The appeal of Instagram marketing is strong for small and medium businesses. The platform is a game-changer for letting emerging brands compete with legacy ones.

Instagram’s ad revenues in the US are expected to hit $9 billion this year, from $6.1 billion in 2018, according to eMarketer. So obviously a lot of advertisers have faith in the social media powerhouse.

But there may be trouble looming. Faced with declining returns from Instagram and other platforms, some businesses are rethinking their approach to social media advertising.

What’s The Bad News?

Brands have increased spending on digital ads by 42 percent over the last two years, but visits to those same brands were only up 11 percent. Brands are seeing an 18 percent engagement decrease on Instagram this year, according to a study from data consulting firm Trust Insights.

Meanwhile, costs are rising. The average digital ad costs 12 percent more than it did two years ago, according to Adobe Digital Insights.

“Forty to 80 percent of the venture capital dollars raised by online brands is spent on Facebook and Google ads,” said Michele Romanow, the founder of finance start-up Clearbanc. “For brands that already have product-market fit and just need money to acquire new customers, this is a really bad deal.”

The younger generation is leaving Instagram and Facebook behind completely. If you’re targeting teens and 20-somethings, your business cannot continue to work these platforms the way you always have and expect to achieve the same results.

“Consumers are experiencing brand fatigue, a lack of trust and way too many marketers competing for their attention,” says Renae Smith, director of the Australia-based PR and social media agency The Atticism. “The future of social media needs to change into content driven strategies which offer genuine connections between a brand and their consumers.”

“An overload of targeted ads can also generate fatigue and hurt a brand if it isn’t done correctly,” said Daniel Romano, co-founder of Good Moose, the performance marketing agency of branding company Red Antler. “You repeat the same ad to a customer over and over, and it just becomes annoying.”

Some brands are pulling marketing dollars from social media advertising and spending more on old-school efforts like catalogues, direct mail and outdoor advertising. Companies that have capped or pulled back on social marketing include:

  • consumer products giant Procter & Gamble
  • cosmetics chain Lush
  • home goods start-up Snowe
  • cashmere specialist Naadam

How Businesses Can Stand Out On Instagram in 2020

In spite of the drawbacks, large companies are expected to funnel more money into their social strategies in the next few years. Of course, this could drive up the price of buying ads on the platform. This means you’ll have to be even more strategic with your approach to Insta.

The platform keeps expanding, making it more valuable to merchants and ecommerce businesses—especially if they have products with a strong visual appeal. And business profiles with more than 10,000 Instagram followers gain “Swipe Up” links they can add to Instagram Stories. This will drive traffic directly to your site.

Photos should be story-driven and feature compelling visuals. Short on content? You can also ask for photo submissions from followers or show the people “behind-the-scenes” of your business.

Remember: Instagram Stories allows you to create 15-second videos, too. Some brands have found creative ways around the time restriction, like breaking longer clips into multiple 15-second videos and posting them consecutively.

Here are a few “best practices” that will help your posts get noticed on Instagram, thanks to a study from Curalate:

  • Lighter images perform better than darker ones
  • More background or white space is preferred
  • Images with bluer dominant colors performed over red dominant colors
  • Images with a single dominant color did better than those with multiple dominant colors
  • Images that feature contrasting textures generate more likes

Don’t forget to engage! By engaging with posts related to your industry or brand, you can create outbound awareness. Insta is a place for you to extend your brand’s voice and connect with potential customers.

Hashtagging industry terms and common words is another way to boost engagement and followers. Be sure to include hashtags that align with the content you’re sharing, and go for a mix of really popular tags and more niche-specific ones. The former will immediately get your post in front of a bigger audience; the latter will ensure your post remains near the top of results for longer.

What about influencer marketing? Influencer marketing on Instagram can be highly effective, but only if your brand is suitable. By working with someone who already has an established audience on Instagram, businesses can tap into new audiences and build followings.

Don’t Forget About Instagram Analytics

Need information about your on-platform performance? Instagram has its own native analytics tools in the Instagram for business dashboard. These analytics aren’t quite as sophisticated as Facebook’s Insights, but you can see how your impressions, reach, and engagement are increasing or decreasing month to month.

Go to your profile page,  then click on the graph symbol in the top right hand corner. Here, you’ll be able to see important performance data like the following:

  • Total number of profile visits
  • Total number of website clicks
  • Total reach (the number of unique accounts who saw your posts)
  • Total impressions (the total number of times your posts were viewed)
  • The performance of every post, including engagement and impressions
  • Total number of views on your Stories
  • Number of followers and recent growth trends
  • Gender and age breakdown of your audience
  • Where your audience lives
  • Follower activity, broken down into days and times, which can help you determine peak posting times

By comparing this information against top performing posts and analyzing their performance, you can detect trends and patterns that will help you make your marketing more effective long term.