Using Instagram for Social Commerce Success

By Zarnaz Arlia, CMO at Emplifi. 

Instagram recently rolled out a new advertising opportunity: it launched ads in Instagram Shop. The new ad placement is the most recent addition in a long line of e-commerce capabilities introduced by the app and a prime example of how Instagram is leaning heavily into social commerce.

These moves come as no surprise when you consider the massive growth currently happening across the social commerce landscape.

Earlier this year, eMarketer reported that U.S. retail social commerce sales will reach more than $36 billion this year, and Instagram and Pinterest are at the top of the list of social media networks delivering the “most relevant” social commerce experiences. Instagram has been undergoing an evolution by transitioning from its roots as a photo-sharing app to focus on creators, videos, messaging and, perhaps most of all, shopping.

The good news for brands: Instagram’s users seem to be more than happy to go along with these changes. According to Instagram’s data (via HubSpot), 90% of its users follow at least one business. A Facebook-commissioned survey of 21,000 people (via Social Media Today) revealed that two in three people on Instagram said the app allows interaction with brands.

For brands aiming to maximise their e-commerce efforts, Instagram could be key to building a social commerce strategy. The app has multiple features to help brands better connect with their audiences, expand their reach and increase online sales revenue. Here are three social commerce features Instagram has released recently and how to leverage them.

Instagram Shop

After launching Instagram Shop in 2020, an area of the social media app that’s 100% focused on the shopping experience, Instagram has now rolled out ad placements in the Shop tab, which, according to Instagram’s website, makes it easier for users to “discover and shop from brands when they’re already in the mood to browse”.

Like other products, Instagram Shop ads are displayed as tiles on the Instagram Shop home page. A Shop ad tile links to the product details page, where shoppers can learn more about the specific item and browse other products from the brand. Some ways brands can leverage Shop ads include:

Using look-alike audiences: The audience that engages with your Shop ads likely has a high intent to purchase. You can leverage their data by creating look-alike audiences based on their characteristics to use in your marketing campaigns.

Learning from insights: Test different types of Shop ads for the same product to learn more about your audience’s preferences and inform future content creation.

Retargeting shoppers: Create custom audiences in order to retarget customers who have purchased from your shops in the past.

Instagram Reels Ads

In August 2020, Instagram introduced Instagram Reels, which are 60-second video clips that come with a variety of features that allow anyone on Instagram to be a creator. Less than a year after releasing the video feature, Instagram Reels ads were made available in June 2021. They give brands the opportunity to share full-screen video ads that are up to 30 seconds long.

As with Instagram Reels content that users post, people can comment on, like, view and share Reels ads. To maximise engagement and win more conversions, brands should first familiarise themselves with the format: I’ve found that the key is to create Reels that blend seamlessly with native content. Reels ads tend to be more effective when they include audio, like a trending audio clip or audio your brand has produced, along with captions that grab users’ attention as quickly as possible.

Because of their reach — users can find Reels via Instagram’s Explore tab and the Reels feed, as well as within their own feed — Reels ads can be an effective way for advertisers to connect with new audiences. You can also use Instagram’s analytics data to view the number of plays, accounts reached, likes, comments, saves and shares to monitor your performance.

Checkout On Instagram

Instagram checkout, an in-app purchasing feature that allows users to buy a product without ever leaving the app, has been around for years but was initially only available to a select group of brands when it first launched. Last year, Instagram opened access to its checkout feature to all U.S. business and creator accounts that had an Instagram Shop.

As Instagram explains on its website, businesses can use the checkout feature to reduce the friction in the path to purchase, as well as take advantage of other shopping tools: “With checkout on Instagram, businesses can truly leverage the full ecosystem of Instagram Shopping features to build experiences that drive awareness and transactions all in one place.”

But challenges still remain for B2C brands that want to optimise their Instagram advertising efforts within their social commerce initiatives. Emplifi’s recent “The State of Social Media and CX” Q3 2021 report found that global ad spend on Facebook and Instagram jumped 43% year-over-year during the third quarter of this year. With so many B2C brands vying for consumer attention on Instagram, one of the primary challenges for brands entering the social commerce market is getting in front of the right audiences at the right time with relevant content that inspires consumers to make a purchase.

Fortunately, because social commerce is still a relatively new and growing tactic, there are many opportunities for marketers to make an impact. Brands should look for ways to use Instagram’s new features to stand out on the platform. For example, they can try taking more creative risks with their advertising content in Reels ads, while they can tailor Shop ads toward the very users shopping for the products they offer.

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