How to Harness Instagram’s Discovery Power

Photography is the medium that most closely resembles the act of discovery. After all, a photograph is a document of a single instant—a certain view at a certain moment, a specific glimpse of a universe that remains largely unknowable to us. Looking at a photograph demands that a person take all that they know, and use it to assess something new. That space—between familiarity and novelty, our typical thoughts and new terrain—is where discovery takes place.

No wonder, then, that Instagram has become one of the world’s most popular slideshows. In June, the company announced that monthly users number more than 500 million, and daily users exceed 300 million. And while advertisers have been able to publish sponsored posts for less than a year, Instagram claimed in February to have more than 200,000 advertisers—a number that tops advertisers on Twitter, according to The Motley Fool.

Instagram has allowed users to “Shop Now” for some time, but has recently diversified the ways in which advertisers might issue calls to action.

“The Facebook-owned app is rolling out a feature that links ads to profile pages so that when someone clicks on an ad from the news feed, a banner pops up at the bottom of the screen,” according to a report from AdWeek. “The banner prompts people to take an action, like to visit a website or download an app.” 

Which means that you don’t need to be a retailer to take advantage of Instagram’s new advertising options. As Instagram doubles down on “discovery,” now may be the best time for nonprofits to consider how to use photographs and video to bring more attention to their work.

Instagram is better than ever for purpose-driven organizations

After AdWeek spoke with James Quarles, Instagram’s Global Head of Business and Brand Development, the site ran a feature in which it claimed that Instagram “shies away from ‘buy now.’” That’s good news for nonprofits; rather than tailor “call to action” options to retailers, developers and advertising executives at the company want to direct its audience’s curiosity.

Instagram, according to AdWeek, “has said that 60 percent of its users stated that they discover products and services on the platform, while 75 percent of them said they take action after being inspired.” 

“I think there's a number of ways for the best transactional experience," Quarles told AdWeek. "Right now, we are not trying to build and compress all of that into Instagram.” A phrase like “transactional experience” makes a lot of room for nonprofits, especially those willing to invest in a relationship with Instagram and show the company how nonprofits might also benefit from its platform.

Give your profile the business

Most of Instagram’s advertisers are “small- to medium-sized businesses,” according to AdWeek, which should encourage nonprofits with modest budgets. That said, some of the most critical features of Instagram’s recent emphasis on business are free.

Last month, Instagram announced on its business blog that the platform would offer free “business profiles” for interested parties.

“With a business profile,” according to the company, “businesses can choose how they want their customers to get in touch with them: call, text or email with a tap of the contact button, as well as get directions.”

Contact, however, is just the beginning. Instagram also wrote that business profiles provide companies with mobile access to audience demographics and post success, as well as the ability to select your high-performing pictures and transform them into ads.

“The retailer in Austin can better understand its audience, tailor its content and refine its marketing strategy,” according to the company blog. “And the do-it-yourself craft shop in New York City can quickly fill a seat, move a product or get people into its store with ads on mobile.” Nonprofits conducting fundraising drives, recruiting new members, or mobilizing public support for a new initiative might find success through the same means.

This is a call

You know this already, but humor us: A call to action, on any social media platform, can be the difference between losing your audience in the stream and throwing them a lifesaver.

Instagram, writes AdWeek, “is rolling out a feature that links ads to profile pages so that when someone clicks on an ad from the news feed, a banner pops up at the bottom of the screen. The banner prompts people to take an action, like to visit a website or download an app. Clicking on the banner pulls up a website within Instagram.”

Although the platform keeps its call-to-action options simple, small adjustments in speech have huge ramifications. (Want proof? Listen to this Radiolab story about Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, and how the ways in which the platform prompts users evolve over time.) At present, the company’s calls to action include “Learn More,” “Book Now,” “Shop Now,” “Contact Us,” “Download,” “Sign Up,” and “Watch More.” 

“A click on the call-to-action itself will immediately link offsite,” according to Facebook’s Ads Guide. “A click on your ad’s image will highlight the call-to-action in blue, confirming a person’s intent to go offsite. If you do not choose a call-to-action, the Learn More call-to-action that links to your website will automatically appear below your ad.” (Facebook’s Ads Guide also outlines the ideal specifications for Instagram ads, so be sure to study up.)

Ambitious nonprofits might consider how they can offer more to their audience based on Instagram’s strengths. Many of Instagram’s case study clients boasted increases in app installation and subscription. Given the success other companies have seen with encouraging app interaction through Instagram, it might be time to brush up on how nonprofits are using apps to further their goals.

More metrics

More information about your organization’s performance is never a bad idea. Sorting it will keep you busy, but nonprofits that invest time and energy in parsing their data will reap the benefits.

Once you have a business profile, then you should receive platform specific demographics like “profile taps.” That data, of course, makes for better targeting of your campaigns. And Instagram has worked with Facebook to make that targeting as easy as possible.

“Facebook integrated all custom audiences, pixels and retargeting tools for Instagram,” writes MediaCause. “Audiences you have previously created within Facebook are now available on Instagram! You don’t have to worry about embedding yet another pixel or losing any data.” 

John Haydon offers a few examples of applied Instagram targeting on his site. “For instance, you can target people based on the content they interact with on Instagram (liking, commenting, viewing, etc),” he writes. “This means that a small breast cancer foundation can now target Instagram users who share breast cancer stories, or engage with breast cancer content.”

Ask an expert

Like Google, Instagram has partnered with companies that can steer a business’s use of the platform. Instagram Partners, according to the company, are “a set of experts vetted for excellence ready to help businesses grow on Instagram.” And while not every class of Instagram Partners will benefit eager nonprofits, the company offers a group of experts that specialize in “community management.” We looked for community management experts in the U.S. that can offer feedback specific to Instagram, and came up with a number of dependable organizations.

And, since we’re on the subject of expertise: Quarles says that Instagram will endeavor to be responsive to the needs of its advertising base, and to take their concerns to heart.

"We monitor signals super closely," Quarles told AdWeek. "[An important one] is from people themselves giving feedback about ads that either are or are not relevant to them. We think the best-targeted ads are the most relevant to people and perform the best for advertisers." If Instagram is anything like its parent, then it will continue to tinker with ways for advertisers to target better.