This article is a follow-up to my Instagram is Dying — For Photographers article that I published last month. It won’t apply to everyone reading this. If you have an Instagram “professional account” or have considered changing to one, this post is for you. Specifically, I wanted to look at what happens when you tap “Boost post”—an option only available for pro accounts—and find out if it’s worthwhile to do. What’s the process? How much does it cost? What do you get in return? Is it worth it?
To start with, I don’t recommend switching to a professional account on Instagram unless you really “need” to. The moment I switched to a pro account, my engagement dropped in half. You do get tools, such as analytics, and various other features in the “Professional Dashboard” to help you build your brand, but, unless you feel those things are necessary, I’d steer clear of switching. Meta basically says that the pro account will help you, but then they handicap you and want you to pay them money to solve it. I have had no interest in giving them my money—I simply want Instagram to show my posts to my followers, but that’s obviously not happening. After publishing that other article and reading all the feedback, I thought it would be worth exploring “Boost post” because there are probably many others who feel similarly, and are wondering if it’s worthwhile to try or just another scammy thing that Meta is doing.
Before I get into this, I think it’s worth going over some of the statistics. I’ve discovered that over the last year my Instagram posts tend to fall into one of four categories. About 50% of my posts get minimal engagement (likes, comments, etc.) and are seen by 15%-25% of my followers. About 30% of of my posts get moderate engagement and are seen by 40%-50% of my followers. About 15% of my posts get strong engagement and are seen by 60%-75% of my followers. About 5% of my posts get exceptional engagement and are seen by 85%-100% of my audience. If Instagram simply showed my posts to more of my followers, they’d get more engagement. Some of you might only see 5% of my posts. Half of you might only see one-in-three posts. I think only about 15% of my followers see all of my posts, which is crazy. You might notice similar statistics with your posts and your followers.
Under each of my posts, Instagram has a “Boost post” icon that taunts me. It’s intended to do that. “If you just press me, all your followers will see this post,” it says. But is that true? I didn’t know. I assumed, but I was ignorant, and I didn’t want to be ignorant. So I tapped it.
When you tap “Boost post” you are presented with three options: more profile visits, more website visits, and more messages. Under your boosted post, which is actually a sponsored ad, is a call-to-action button that will do one of three things, depending on the “goal” you select. I get about 50 messages a day on Instagram already, so I took that option off the table immediately. I ended up running two sponsored ads, and selected “more profile visits” for one and “more website visits” for the other. More profile visits is a call-to-action to visit your Instagram profile. Once there, I have no idea what people do, but they’re apparently taking a look at you. More website visits is a call-to-action to click a link to whatever website you want people to go to (I chose RitchieCam.com). More messages is a call-to-action to get direct messages on Instagram, I assume.
After that, you’ll be asked to “define your audience” so that Instagram knows who to show your ad to. You can select Automatic (“people like your followers”), or Create your own. I chose the latter for both posts. With that, you have to select the interest of those you want to target. Fujifilm is an option and photography is an option, but straight-out-of-camera, JPEG, and film simulation recipes are not—in other words, it’s more broad, and popular brands and common interests are what you have to choose from. Then, you have to select where those people live. I tried United States, but that was too large of a group apparently, so I had to narrow it down by state—you can select about 10-15, depending on the populations of those states. I’m sure smaller countries could have been chosen. You could select specific cities, too. I don’t like how Instagram set this up, but maybe it would work well for you, I guess depending on your situation. For most people, I imagine that Automatic is likely the best option.
Lastly, you have to select your budget ($5, $7, $20, and custom) and duration (1 to 30 days, or indefinitely until paused). For the first post I chose $5 each day for 5 days ($25 total), with an estimated reach of 4,000 to 10,000. The second post I selected $7 each day for 6 days ($42 total), with an estimated reach of 6,300 to 16,000. Tap “Next” to review, and your ad goes live. You can pay with a credit card or PayPal, which you setup the first time through.
So, how did my boosted posts (a.k.a. sponsored ads) go?
The first one, which had the goal of profile visits, was one of those 5% posts with tons of engagement. Unfortunately, when you boost a post, Instagram doesn’t tell you if the accounts reached were followers or non-followers (like they do otherwise), which was disappointing to learn. My suspicion is that they showed it to more followers plus more non-followers—a combination. This post reached over 37,000 people (I have 26K+ followers), so my assumption is that Instagram showed pretty close to 100% of my followers this post, plus 11K non-followers. That’s excellent! I wish all of my posts got this attention. However, Instagram claims that only 5% (less than 2K) saw this post as a result of the ad (less than half the reach that Instagram estimated). And, only 64 people viewed my profile as a result of the call-to-action, which is a small number (I think) for $25. I have no idea if any of those 64 learned of Film Simulation Recipes or followed me or anything else. Was this a rare “exceptional engagement” post because of the ad or in spite of it? I have no idea—I really didn’t get any answers.
The second one, which had a goal of website visits, was one of those 30% posts with moderate engagement. This post reached 15,000 people, and (just guessing) 10K-11K might have been followers. Instagram claims that 26% (less than 4K) saw this post as a result of the ad (significantly less than Instagram estimated). There were (supposedly) 52 people who visited my website as a result of the call-to-action, which isn’t a lot for the $42 spent. I have no way to know if that led to anything further.
I would have to boost a lot more posts to gain any real data to draw any conclusions. The odds are that one of these two posts “should have been” in the common 50% category that receive minimal engagement and views, but neither were. There were three other posts—one before the first ad, one in-between, and one after the second ad—two of which had minimal engagement (seen by less than 25% of my followers), and one had moderate engagement (seen by about 50% of my followers). It makes me think that Instagram does show your boosted posts to more of your followers, but I cannot say that with certainty, or give any kind of guess on how many it might be. It would be great if Instagram had that as an option: show post to all followers. Maybe charge $5 for that. But, that’s not an option. I do find it interesting that one ad was a top-30% post and the other was a top-5% post, so I do believe that boosting a post does just that—boosts a post. Imagine that. But I really don’t feel that the $67 I paid did much of anything other than that.
I think it was good to try, but I don’t think I’ll do it again. I paid about 40¢ per profile visit for the fist ad, and I paid about 80¢ per website visit for the second ad. That’s probably a decent price (cost-per-click) for digital advertisements, but definitely not something that I want to pay—maybe if I was selling something expensive it would be worthwhile. I just want Instagram to show my posts to my followers, and I do think boosting a post does that to a degree, but it’s an expensive way to do it, and not really “worth it” in my opinion.
By the way, be sure to follow me on Instagram if you don’t already.