  4. Interests

If you don’t have a clear target audience yet, do not overthink this part. Just fill out the location with your country (United Kingdom, United States, etc), and leave the age and gender broad. Later you’ll be able to see which audience interacts the most with your ads.

The most important part that you can’t skip is the Interests. Thanks to all the data Facebook has collected, you can choose pretty much any Interests imaginable.

Step 4 (IMPORTANT): Set up your placement!

This part is easily skippable as Facebook doesn’t want you to edit this, but it’s actually one of the most important steps. Automatic placement is pre-selected, and, oh, Facebook also says that it’s recommended!

Try harder, Facebook.

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You want to choose Manual placements. This is so that you can choose to run your ads only on Instagram.

If your goal is to grow your Instagram followers, it makes sense to only show your ads to people who ARE using Instagram.

The moment you choose Manual placements, more options will appear.

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All four are preselected. Nice try, Facebook. Untick everything but Instagram.

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Now here’s your decision and I’m not going to make it for you. There are three places you can run ads on Instagram: Feed, Stories, or Explore. You can choose to run it only in one, two, or all three.

I personally like running ads only on Instagram Stories as it brings me the best result.

If you choose to run in all three, make sure you customize the way your ad looks on Feed/Explore vs Stories to get the best result. Simply put, Feed/Explore is landscape while Stories is portrait. Running the exact same ad on both won’t look good.

Step 5: Choose your budget

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Ignore the top part and focus on Budget and schedule.

How much is the ideal daily budget and duration? I did my research and experiments, and my conclusion is: at least $5/day, for at least 5 days.

Online ads are much more superior than traditional ads (such as on TV or printed magazines) because online ads are powered by machine learning. By the most stupid definition, machine learning is a machine that learns. It learns how people are reacting to your ads: who clicked them and who didn’t. The machine then learns to show your ads to more people who are more likely to click them.

The machine needs enough data and time to learn, so you have to give it enough budget to show the ads to sufficient numbers of people, and enough time to pay off its learning curve. This is how a typical campaign looks like:

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As you can see, the first day is basically a learning phase — the machine is still figuring out whom to show your ads to. You don’t want to cut your ads on your second or third date as it just starts to be smarter.

Important note: Do not edit your ads when it’s running as it can cause the ad to repeat its learning phase!

Step 6: Set up your ad’s image and copy

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Choose Create Ad. Do not choose Use existing post because you won’t be able to edit the caption, and that’s the whole point of using Facebook Ads Manager.

This is where it gets slightly more complicated if you want to get the biggest bang for your bucks. If you want to run ads on Feed/Explore, and Stories, it’s best to create different ads. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Different ad format: I’ve mentioned this before: Feed/Explore is square/landscape while Stories is portrait. Running the exact same ad on both won’t look good.
  2. Different action: On Stories, people don’t click your ads, they swipe up. On Feed/Explore, they click. Remember that you want to give super clear instructions to your audience to take the action.

You can choose either Carousel or Single image or video. I find Carousel (which is basically several images or videos) to give slightly better results.

For Single Image or video

Follow this three simple steps:

  1. Upload your image/video. You can use the same media from your Instagram post.
  2. Add your Primary text, which is basically the text that will show up below your media. Make this your call to action.
  3. Insert your Website URL, which is your Instagram account (e.g. instagram.com/kitchen.bible).
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See the middle bar? You can use it to preview your ads in different placement types. It’s a powerful action that’s not available on Instagram ads manager.

Here’s another reason why Instagram ads manager sucks: You can’t preview your ads.

Not able to preview your ads is like not able to check how you look in the mirror before you go to an important date or meeting.

Below is how the same ad looks when previewed as Instagram feed ad.

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As you can see above, the same call to action (‘Swipe up to see more baking tips’) doesn’t make much sense when put as Instagram feed. That’s why it’s important to create different ads for different placement types.

For Carousel

The steps are very similar to using a single image or video:

  1. Upload your image/video one by one. You can use the same media from your Instagram post.
  2. Add the call to action on the Headline section.
  3. Insert your Website URL, which is your Instagram account (e.g. instagram.com/kitchen.bible).
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Tadaa! Click Confirm and you’re good to go.

Now you might still have more questions and doubts. “Deb, that ad above isn’t great at all! The texts are too small and I don’t know what exactly you’re trying to promote.” or “But Deb, you Instagram is sharing baking tips. Mine is showing food photos with recipes. If I use the same method you described, it won’t look good.”

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The same method but with different image — hmmph, doesn’t look amazing, does it?

I’m so glad you said that! That brings us to the third part: How to create an image/video purposefully for ads and get even more actions.

Optimizing your ads even more

We’ve been lazy so far — we’re just utilizing the same image we already have and just playing around with the caption. But if you really want to get the best results, you need to create something purposefully for ads. Here’s why: Your ads are competing with a million other ads. Some of those ads are made professionally by agencies.

If you’re just using your existing posts, you won’t get the best results.

I’m not saying that you have to pay a professional to do this — quite the opposite, you can very easily do this yourself. I make all of my ads and posts on Canva, a design tool for non-designers. Here’s an example of the ad I made:

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That ad has $0.07 CPC, 42 times lower than when I was just boosting my post.

I’m not claiming that my ad is amazing. A professional perhaps can make it a hundred times better. But it still performs 42 times better than just boosting my post.

If you want to start making your own ad to drive people to your Instagram account, here are some tips I can give:

  1. Think of the main value of your Instagram account. What will your followers get by following you?
  2. Give that value upfront. In the most basic principle of social interactions, people are more willing to give you something if you’ve done something nice for them. On my ad above, I give away three baking tips. If you want more, you’ve got to follow me. And guess what? People do.
  3. Grab their attention. People make a decision in a split second whether they want to read your ad or simply move on. Animations or videos are good for this — for example, the animated arrow next to the word ‘Swipe up’ is much more effective than a static one.

If you forgot everything I said…

Just remember:

  • Running ads from Instagram to get more followers is a waste of money.
  • Stop doing it, bookmark this article until you have time to properly create an ad from Facebook to run on Instagram.
  • Even better, create an image or video purposefully for ads to get the best results. Highlight the value proposition of your account in the ad!

What’s your experience with Facebook vs Instagram ads? Let me know in the comment below!

YOU MIGHT ALSO BE INTERESTED in the 5 tactics I used to grow my Instagram followers in 2 months.


¹ Based on an experiment by Agora Pulse

² Another obvious limitation of Instagram ads manager is that you can’t optimize your budget. On Facebook Ads Manager, you can run A/B test, run different ads in your campaign, and figure out which combinations of ad creatives, audience, and landing pages performs the best. I didn’t talk about this in detail, as it’s going to get too technical and confusing. This is why people use Instagram ads manager in the first place — it’s simpler.

Disclosure: I used to work at Facebook for 3 years (2016–2019), in which I didn’t touch Facebook nor Instagram Ads Manager. Everything I said here is based on my experience and experiments in my personal time.

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