Instagram was always considered the queen of social organic growth. Since the day it was created in 2010, users and advertisers have treasured Instagram’s most valuable asset – their massive organic reach on posts.
Users who knew how to create powerful content that was native to Instagram became famous influencers and some businesses based their entire growth strategy around organic reach on Instagram.
Alarms started to go off when Facebook aggressively reduced organic reach for advertisers back in 2012. Advertisers were sure that the same will happen with Instagram. Even at the end of 2016 when Facebook literally “killed” organic reach for advertisers, Instagram’s organic reach was still massive.
In the following years, reports started piling up from different sources noting that Instagram posts saw a growing decline in organic reach. Fast forward to June 2019, it seemed that a new algorithm change on Instagram even made things worse. The decline in organic reach and engagement we experienced with Facebook now hit Instagram! Advertisers reported an engagement drop of up to 70% and a decline of average reach up to 85%!
In business terms, this means one thing – what used to be free now costs money. If you previously had a free way of reaching a large number of your followers with every post that you made, now you need to pay for it. Eventually, organic reach will be close to zero and if you want to engage with most of your followers, you will have to pay.
There are thousands of articles that examine the death of organic reach but I am not writing this article to discuss the problem. I’d like to offer a solution.
When I saw it happening on Facebook, I expected organic reach to die soon on Instagram as well. I knew that you can never rely on FREE traffic as a sustainable source for your business. So how can we take brands that have been successful on Instagram and use paid ads to dramatically increase their reach and performance through their Instagram posts?
Is there a way to do so without regular ads, without the simple boost option on posts that rarely produces valuable results – a real way to leverage the platform and find a way to use the content that made the business successful in the first place? After an endless amount of trial and error and testing across different many ad accounts that spend six to seven figures, I built the wireframe for what I call the Instagram Funnel On Steroids!
Before you read further, you must understand that this funnel works effectively only for brands that have been successful in the past on Instagram and that have grown organically but have suffered under the new algorithm changes where they no longer reach the same amount users.
Let’s get right to it. The idea behind the funnel is simple. If your Instagram posts are what made you successful in the first place, why not capitalize to boost growth and performance? Why not find a way to get five times the reach on every post using paid ads, and find a way to make it profitable?
Here is a breakdown of how the funnel looks:
As you can see, campaigns will be divided by dates, as we don’t want to overpopulate our ad sets. Too many ads in each ad set can cause a decrease in performance and limited reach for each post. Ideally, the number of posts per ad set should be five to six ads. Ads will be the same in every one of the ad sets in a single campaign.
Because it’s a funnel, we want to include all of your posts in the campaigns to ensure they all get a chance to perform – you never know which ad might be most successful in terms of ROI.
If you have two or three posts per day, each campaign will cover two days only. The way that you group campaigns by dates solely depends on the number of posts you upload to Instagram. My recommendation is uploading two or three posts per day MAX on your Instagram profile.
Examining The Entire Structure
Now that you have seen the overview level, let’s discuss details.
First, for this campaign to be ROI driven, we will only create these campaigns under conversion objective. When every impression costs us money, we want our ads to be focused on driving sales, not driving likes or shares.
Next, instead of creating ads that look like our Instagram posts, we will use our Instagram posts as our ads. Most people are not aware that in conversion campaigns you can run campaigns using your existing posts from your Instagram or Facebook page.
Within seconds, your campaigns will be ready, featuring your Instagram posts that are already loaded with social proof and engagement. This gives them a massive advantage over new ads. The best thing about using existing posts as ads is that they appear organic to the user, and in case you use them in more than one ad set or campaign, social proof will all be added to the actual post.
Once you start using them as ads, you will notice that they start gaining massive amounts of new likes and comments and will quickly become your most engaging posts. You will get three for one using existing posts in conversion campaigns as you are optimizing for purchases only, but gaining new followers and massive engagement on the posts as a result of the campaigns!
Defining the audiences for the ad sets
- Instagram Engagers
As of now, we can’t simply target your followers on Instagram as we can do with Facebook ads.
Instead, we will need to create a custom audience in the audience section to create an audience for the people who interacted with our Instagram profile.
You will notice that you have a lot of options here. To save you time and money, we a/b tested more than 50 variations of Instagram audiences. The results were conclusive – the largest Instagram custom audiences provide the most cost-effective results. We will select everyone and will use 365 days since last engagement since this is the maximum amount of time that is supported. We will call this audience 365 Days – IG.
The logic is to segment users that engaged with our businesses on Instagram, yet give the optimization algorithm maximum freedom to select not only who is the most relevant audience for a specific post but also find the most cost-effective opportunities for delivery at a given moment.
- Existing customers
There are two ways to create an audience for your existing customers. You can upload a list of customer email addresses. it looks like this:
When you upload an email list of customers, Facebook will only be able to match the users who associate the same email address with both your order and Facebook. Expect a 50%-70% match rate. The second way to target your customers is by using the pixel to create an audience for all people who purchased in the last 180 days.
You can learn more here.
Using this method, you will track 100% of pixel purchases, but you will be limited to the last 180 days. The best practice is to use both in the same ad set to ensure you are targeting as many customers as possible.
- Pure pixel
The last audience in our campaign is called a pure pixel. Pure pixel is what it sounds like – absolute freedom for the Facebook algorithm. We use this targeting to allow full flexibility for the optimization algorithm to find the most cost-effective results using users’ characteristics and behavior with no filters or restrictions. You will simply duplicate the ad set and leave it completely broad without custom audiences or interests, only specifying your relevant demographics.
The logic behind the structure
We will use campaign budget optimization to allow Facebook to shift delivery and spend between the three groups based on where it predicts it will be able to provide the most optimal results. We use these three types of audience segmentations for the following reasons:
Notice how we achieve the three most important objectives in a conversion campaign. We use pure pixel to allow the algorithm to complete the freedom to find the most cost-effective opportunities in the market. This ad set also has the largest audience size which gives it an advantage in scaling the results of the campaign. Then, we use existing customers to fuel up the conversions of the campaign by providing an extremely high conversion rate which drives the actual cost per purchase way down, and the ROI way up!
Last, we use the 365 days Instagram Engagement audiences to ensure that our followers are exposed to our posts and continue to see every one of them. It’s the perfect combination and creates the three fundamentals that are vital for a successful campaign: a high engagement rate, a high conversion rate, and massive potential reach. And it’s all fueled by the algorithm optimization and campaign optimization to maximize the results.
Accelerating learning phase
The reason we use five to six different posts in each ad set and not a single post is simple. Our goal is to give the algorithm as much freedom to deliver the best results.
If we would have given one post per campaign, learning would take forever, and the likelihood to achieve positive results might be limited.
Using multiple posts per ad set does two amazing things. First, a shared learning process is created using all the ads. Instead of one post driving conversions, we now have many. That accelerates the learning phase of the ad set and learning is achieved faster. Second, when we give the algorithm five variables to choose from, delivery is more stable across the lifetime of the campaign.
Think about it from a logical standpoint. If I would give you five different gadgets to sell at the market instead of one, your sales wouldn’t depend on one specific item and you would be able to alter and diversify the items that you promote in the market based on supply and demand. The same thing applies to run multiple posts in an ad set. You allow the algorithm to dictate which post to show and when. More possibilities lead to more opportunities.
Why do we recommend five to six posts and not 10-15 or two to three? We tested many different variations. When we used too many, many of the posts in the ad sets didn’t get reach and it resulted in a very extreme range of engagement across our Instagram posts – some got a lot of engagement, and others didn’t get any. When we used two to three ads in every ad set, results were much less effective and the lifetime of campaigns was dramatically shorter because of low performance.
Because we are targeting audiences with different intent, our bidding should be different for each ad set. We use cost controls for all ad sets and don’t turn off any ad sets during the process. We only measure performance by a campaign level. Here is an example of how we set our bidding across ad sets.
Optimization and delivery
We adjust the bids of the ad sets based on a campaign level only. Meaning if the performance of the campaign is ROI positive, we increase the bids on ad set and campaign budget. We don’t pause any ad sets within a campaign – we only pause poorly performing campaigns.
Depending on your target CPA, we normally allow a campaign a testing budget of CPA times five before turning it off, meaning if the target CPA is $15, we will allow the campaign to run to $75 ad spend before deciding whether to end or continue. We need to allow enough time for the learning phase to take effect.
Generally, we would like to see the majority of our ad spend budget go towards posts that are within the last 30-45 days to ensure the items that are being promoted are relevant and available. The only campaigns that we leave running beyond these are top-performing campaigns that have excellent results and a massive amount of conversion data.
This is not a one-time strategy. It’s important to continue to promote all posts every week. Understand that this strategy takes weeks/months until it becomes profitable. Also, look at the bigger picture. Your brand will not only receive new customers, but you will also expand your presence on Instagram and gain massive amounts of followers, future collaboration requests, and brand engagement.
And you are wondering about the actual results?
If you have been following my work and have read my previous posts, you know that I never share screenshots of other accounts simply because they are not relevant to your business. ROI is not a universal metric unless someone is selling the same product as you are.
Here are some relevant performance highlights from using this strategy.
- Using our Instagram Funnel On Steroids, we noticed a 50% increase in followers as compared to regular ads that appear on Instagram.
- There was an uplift of a 200% average engagement rate on the posts.
- We noticed that when comparing this strategy vs regular ads strategy, there was an uplift in ROI as high as 280%.
- We saw an uplift in lifetime value for repeat customers as high as 200% in some campaigns.
If your Instagram presence is strong and you are experiencing a decrease in performance, I highly recommend implementing this strategy.
Following in the footsteps of Facebook, Instagram started to dramatically limit organic reach for businesses’ posts. In efforts to restore the power of promoting your business through Instagram, I created a funnel strategy called Instagram Funnel On Steroids that implements your entire Instagram profile into conversion objective campaigns. Using this revolutionary strategy, you will be able to create ROI performance campaigns using your Instagram posts only, while driving massive amounts of relevant engagement and followers. Also, you’ll be able to create an effective way to reach your existing followers and skyrocket the lifetime value of your existing loyal customers.