Does it pay to play on Instagram? We tried boosting an Instagram post for $100 to see how much reach and new followers it would get us.
I’m no financial expert, but I know that $100 can get you a lot of things. For instance: $100 can buy a pair of jeans your mom will think are too expensive, or one hundred gumballs. Or, it could buy you some serious reach on Instagram.
To be clear, I’m not talking about buying an audience or likes. Here at Hootsuite HQ, we’ve been there, done that, and compromised our credit cards in the process. No, I’m talking about a more legitimate way to spend money: boosting Instagram posts to improve reach and gain followers.
Boosting posts is one of many advertising options on Instagram. You want eyeballs, they want your money, it’s a perfect storm. You’ve just got to set your budget, choose your target audience, and Instagram will deliver a post of your choosing directly to their feeds.
It’s an ad option that’s typically touted as a low-cost way to gain more followers and reach new audiences. After all, even spending $25 can allegedly help you reach an audience of thousands.
But it almost seems too easy, doesn’t it? Like a Sex and the Citysupercut, I couldn’t help but wonder: is boosting an Instagram post really worth the money?
And so, for our latest Hootsuite experiment, we’re putting the ‘does it pay to pay?’ question to the test. Please send your thoughts and prayers to my poor, battered Mastercard once again.
Boosting is a simple way to increase the reach of an Instagram post. Sure, you could sit around and wait for the Instagram algorithm to deliver your sweet pics to your followers, or lean on Instagram hashtagsto make yourself known. But there’s also a totally-above-board shortcut for achieving reach on the app: just give Instagram your cold hard cash.
I think it’s safe to assume that, yes, buying a boost for my post will result in reaching an audience beyond my existing followers. After all, Instagram is a professional and highly successful brand that relies on effective advertising to function as a business, so it’s very much in its best interest to deliver on their promise of exposure. There’s no reason to think they would just take my money and run.
Theoretically, then, boosting will also result in new followers for my account. But obviously, Instagram can’t make promises there, and users gonna do what users gonna do. (Pretty sure I read that in the terms and conditions somewhere.)
With those assumptions in mind, and with $100 burning a hole in my pocket, I got to work.
Step one: I needed to choose precisely which post I’d be boosting.
My Instagram account these days is mostly pictures of my new baby because I am really leaning into my identity as “Unhinged Millennial Mom.” But as much as I think my infant photography could give Anne Geddes a run for her money, it didn’t quite feel like boosting one of those shots was going to inspire strangers to mash that “follow” button.
Instead, I decided to repost a digital illustration from a few months back and boost that.
It had experienced some success at the time (with supportive comments like “i want all these ducks to be best friends!!!!” and “one of these is a chicken”), so there was reason to believe non-friends might be interested if it appeared in their feed.
Plus, I reasoned, by repeating content, I’d be able to see the exact difference between an un-boosted post and a boosted one.
I posted my duck drawing and threw $100 (well, $75 CDN, technically) into a boost. I did this through the app directly, but it’s super simple to do though your Hootsuite dashboard, too.
I decided to run the promo for five days, targeted at an audience similar to my existing followers.
My goal was to encourage profile visits, which hopefully would lead to new follows.
When the five days were done, I managed to take a break from my latest baby photoshoot (the theme? “Being adorable while asleep”) to analyze the results and see if that $100 was worth it.
TL;DR: The boost helped my post reach much further, but the conversion rate wasn’t great. And — not to be all pity-party about it — I blame myself.
With $100 spent on a boost, my post reached thousands of new people: 7,447 to be exact. But… only 203 users tapped through on my ad. Of those visitors, only 10 of those became new followers.
Of course, this was still a huge jump from the original version of this I posted back in January. Other measures of engagement (like Likes and Saves) were higher with my boosted post, too.
I would be hurt by this abysmal return on investment, but it’s clear to me that the problem wasn’t the amount of money I spent: it was my content.
If I’m honest with myself, it makes a lot of sense that strangers wouldn’t be compelled to follow a feed that is primarily newborn photos and improv-show invites. In fact, they might have even been confused to find themselves looking at this sort of content after I lured them in with a wacky drawing of birds.
Basically, my $100 gave me a really great opportunity to be in front of a hyper-specific audience, and I blew it. I should’ve used an image that better represented what my “brand” was about. I also should’ve taken the time to write a compelling caption or call-to-action that would encourage people to click through to see more.
But that’s not to say it was money wasted: I learned at least$100 worth of lessons about using Instagram’s boost feature effectively.
Even though Instagram has brought back the chronological feed as an option, the default experience on the app is guided by the Instagram algorithm. If your content doesn’t fulfill the elaborate set of parameters to appear at the top of a follower’s newsfeed, it might get missed altogether. By putting some cash into a boost, at least you can guarantee somepeople will see it.
Of course, if you’re on a budget, that’s not always an option. So maybe it’s time to review our tips for getting your Instagram posts featured on the Explore page?
Even if you had a million dollars to drop on Instagram posts, even if you reached every single person on the app, if you don’t have something compelling to share, you’re not going to keep their attention.
All a boost can guarantee is that people will see your post; it doesn’t guarantee they’re going to like it. Put as much effort into creating engaging, enriching content for your paid posts as you do your unpaid posts.
Need some inspiration? We’ve got 20 ideas to improve Instagram engagement right here.
I didn’t really meanto do a bait-and-switch with this experiment, but that’s really what happened. Apologies to all 200-plus people who visited my account and were disappointed it wasn’t all duck drawings.
If you’re going to boost a post, make sure it accurately represents what a user is going to find when they click through. There’s no point in dangling an image in front of an Instagram user that’s unrelated to what they’ll actually experience when they follow you. A boosted post should be authentically a snapshot of what your brand or account is all about.
Reaching people is one thing; reaching the rightpeople is another. Be sure you’re making the most of every dollar by honing in as specifically as possible on the ideal audience for your brand. Are you looking to target people in the same demographic as your current followers? Or do you have dreams of reaching a different type of viewer?
Either way, drill down into the details to help Instagram deliver your boosted post to the right feeds.
If you need help defining your target market, good news: we’ve got a worksheet to help you find your dream audience right here.
Another fascinating spending spree done, another valuable lesson learned. If you’re itching to see what else we discover from putting our social media accounts on the line, head over to read about the rest of our experiments here.
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