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There has been much discussion recently on industry-leading publications about the effectiveness of video on social media.

For example, did you know that video posts on Facebook receive at least 59 percent more engagement than other post types?

Since our 2017 research with Animoto comparing square vs. landscape video, little has been published around the impact of video format on overall video engagement.

Specifically, vertical video vs. square video.

While we know that square video (1:1) results in 30-35 percent more video views and an 80-100 percent increase in engagement compared to landscape video (16:9), we wanted to know how vertical video stacks up on Instagram and Facebook (both within the News Feed and Stories).

Which is why we teamed up with our friends at Animoto once again to test (and test again) the hypothesis that vertical video would perform better than square video on social media.

We were shocked by the results!

Today we’re excited to share our research with you along with several actionable takeaways for marketers looking to improve their social media video marketing results in 2019.

Author’s Note: We’ll be talking a lot about great video marketing tools in this post. Our must-haves are Animoto’s iPhone app for vertical videos, Animoto’s web app for square videos, and Buffer for sharing. Feel free to grab a subscription from each before we get started.

Table of Contents

Below are the full details from our study on everything from our vertical video hypothesis to the surprising results! Here’s a quick look at what we’ll cover:

Let’s do this!

The vertical video and mobile hypothesis

This research idea with Animoto all came from one simple statistic: square video takes up 78% more real estate in a person’s mobile newsfeed than does landscape video – making square video more engaging, more effective, and easier to watch.

And since square video outperformed landscape video in almost every category, we hypothesized that vertical video would eclipse square in a brand new study.

But why is video – particularly mobile video – such an important part of your social media strategy?

According to a recent report from Nielsen, U.S. adults are spending 10 hours and 24 minutes per day interacting with media, whether that be watching, listening to, or reading content across all of their devices.

And shockingly, mobile phones (smartphones) alone accounted for 65% of total digital usage, up from 62% in Q1 2018:

As mobile usage continues to increase year-over-year, our social media and video marketing strategies must evolve along with the expanded use to focus on mobile-first experiences.

Sometimes that’s as simple as formatting the video to fit natively within the platform.

3 important video marketing takeaways

Video is leading the way with social media marketing and so we’re super excited to share this actionable research with you.

By the end of this article, you’ll be equipped with data-backed ideas and insights that you can apply to your own videos today.

But first, a few key takeaways to set the study up!

1. Facebook News Feed: Use vertical video to drive traffic

In all of the experiments we conducted, we consistently found that vertical video outperformed square video within the Facebook News Feed. First let’s look at the cost per click (CPC) comparison:

  • Buffer: Cost per click (CPCs) 26 percent less expensive with vertical video
  • Animoto: Cost per click (CPCs) 38 percent less expensive with vertical video

Next, let’s take a look at the cost per view (CPV) comparison:

  • Buffer: Cost per view (CPVs) 68 percent less expensive with vertical video
  • Animoto: Cost per view (CPVs) 26 percent less expensive with vertical video

Since the video tests (vertical vs. square) were identical in content, theme, length, headline, caption, and more, it came as quite the surprise that vertical video outperformed square by such a significant margin (as much as 68 percent less expensive in cost per view).

It’s also interesting to note that not only did vertical video outperform square in the Facebook News Feed, but Facebook outperformed Instagram in overall cost per click (CPC) within the feed. An important takeaway for advertisers.

Buffer averaged $0.29 CPC on Facebook and $0.51 CPC on Instagram. Animoto averaged $0.32 CPC on Facebook and $1.31 CPC on Instagram.

2. Instagram Feed vs. Stories: Stories are a great way to inspire action

When looking at the Instagram Feed vs. Stories, it became immediately clear that Instagram Stories are a great way to inspire people to take action. In both the case of Buffer and Animoto, Stories consistently reduced advertising costs in regards to cost per thousand impressions (CPM) and cost per view (CPV):

  • Animoto: Stories 57 percent less expensive for CPMs and CPCs than the feed
  • Buffer: Stories 50 percent less expensive for CPMs and 30 percent for CPCs than the feed

Cost per click (CPC) data:

Cost per one thousand impressions (CPM) data:

However, it’s important to note that costs actually increased with Stories compared to the feed when measuring cost per view (CPV):

  • Animoto: 108 percent more expensive on 3-second CPV and 65 percent more expensive on 50% total watch time CPV
  • Buffer: 71 percent more expensive on CPV 3 seconds and 21 percent more expensive on 50% total watch time CPV

As many of you savvy marketers might have guessed at this point, we witnessed a rise in cost per view as cost per click decreased.

We believe that this is largely due to the fact that it is hard to get people to watch your entire video or when they’re too busy taking action such as “swiping up” or clicking on a link.

Overall, Instagram Stories are a great way to get people to take action and a big opportunity for brands to utilize in 2019.

3. Instagram News Feed: Use vertical video to generate engagement

The final big takeaway from our research is that the Instagram Feed is a powerful platform for driving engagement when compared to Facebook (News Feed & Stories) and Instagram Stories… almost too good!

Reversing the Instagram Feed data from takeaway #2, you’ll notice that 3-second CPVs were 91 percent less expensive on average for Buffer and Animoto. In addition, 50 percent total watch time CPVs were 43 percent less expensive on average.

But which format drives more engagement within the Instagram Feed? Turns out it’s vertical video!

  • Animoto: Vertical video resulted in 13 percent more 3-second video views and 157 percent more 50% total watch time views
  • Buffer: Vertical video resulted in 6 percent more 3-second video views and 187 percent more 50% total watch time views

The practical takeaway here is that the Instagram Feed is a great way to boost awareness around your product and generate engagement.

Other key video marketing learnings

In addition to the three key learnings above, our research pointed to some other unexpected takeaways that you might be able to apply to your video marketing strategy.

1. Facebook marketing is alive and well

We’ve discussed the power of Facebook marketing (here and in previous studies) and found that it remains a viable way for brands and businesses to reach target audiences. Particularly, if you’re looking for an inexpensive way to drive traffic to your website.

In all of our tests, we found that Facebook consistently generated a lower CPC than its Instagram counterpart.

While Instagram was the most effective way to generate interactions and engagement in our tests, Facebook emerged as an extremely reliable way to drive traffic.

We’ve seen this hold true over the past two years at Buffer as well. Our most successful social media advertising campaign of all time – a campaign that is still running today – runs on the Facebook News Feed:

This campaign has generated more than 169,000 link clicks and reached more than 1,500,000 people since launching in April 2017.

The best part is that it’s a super simple ad concept:

While brands and businesses flock to Instagram in 2019 in search of a new promising advertising platform, look for Facebook to continue to offer a low-cost, action-based alternative.

In terms of what type of content to create for Facebook, remember that, on average, video posts receive at least 59 percent more engagement than other post types.

2. Highly-produced “polished” video content doesn’t always win

One of the more interesting portions of our experiment revolved around testing what we called “organic” vs. “polished” video content.

  • Organic videos are what you would imagine as DIY-style. These videos didn’t include any B-roll, special effects, transitions, or other more produced elements. In other words, they looked like they were made by an amateur.
  • Polished videos are much more produced. These videos included studio lighting, B-roll, special effects, transitions, and other elements that give them a professional feel.

With our research, we wanted to know if spending more time, resources, and money on producing polished videos actually resulted in greater results than organic DIY videos.

We found that there was no statistically significant difference in the results.

In fact, in many cases, organic DIY videos outperformed polished videos on both Facebook and Instagram.

In collaboration with Animoto, Smarties ran their own experiments to test whether or not highly-produced video ads outperformed organic DIY video ads on Instagram Stories:

Smarties Vertical Video Content Experiment - YouTube

Their team found that organic DIY videos resulted in a 50 percent decrease in cost per 10-second video view on their highest performing ad. In their case, unpolished smartphone imagery was up to 2x more effective at capturing their viewer’s attention.

All of this to say that it’s more important to experiment with a variety of video types and formats than it is to work on perfecting a single video. The more video content you publish, the more feedback you’ll receive from your audience, and the quicker you’ll improve.

3. Instagram Stories ads one of the biggest opportunities in 2019

As a result of this experiment, we see Instagram Stories as one of the biggest opportunities for brands and businesses in 2019. It’s why we built a tool called Stories Creator dedicated to helping brands create thumb-stopping Stories content.

And though Instagram Stories now has an incredible 500 million people around the world using the channel on a daily basis, it remains a relatively untapped advertising resource.

“Right now, one of the interesting things about Stories is there’s a benefit to being an early adopter… the pricing is really attractive. And so we think the mix shift to Stories is a big opportunity for us. And it’s going to take time to continue to get advertisers in, but we’re very happy with demand to date,” explained Sheryl Sandberg in Facebook’s recent Q4 earnings call.

We discussed the impact of Stories in this research above, but other big brands such as Bustle, Nike, Square, and more have experienced similar results as a part of their strategies.

Blenders Eyewear, for example, has generated thousands in revenue for their products using Stories ads – leveraging special announcements like a much anticipated restock, flash sale, giveaway and any limited time promos:

We’ve seen similar results when we use Instagram Stories ads to promote our blog posts and podcast as well. Our Instagram Stories ads cost just $0.06 – $0.12 per click when a typical Facebook feed ad usually costs around $0.30 – $0.60 per click.

Multiply that cost savings by thousands of dollars in ad spend and it’s a no-brainer in choosing Instagram Stories as our primary social media advertising channel in 2019.

Overall vertical video research conclusion

If we were to boil down this research to one key point, it would be that businesses and brands must keep up with mobile-centric video trends if they want to succeed on social media in 2019. A mobile-centric strategy relies heavily on vertical video and creating content that feels native to each platform.

As we mentioned in the beginning, mobile phones alone accounted for 65% of total digital usage in Q2 2018 (up from 62% in Q1 2018) – with that number growing by the day.

Everything from your website to the content you create for social media must focus on the mobile experience. Sheryl Sandberg puts it perfectly when she mentions:

One of the challenges that marketers have is keeping up where consumers are. If you think about our..

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Marketers are faced with an ever-growing list of responsibilities. From social media marketing to customer experience and advertising, it can be a challenge to stay on top of everything.

Luckily for us, there are a plethora of great social media tools on the market to help you succeed in your role and stay productive.

Tools for content curation, discovery, scheduling, publishing, analytics, and more can be used to enhance your effectiveness.

This week on The Science of Social Media, we’re exploring the top 10 social media tools brands are using to succeed in 2019. Utilizing these tools in your daily workflows will help improve results across the board.

Let’s dive in!

The 10 top social media tools to try in 2019

Here are some of the most-used social media tools used by some of the world’s top brands:

1. BuzzSumo

Website: https://buzzsumo.com/

Pricing: Plans start at $79/month

Details:

BuzzSumo is a tool that lets you find the most shared content and trending influencers. You can use it to analyze which content performs best for any topic and all you need to do to get started is to search for a topic or a domain.

Through BuzzSumo you’re able all gather a better understanding of your impact on social media and develop smarter content strategies by seeing which of your own pages were engaged with the most. BuzzSumo will break the results down by Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Reddit shares.

This provides the added benefit of being able to see which articles are performing well across the web without having to constantly monitor multiple social channels.

Similar tools: Ahrefs, Meltwater, Mention

2. Google Trends

Website: https://trends.google.com/trends/

Pricing: Free

Details:

Google Trends is a completely free tool that Google created to help anyone search for trending topics online.

Brands use it to monitor notable things that are happening in the world. Many professionals use this as a way to discover and share information related to what’s most popular right now.

You can also use Google Trends to monitor keywords to see if they are trending and how their current volume compares to previous months and years. You can then use this information to inform your content and social media marketing strategy.

Similar tools: Ubersuggest, Ahrefs, WordStream

3. Buffer Publish

Website: https://buffer.com/

Pricing: Free (paid plans start at $15/month)

Details:

Buffer is a social media marketing platform designed to make it easy for businesses and marketing teams to schedule posts, analyze performance, and manage all their accounts in one place.

For example, Buffer allows you to set up a schedule for your social media profiles, and after you add content to your Buffer queue, it will publish at the times you’ve designated.

Buffer also provides a robust analytics dashboard so that you can see which of your posts are most popular on social media, and easily Rebuffer them to your queue.

In addition to our web application, we also have both Android and iOS apps as well as a fantastic Chrome Extension that’s great for Buffering while you’re browsing the web or on the go.

Similar tools: Hootsuite, Falcon.io, Sprout Social

4. Canva

Website: https://www.canva.com/

Pricing: Free (Canva for Work starts at $12.95/month)

Details:

Another fantastic tool that absolutely every brand or business online should know about is Canva.

Many times social media managers and marketers need to be able to create beautiful images without a designer. It’s what makes up part of a great social media strategy.

Canva is the tool so many marketers rely on for making great-looking social media images quickly. You can use the ready-made templates, icons, and illustrations to make your images look professional without having to do much of the actual design work.

Canva has an easy to use drag-and-drop interface plus a massive library of over two million graphic elements.

Similar tools: Crello, Buffer Stories Creator, Bannersnack

5. Unsplash

Website: https://unsplash.com/

Pricing: Free

Details:

One of our favorite tools in the design, photography, and video space is Unsplash. Unsplash is a massive library of free professional photos you can use — free!

Unsplash photos are really popular with many social media marketers because they can help give your content a professional, polished look.

And there are so many Unsplash collections to explore. We recommend finding a couple of creators whose photos you really enjoy and following them so you can always find their latest work.

Similar tools: Pexels, Storyblocks, Videvo

6. Animoto

Website: https://animoto.com/

Pricing: Plans start at $5/month

Details:

Animoto is one of our go-to social media tools for quickly creating stunning marketing videos.

Their video maker turns your photos and video clips into professional content in just a few minutes. They describe it as “fast and shockingly simple,” – and we would agree with that.

There are so many benefits to being able to quickly create engaging marketing videos. Video is a content format that we know a lot of people struggle with, but Animoto helps to bridge that gap.

We’ve used it to create quick recaps of recent blog posts for social media, videos promoting a big announcement, and videos around product launches.

Using Animoto, there are plenty of opportunities for you to add value to your audiences’ lives.

Similar tools: PowToonAdobe Spark, Crello

7. Feedly

Website: https://feedly.com/

Pricing: Free (paid plans start at $5.41/month)

Details:

Our next tool is Feedly. Feedly is great for so many things. Maybe you work with influencers and want to follow their blogs, or you need to keep up on industry news, or any other reasons that you might visit several websites. Instead, you can add all those RSS feeds to Feedly and see them there. A huge time saver.

Feedly is also great for content ideation. You can add several of the blogs, writers, and publishers whose content you like to one feed and see them in one glimpse.

It even has a Buffer Publish integration so you can schedule your content to go out right from the Feedly dashboard.

We also want to give Flipboard a quick shoutout here, too. While it’s not an RSS aggregator like Feedly, you can follow topics on Flipboard and it curates the world’s news stories to help you stay informed.

We’ve used Feedly to follow specific influencers and industry news, and Flipboard to keep up to date with bigger stories.

Similar tools: Flipboard, Quora, Pocket

8. Buffer Reply

Website: https://buffer.com/reply/

Pricing: Plans start at $50/month

Details:

This next tool is one of our very own at Buffer: Reply. I think we’ve mentioned it a few times on the show but we’ve never gone too deep.

Buffer Reply makes social media engagement easy for marketing and support teams who need to respond to social conversations. It’s all in one inbox.

What’s great is that through Reply you can see social conversations across social networks:

  • On Twitter, you can see public tweets that @ mention your handle, direct messages, and any searches you have set up for keywords or hashtags.
  • On Facebook, you can see comments on your Facebook Page posts and ads, visitor posts, private messages, and reviews.
  • And for Instagram business profiles, you can see comments on your posts and ads as well.

It’s a single inbox where you can see all of these conversations happening. It’s a huge time saver. In our case, our customer support team and social media manager, Bonnie, spend a lot of time in Reply every day, and we know that when someone reaches out, they would be getting an answer from us.

Similar tools: Hootsuite, Mention, Sprout Social 

9. Native Analytics

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention native analytics for each social platform, which is completely free.

Let’s quickly go over the top three, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Facebooks Analytics

Under the Insights tab on your Facebook Page, there is just so much information. Everything you ever wanted to know about your engagement, number of likes and followers, how your posts are doing, and, of course, Facebook’s Pages to Watch which lets you compare the performance of your Page and posts with similar Pages on Facebook.

You also get insights for Facebook Groups so if you run a Group definitely check those out.

Instagram Analytics

With Instagram Insights, you can see activity around how frequently users interact with your posts, see how your posts are performing over time, and find out where your audience is from as well as their age range, gender, and when they are online.

Twitter Analytics

Starting with Twitter, their analytics can reveal a lot of valuable data about your audience, how well you’re engaging your following, and what your top performing content is.

All you have to do is go to analytics.twitter.com to log in and start learning more about your audience and their interests.

10. Todoist

Website: https://todoist.com/

Pricing: Free (plans start at $3/month)

Details:

The last tool we want to mention today is related to your productivity as someone managing social media: Todoist.

Specifically, within Todoist, I have created a free Social Media Calendar by Buffer that you can use to make sure that your brand and business are posting to important social accounts on a regular basis.

This type of calendar is important because, by consistently posting great content, you’ll be able to grow your audience, increase engagement, and build a community online.

This sample social media calendar is based on real content and scheduling times from Buffer’s own social media accounts.

Similar tools: Wunderlist, Trello, Any.Do

Honorable mentions (more social media tools)

Although we couldn’t cover all of our favorite social media tools in this..

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This post is part of our Instagram Marketing Strategy series. The series provides you with actionable insights and lessons on how businesses are using Instagram. Next up, Remi Silva shares how his company, Blank Tag Co., grew from zero to $100,000 in revenue using Instagram ads. 

In February 2017, when Remi and his girlfriend Alondra were visiting Tokyo, the last thing they were thinking about was starting a business together. But a chance discovery in a Tokyo stationery store changed everything for the couple.

“We stumbled upon a shelf full of stickers made by B-Side Label,” Remi explained. “The stickers were extremely high-quality and unlike anything we had ever seen.”

The pair purchased a few stickers and didn’t think any more of it until the following day when they chanced upon the B-Side Label flagship store tucked behind the main street in Harajuku, a Tokyo neighborhood. Amazed by the fun and joy these stickers brought to them, and the fact that B-Side Label could run a whole store dedicated to stickers, the couple decided to try the same back home in the U.S.

Their business, Blank Tag Co., now generates more than $100,000 per year — with around 80 percent of that revenue coming directly from Instagram ads. And what’s more, the couple both still have full-time jobs, running the sticker business on the side.

Launching Blank Tag Co.

The couple wanted to use stickers as a way to spread joy and happiness — just as they’d felt in those Tokyo stores. They also believe that stickers are more than just a piece of paper you place somewhere.

“Stickers are an expression of who you are, what you associate with, and a way to capture memories,” Remi told me.

After returning home for the trip, Remi and Alondra decided to build a sticker company of their own, and Black Tag Co. was born.

“The stickers we make are chosen specifically with the aim to make all of our customers feel a sense of belonging and pride when they see them. We want to create stickers that will invoke emotion out of everyone who purchases or sees them.”

Building a customer base from scratch

Having a product is one thing, selling it is a completely different challenge. With a background in PPC advertising, Remi decided that the best way to grow a customer base would be through ads, and he began to test out various channels.

A false start with PPC ads

Remi’s first port of call was Google AdWords, but after a few trial runs with PLAs (product list ads) and search ads it wasn’t really working.

What Remi found was that the keyword “stickers” is saturated by people looking to print their own stickers, rather than buy pre-made stickers. “The keywords around that topic didn’t really work for me,” he explained.

But from experimenting with AdWords, Remi came to a realization that changed the trajectory of the business. “I realized that we needed to generate brand awareness, and PPC isn’t the best way to go for brand building.

Building a brand on Instagram

Next, Remi turned to his favorite social media platform, Instagram, to start building up the Blank Tag Co brand, and audience.

Remi began to post content regularly, sharing images of every sticker the company had produced.

“We’re lucky that our images are really good content,” he told me. “Once I get new images from our designers, I create a feed image and story image to share on Instagram — this process allows us to consistently create new content and keep our followers interested.”

They also use hashtags such as #stickers #sticker, #shopsmallbusiness to help the content spread further on the platform.

This approach helped Blank Tag Co. to continually pick up new followers, and it now has an audience of more than 38,000 followers.

Testing ads, and going all-in on Instagram

Good content is great to build a following on Instagram, but Remi found that followers don’t always convert to customers.

In order to drive more revenue from Instagram, Remi and Alondra started to experiment with paid advertising.

To start, Remi added the Facebook tracking pixel to the Blank Tag Co website so that they could build up a wealth of data about user actions and conversions on their site. This enabled him to set up custom audiences of people Facebook predicted would take those same actions on their website.

Next, Remi started testing the performance of various ad types and chose to let Facebook distribute the ads and optimize placements itself.

After a few weeks of testing ad placements across Facebook and Instagram, Remi noticed a trend: “It kept naturally skewing more towards Instagram,” he noted, and decided to run specifically test the performance of Facebook vs Instagram placements.

“I created a couple of separate ad sets in Ads Manager — one set focused only on Facebook, and the other on Instagram. Instagram dominated the test, so I decided to go all in on Instagram ads from here.”

Optimizing ad performance

Once he’d decided to go all in on Instagram ads, Remi began testing a bunch of different elements to see how he could best optimize the ad performance.

Blank Tag Co. measures the results by keeping a close eye on ROAS (return on ad spend), as well as customer acquisition cost vs. lifetime value. “If I’m acquiring customers at $5 but their LTV is, let’s say, $40, the delta between the two is what I care more about,” Remi elaborated.

By testing out various image and video styles, Remi has been able to find out what type of creative performs best for Blank Tag Co.

”Videos didn’t do so well, so I kept testing images and found that particular image types do really well for us“ he explained. “Images that have bright backgrounds with our stickers placed on an object, like a laptop tend to perform best.”

Remi also regularly experiments with a few other aspects of Instagram ads to get the most ROI:

  • Ad placement: Instagram has recently opened up stories ads, so now advertisers can reach their audience via the feed or stories.
  • Copy: Opening up ads with a question works well and you’ll often see Blank Tag Co. ads starting with copy like “Love Stickers?” Remi also likes to use adjectives like “waterproof” and “durable” to show the quality of their products.
  • Location: Testing various locations across the U.S. and targeting particular products to regions that may have more affinity with that style of sticker.
  • Audience: Switching between look-alike audiences and manual targeting, Remi likes to ensure he targets ads to varying audiences to avoid audience fatigue.
More than just a sticker company: Why brand is a key ingredient to success

Remi and Alondra’s journey from a moment of inspiration in a Tokyo sticker store to their own company generating in excess of $100,000 per year is incredibly inspiring.

But their success is anything but a happy accident.

From starting, and failing, with AdWords, to realizing the importance of building a brand to sit behind their business, the pair has had to adapt their strategies and figure things out on the fly.

Now, Blank Tag Co. is hugely successful, and a lot of that success comes down to its brand. Remi and Alondra see stickers as an expression of who you are, and ways to bring happiness into other’s lives and the Blank Tag Co. brand reflects that vision.

As Katlin Smith writes on Inc., “many businesses make the mistake of assuming that low price points and ultra simple shopping processes are all that consumers seek (or what they predominantly seek).”

There are thousands of options out there for consumers now, and oftentimes, your brand is the differentiator — that’s precisely why Blank Tag Co. is more than a sticker company. Stickers inspired happiness in Remi and Alondra as they shopped in Tokyo, and now, Blank Tag Co. seeks to do the same for each and every consumer that experiences its products or sees any of its content.

The Instagram Marketing Strategy Series A nine-part series on how to use Instagram for business.
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This post is part of our Instagram Marketing Strategy series. The series provides you with actionable insights and lessons on how businesses are using Instagram. Next up, Grace McLaughlin shares how how Blenders Eyewear uses Instagram ads to grow its business. 

“We are a visual brand with a visual product so the image sharing platform [Instagram] makes for the perfect ad channel,” Grace McLaughlin explained to me over email.

“We have a loyal community of content creators and brand ambassadors out there that help the brand to come alive, and Instagram is their personal social media platform of choice,” she continued. “That means that all of our original and user-generated content has already been made specifically for Instagram and makes it easy to leverage for ads.”

Grace, marketing manager at Blenders Eyewear — an eyewear brand out of San Diego, CA — has helped the company reach more than 42 million people with its Instagram ads and had shown a profitable return on that ad spend.

Here’s how Blenders successfully creates Instagram ads campaigns.

The art of crafting great Instagram ads

“Mirror what’s working for you on organic,” Grace told me. “Keep the same brand tone and vibe but with a sales twist, you’ll need a hard pitch and call to action.”

You can’t rely on ads alone to be successful on Instagram, you have to have great content in your feed and stories if you’re ads are going to help you achieve your goals.

“If you let the organic side slip, then you’re just wasting advertising dollars,” Grace shared. “A lot of users are going to click through on your ad to browse your ‘grid’ as a secondary step before clicking off the app to your website.”

Grace also recommends that you front-load your caption with the most important copy: “Lead with key information and an offer so that it appears before the ‘more’ tag. Highlight the exclusivity, scarcity, and urgency of your offer.”

There’s plenty of room for captions on Instagram — 2,200 characters, to be exact — but after three lines of text they become truncated with an ellipsis, so you need to get your most important copy in those first three lines.

A simple way to measure the success of Instagram ad campaigns

Measuring the success of advertising campaigns can be difficult — especially with the amount of data available to marketers these days. Blenders, however, keeps it simple.

“We’re focused on ROAS (return on ad spend), Grace told me. “We see value in softer metrics like reach, traffic or engagement but ultimately we are driven by sales.”

If you’re tracking your conversions with Ads Manager, it’s often not too tasking to calculate your ROAS. The formula is as follows:

(Campaign Revenue / Campaign Costs) x 100 = ROAS

Therefore, if you generated $1,250 in sales, and spend $450 on the ads, your ROAS is 277.78 percent.

On the other hand, if you generated $800 in sales, and spend $1,000 on the ads, your ROAS is -20 percent.

This type of valuable information can help you determine which Instagram ad sets and campaigns to double down on and which ones to discontinue immediately.

When we asked Grace about ROAS and what results they’ve seen from their Instagram ads, she said:

Instagram accounts for almost 25 percent of our ad spend and ROAS trends around 15 percent higher than Facebook. CPCs are 60 percent lower, CPMs are 50 percent lower and CTR is 33 percent higher versus Facebook. To date we’ve reached over 42 million people with our Instagram ads!”

The important thing to note here is that Blenders Eyewear is able to continue to spend (and increase their spend) on Instagram ads because they can prove that they positively impact the bottom line.

While brand awareness and engagement metrics are still completely valid goals for Instagram ads, if you can’t demonstrate their value in tangible ways, it’ll be tough to leverage them for more budget in the future.

The importance of the Instagram Stories ad format

It’s no surprise that with the emergence of organic Instagram Stories content as an effective way for brands to reach their customers that Stories ads would soon follow.

“Right now almost half of our Instagram ad spend is being put towards the Stories placement,” Grace explained to me. “ROAS trends lower there for us.”

But the Blenders team doesn’t create any old Stories content and turn it into an ad. They are thoughtful about when and how to use Stories ads for maximum effectiveness.

“The Stories placement is best for when you have a special announcement – like a much anticipated restock, flash sale, giveaway or any limited time promos. You need to convince the user they need to take action right then and there,” said Grace. “Unlike Facebook or Instagram ads they can’t tag friends, like the post, or save to come back to later.”

These factors make Stories ads unique in that sense. The content needs to be highly-actionable and compelling enough for your audience to immediately want to swipe up. There are lots of different content types and strategies that can help to promote action, but Square has a specific approach.

“We like to use the text tools and video formats available to every user in the Instagram app so that it looks native and organic to the user and they don’t just immediately swipe through at the first sign of an ad,” explains Grace.” Things like stickers, GIFs, hashtags, locations, and other native features help to make our content fit right in.”

Successful Instagram ads begin with your content

Focusing on beautiful, creative content that looks and feels native to the platform is one of the most important things brands can do to increase the effectiveness of your Instagram ads.

More often than not, what works with organic Instagram content is a fantastic barometer for the specific types of content that will work with Instagram advertising.

In other words, your brand doesn’t need two different content strategies to sell your products (organic vs. paid). What your brand does need, however, is content that resonates with audiences on a deep, authentic level.

The Instagram Marketing Strategy Series A nine-part series on how to use Instagram for business.
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This post is part of our Instagram Marketing Strategy series. The series provides you with actionable insights and lessons on how businesses are using Instagram. Next up, Jay Perkins shares how Kettlebell Kings has used Instagram to generate ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars’ in revenue. 

“We all had what I guess you call ‘real jobs’,” Jay Perkins told me.

Back in 2013, Jay worked at Bigcommerce, an e-commerce software provider where he learned about what it takes to have a successful online business.

But Jay could only hold back his entrepreneurial ambitions for so long.

After kicking around business ideas for a year-or-so, Jay and his two business partners decided to take the plunge and launch an online store of their own.

Fast-forward to 2018 and Kettlebell Kings is a leading kettlebell equipment supplier based in Austin, Texas, generating mid seven-figures per year in revenue — with much of its new business coming directly from leads generated on Instagram.

‘Most of our biggest deals and business development relationships have come through Instagram’

There was a time, when Kettlebell Kings first started out, that Google AdWords campaigns and a compelling free shipping offer — “the first of its kind in the kettlebell space,” Jay said — were its main marketing tactics.

Yet as the company grew, social media took over as the #1 way to generate new business and Instagram is now Kettlebell Kings most successful marketing and acquisition channel.

“On average we get 400-600 leads per week from social media, with half coming from Instagram,” Jay told me over email.

When it comes to revenue generated directly from Instagram “it would be in the hundreds of thousands,” he revealed (Kettlebell Kings uses Hubspot to track its conversions).

But Instagram hasn’t just helped Kettlebell Kings to generate one-off sales to consumers, it’s also an important channel for business development.

Jay explained:

“Most of our biggest deals and business development relationships have come through Instagram — we have even signed deals with national gym chains from leads generated on the platform.”

Instagram didn’t become a lead generation goldmine overnight, though. It took a lot of work.

‘We’re very strict on the posts that go into our feed’

The first step to a successful Instagram marketing strategy is creating content for your Instagram feed that your audience wants to see and engage with.

In the Instagram feed, Kettlebell Kings focuses on sharing educational content and workout examples — this strategy has helped it to amass an audience of over 79,000 followers. It also reposts images and videos from customers and this user-generated content angle has lead to the hashtag #kettlebellkings being used more than 20,000 times on Instagram.

Key takeaway: User-generated content

“Back in 2016, we started to embrace user-generated content for our Buffer Instagram account. In the first year, this strategy helped our account grow by almost 400% – 4,250 to 21,000 followers. Now we have over 40,000 followers.”

Brian Peters
Digital Marketing Strategist

“We’re very strict on the posts that go into our feed,” says Jay. For a post to make it to Kettlebell Kings’ Instagram feed, the content must:

  • Feature good use of a Kettlebell Kings product
  • Show good form (when using the kettlebells) 
  • Provide a ton of value to the viewer (helping them to learn something new, improve their technique) 

But with stories, Jay believes there’s more freedom to post less-polished content at a higher frequency.

Kettlebell Kings can also repost and feature more of its customers using stories than it can within the feed. “We can repost 10-12 customers who tag us on a daily basis through stories,” says Jay. Being reposted by the Kettlebell Kings account is highly engaging and rewarding for those featured and it also encourages more and more customers to share their content on Instagram.

Here’s how that strategy plays out…

Within the Instagram feed, you might see a video of a perfectly-executed kettlebell workout:

Or a shoppable, high-quality image of a Kettlebell Kings product:

Then on Instagram Stories you might see a Kettlebell Kings customer working out:

But how does this all translate into leads and revenue?

Instagram Stories: The lead-gen secret weapon

Now we move onto the conversion focused part of this strategy.

Here’s how Kettlebell Kings drives hundreds of leads per week directly from Instagram.

1. Share engaging content to stories

First, Kettlebell Kings will share content to Instagram Stories. Often these posts will be workout examples or reposts from customers:

On average these stories will be viewed by around 10 percent of Kettlebell Kings’ followers, sometimes up to 15 percent if there’s a CTA in a feed post to ‘check out stories’.

2. Include swipe up CTAs to drive traffic to a landing page

Next, Kettlebell Kings will include a CTA to ‘Swipe Up’ for workout examples or more content within one of its stories posts:

(If you want to create simple Stories graphics like this, we build Stories Creator to help you do just that. It’s free and no signup is required.)

Writer’s note:

The Instagram Stories ‘Swipe Up’ feature is now available to all Instagram business accounts with 10,000 followers or more.

If you don’t quite have 10,000 followers, here are some resources to help you grow your account:

Ash Read
Managing Editor

Once a viewer swipes up, they will be taken to a landing page or an article where they can read more about a topic and enter their email address for more exclusive content:

These pages tend to convert visitors to email addresses at around 25-45 percent, depending on the traffic source. So 100 visits would generate between 25 and 45 new leads, on average.

3. Create custom email flows for each landing page

Finally, once the visitor has shared their email address it will be entered into one of many email workflows Kettlebell Kings has designed to serve helpful emails about kettlebell workouts and techniques from experts.

“We have unique workflows depending on how someone has entered our system,” Jay explained. All its workflows are about building value and trust with new leads. Kettlebell Kings purposely includes product photos in its emails but rarely sends offers or tries to make a sale. Instead, providing high quality content is the number one goal.

Kettlebell Kings aim to stay top-of-mind by providing value to potential customers in every email with the goal of eventually converting when a lead decides it’s time to purchase some new equipment.

Due to the work Jay and his team put in ensuring Kettlebell Kings’ Instagram feed is always filled with fresh, engaging content the company constantly has batches of new followers — “about 1,000 new followers per week right now,” Jay says — to check out its Instagram Stories and enter into its email funnels.

Over to you

This strategy has generated ‘hundreds of thousands’ in revenue for Kettlebell Kings and there’s no reason you can’t also implement within your own social media plans.

How does your business use Instagram Stories? Let me know in the comments below.

The Instagram Marketing Strategy Series A nine-part series on how to use Instagram for business.
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This post is part of our Instagram Marketing Strategy series. The series provides you with actionable insights and lessons on how businesses are using Instagram. Next up, Tarah Boyleston shows us how Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit uses Instagram to drive in-store sales. 

Snap, filter, post, then eat. If you’re a millennial, Instagramming your meals is probably a guilty pleasure, and an occasional part of your mealtime routine.

An incredible 69 percent of millennials take a photo (or a video) of their food before eating. But social media isn’t just a place for us to share our posts about favorite foods, and scroll through endless images of beautiful, mouth-watering meals, snacks and treats. It’s completely changed the way we decide what and where we eat too. It’s even begun to adjust the way restaurants are designed, and meals are prepared.

Thanks to platforms like Instagram, we’re able to browse and discover cool restaurants, bars, and foods via social media.

And according to research by Zizzi, 18-35-year-olds spend five whole days a year browsing food images on Instagram, and 30 percent would avoid a restaurant if their Instagram presence was weak.

Many businesses in the catering and restaurant industries have started to catch on to the power of social media to not only build a following online, but to drive people in-store to buy, consume, and share experiences.

Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit is one of those businesses.

Callie’s now serves more than a quarter-of-a-million people at its events and eateries each year, and social media plays a big part in its growth.

Here’s how…

Embracing social media

“We had a business, so we needed an Instagram page,” Tarah Boyleston, Callie’s marketing and design lead explained to us.

And though Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit started out on social media through necessity, it’s now seeing the rewards of its social media strategy play out, with customers frequently heading to its events and eateries after seeing its biscuits on social media.

“Locals have come into the eatery just to get the special biscuit they saw on Instagram and vacationers tell us they’ve been waiting months to try our biscuits after seeing a video on Facebook,” explained Tarah.

“It’s a great feeling knowing you can connect to so many people with something as simple as biscuits.”

Focusing on high-quality content

Callie’s really started to go all-in on social media marketing at the beginning of 2018 as the team started to focus more on the quality of its content. Tarah especially focused on:

  • Sharing high-quality images
  • Writing fun, detailed captions
  • Using relevant hashtags on every post

“After making these changes, we watched our @callieshotlittlebiscuit account organically grow by the thousands per month,” Tarah told us.

And you can’t argue with the data over the course of 2018, Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit’s main Instagram account has grown to more than 31,000 followers, and is adding around 2,700 new followers per month.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many followers you have if you can’t get people in your doors. We encourage our millennial following to join the hot little party with mouth-watering images, easily accessible Facebook events, and most of all, keeping things fun!”

Tarah Boyleston
Marketing & Design, Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit
Spreading its message locally, and nationally

Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit has three eateries: two in Charleston, South Carolina, and one in Atlanta, Georgia. But that doesn’t stop Tarah from using social media to share the brand’s message and voice far and wide.

“Our social channels are truly the voice of our brand,” Tarah explained.

“We are lucky to have our first location in a vacation destination like Charleston, and even though our followers are mostly local, we are able to get our voice out to the entire country. Non-local growth is just as important [as local].”

By thinking outside of the local areas in which it operates, Callie’s has been able to grow a brand that’s recognized by biscuit-lovers across the U.S. (and even further afield).

This approach has lead to new opportunities for Callie’s to run events, and generate sales, outside of Charleston and Atlanta. For example, Callie’s recently teamed up with Packed Party, a Texas-based online boutique, to promote National Biscuit Month, and this partnership was so successful on social media that it led to Callie’s running an event in Texas. As Tarah told us:

“Even though we were states apart, we used both voices to drive traffic to our stores and increase brand awareness in Texas. Our Texas following increased so much that we ended the month with a pop up in Austin.”

Working with partners and influencers

The event in Texas isn’t the only time Callie’s has worked with partners and influencers. In fact, it’s a staple part of their social media strategy.

“We love partnering with brands that share our values because it allows our followers to learn about amazing artisans and it brings new followers to us,” Tarah explained.

“Our largest events have been in partnership with amazing groups such as Create and Cultivate (500+ person event) and a seated dinner for 100 during Charleston Wine + Food week.”

These kinds of events are marketed heavily through social media, email marketing, and local press outlets. Callie’s likes to give away tickets on its social channels to increase awareness and build its audience. During these events, Callie’s also takes followers who are unable to attend behind-the-scenes using Instagram Stories.

And when it comes to launching new eateries, partnerships and influencer campaigns play a big role in establishing a new, local audience:

“This summer, we made a large effort to partner with more brands and influencers to grow our Atlanta account. This is an account that was on a slow-and-steady growth pace and partnering with big voices in town instantly made a difference,” Tarah shared.

Pro tip: Run small, exclusive events for followers

“Our locations are fairly small, so we keep events to a limited amount of people. Advertising a certain amount of tickets gives the allure of exclusivity, and Instagrammers love being ‘in the know’. Our email and social channels are our largest platforms for our voice, so posting event details to increase ticket sales is just logical for us.”

Tarah Boyleston
Marketing & Design, Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit
How your business can use social media to drive offline sales

Tarah also shared four pro-tips for businesses that are looking to use social media to drive footfall and sales offline:

1. Be consistent

“Have a consistent online presence. The more followers see you, the more you will be on their minds when they’re looking for something to do on the weekend.”

2. Share information often.

“In a world of constant scrolling and swiping, you want to make things effortless for your followers,” Tarah shared.

“Give them any and all information necessary to get to your event. Instagram stories are a great tool for event information because you can use multiple slides to get the point across. I always include swipe up feature with a link to the Facebook event.”

3. Boost with ads

“For non-local events, we often use Facebook and Instagram ads to reach a targeted location. We boosted our ticket sales in Texas by targeting the neighborhood where the event was located and using key terms to attract our audience.”

4. Go behind-the-scenes

“Lastly, give your customers and followers a piece of your personal life,” Tarah recommended.

“No one wants to follow a brand that is only trying to sell them something. We share personal stories, family recipes, and behind the scenes imagery of our lives at the bakery. These glimpses into the ‘life of a biscuiteer’ are free!”

The Instagram Marketing Strategy Series A nine-part series on how to use Instagram for business.
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