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May 17, 202112 min read

Instagram advertising 101: a guide to social commerce.

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by Tara Johnson

Today, nearly 70% of shoppers look to Instagram for their next purchase. With social at the forefront of everyday interactions, it makes sense for brands to push marketing out through these channels to reach the most valuable audiences possible.

Savvy marketers know by now that social commerce is here to stay and brands who leverage emerging platforms are well positioned to turn those coveted “likes” into dollar bills.

In the following post, Klarna agency partner, Tinuiti, covers the value of social commerce in 2021 as it relates to one of the profitable channels available today: Instagram.

What is Social Commerce?

Social commerce is when you buy or sell a product directly from a social media platform; everything from browsing to product discovery to checkout is done on a single social media channel. Many of today’s social media platforms allow social commerce: from Facebook to Pinterest to Instagram.

For example, if a shopper likes a dress they see on Instagram, they can click the image of the dress and instantly be shown product details and price information, as well as the option to check out and buy.

How to advertise on Instagram like an expert.

Before we jump into advertising, let’s make sure you have the basics set up. The first thing you need to do is create a business page on Facebook (if you don’t already have one) and create a free Business Profile on Instagram.

Right now there are several ways you can advertise natively on Instagram.

Instagram allows you to track the performance of your branded accounts, customize your target audience based on your marketing strategy, and engage with your customers—all from a single platform.

Before you launch the ad, you will need to determine the length of time your ad will run and its budget ceiling. In order to get the most out of the Instagram ad offerings, you need to be familiar with the different kinds of Instagram ads available.

Instagram Ad Types 101.

Instagram Ads come in the following varieties:

  • Stories ads
  • Photo ads
  • Video ads
  • Carousel ads
  • Collection ads
  • Ads in Explore

Let’s go into each in more detail.

Instagram Stories: play into the authentic feel.

This option allows brands to insert ads into a user’s Stories feed for a limited time. Stories can either be composed of photo slides or a pre-recorded video.

Over 500 million people use Stories a day, so this should be one of the top priorities for any brand’s advertising strategy. At Tinuiti, we frequently experiment with creative across various formats to determine what works best for our clients.

“Play with native elements when designing ads for Instagram Stories. Test text overlays and design elements that have the look-and-feel of an organic Story post. Try using less polished video and tap into influencer or user-generated content to make your brand more relatable.”

— Suzie Chudzik, Paid Social Strategist at Tinuiti

Photo ads: keep it simple but effective.

Instagram photo ads are simple and common, but don’t let that fool you. They’re effective and cost-efficient, and are very easy to make.

Photo ads consist primarily of a single photo, an interesting caption, and one or multiple hashtags. You can make existing Instagram photo posts into hashtags just by clicking the “Promote” button.

Video ads: inspire customers with dynamic footage.

Consumers love video content, and studies show the interest and demand is only increasing, with 54% saying they would like to see more video content from their favorite brands and businesses.

Video ads have the potential to be more eye-catching and compelling than their still image counterparts, and allow for up to 120 seconds of full-motion video and sound. Today, these video ads are available in either landscape or square format.

Carousel ads and Collection ads: showcase multiple products at the same time.

While it’s been said that a “picture is worth a thousand words,” sometimes a thousand words is simply not enough.

Instagram’s photo carousel option gives creators and brands the opportunity to add up to 10 individual images in one post, with dots at the bottom of the first photo shown indicating there are others to scroll through, and a total photo count in the upper right corner. This ad type allows you to upload plenty of content for users to browse in case you want to feature a specific product or line in depth.

“Collections” is another unique ad type that places ads in the Instagram news feed where it will be much easier for users to discover and browse through ad content. A collection ad includes a cover image or video, followed by four product images. When someone clicks on the Collection Ad, they will be taken to an Instant Experience, which is a landing page that further engages with the viewer and increases interest.

Keep in mind, social creative doesn’t always have to be expensive. You don’t necessarily have to have the marketing budget of Nike to advertise fun user-generated content (like a product video or a good customer review). Your budget doesn’t have to be a lot but your ad strategy does have to be well targeted—which is what we’ll dive into in the next section.

Instagram Targeting & Audience Building.


Instagram ads offer filters and targeting options so that brands can better reach their ideal audiences. Instagram’s Ad Manager lets you manually set targets based on:

  • Location
  • Demographics
  • Interests
  • Behaviors
  • Custom audiences
  • Lookalike audiences

The Instagram Ad platform also offers automated targeting based on the above data points.


Nurturing leads is marketing 101 and maintaining a strong focus on retargeting is an effective way of converting interested users into customers. It involves reaching out to users who have already interacted with your brand in previous sessions, such as engaging with your content or visiting your profile. Retargeting can also re-engage shoppers who have filled out their shopping carts but for some reason or another did not purchase.


Prospecting is complementary to the retargeting process. Where retargeting is focused on winning back existing or known users, prospecting prioritizes users you haven’t encountered yet. Instagram is estimated to have over a billion users as of 2021, and adding more every month. That’s a lot of fresh faces that could be great customers for you and your brand!

But how to reach them? Fortunately, Instagram lets you leverage lookalike audiences that are created with information pulled from your page, your fans, and other sources. This helps guarantee that the potential list that Instagram builds is as close to your target demographic as possible.

For best results, Instagram recommends a source audience of between 1,000 to 50,000 users.

Top Instagram Ad Tips.

As we said before, Instagram ad campaigns can be very effective at converting buyers and can deliver excellent ROI if used properly. Let’s review some other tips that can boost your ad campaign’s effectiveness.

1. Leverage Instagram Stories.

Instagram Stories are quite possibly one of the most effective ad formats on the platform today. Instagram has reported that out of the 500 million accounts using Instagram Stories today, businesses account for over a third of the most-viewed stories.

And why not? Instagram Stories are eye-catching, compelling, and above all, authentic. They give users an opportunity to check out your brand in more depth than the regular, single-slide format of regular single-photo ads–especially if you leverage videos and animated stickers.

2. Add Branded Hashtags.

Hashtags are important in that they help your content reach the right audience, but did you know that hashtags can help set your brand apart from your competitors?

Developing your own branded hashtags can be a great source of publicity for your brand. Especially if the content you publish in association with that hashtag is fresh and unique enough to capture the Instagram population’s imagination, like in the case of Allbirds and their Instagram hashtag #weareallbirds.

These branded hashtags make it easy for users to search for and purchase your products–especially if you have different branded hashtags for different product lines or target markets.

3. Create Clever Captions.

There’s a reason that Instagram allows you to add captions to your ads: because they work. Captions are more than just filler or SEO juice. Clever, funny, or memorable captions elevate the message of your visual content and can draw audiences in. Well-written captions spark conversations and encourage users to share with their friends and followers.

The future of social commerce.

When it comes to Instagram advertising – this is just the tip of the iceberg. The long term impact of social commerce will not only simplify the process for brands to capture new users but overall ease the barrier to path to purchase for consumers.

This article was contributed by Tara Johnson, Lead Content Strategist at Tinuiti. To learn more about Tinuiti, visit their website.

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