How Small to Medium-Sized Businesses Can Advertise on Instagram

Learn about the different ways small to medium-sized businesses can advertise on Instagram without breaking the bank.

By Dana Kilroy ・4 min read
ShortStack Tips & Tricks
Social Media

Have you looked into whether it'd be a good idea for your business to advertise on Instagram? A few weeks ago I saw my first "sponsored" post in my Instagram feed. Actually, let me rephrase: I noticed my first "sponsored" post in my Instagram feed. It got me thinking.

If you haven't seen an Instagram ad yet,here's a look at the one I saw:


Instagram ads look like normal posts, the only differences are they have the blue "sponsored" tag and they come from an account you don't necessarily already follow.The adI saw was from "empirefox," which is an account dedicated to promoting Fox's new show Empire.Obviously Fox is a major brand with bookoo bucks. So what about small to medium-sized businesses? Can they advertise on Instagram despite not having hefty advertising budgets?

Yes. More on that later, but first, how much does it really cost to advertise on Instagram? I wish I had the scoop.....One response to this question I found, was on Quora. Nigel Mountford writes that,"Instagram is very secretive about the cost of advertising, but figures of between $350,000 and US $1 million per month have been mentioned by executives."

$350k to $1M? Ouch. I then checked Instagram's blog for some answers. Their statement doesn't reveal much:"We're starting slow with advertising to make sure we take time to get the experience right for our ad partners and the Instagram community. We'll let you know when we're ready to expand to more ad partners."Just like when you land on a business's website and it says "call us for pricing," often a deliberate lack of information is enough to warn you that their product or service is expensive. Same thing goes here.Instagram's being quiet and choosy about their first advertisers so you know it's costing those they have been exclusively invited to advertise with them a pretty penny. Just because Instagram doesn't currently offersmall to medium-sized businesses the opportunity to advertise on their platform through their app, it doesn't mean modest-sized companies are S.O.L.There are other options available, you just have to be a little creative and willing to think outside the "traditional advertising" box.

Here are four ways you can use advertising and other paid media efforts on Instagram.

1. Host an Instagram Giveaway

Hosting a giveaway, whether it's a partnered or solo-branded giveaway, is a popular option for businesses that want invest some money into creating awareness for their brand on Instagram.Instagram, at least when compared to Facebook, does not have very many promotion rules. In fact, the only rules businesses have to abide by are to,

1.) acknowledge (in the giveaway post's caption copy) that the business's promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Instagram, and

2.) not inaccurately tag content or encourage users to inaccurately tag content.This means businesses can get really creative with their Instagram giveaway concepts and rules.


Contests that tend to drive the most awareness are ones that require users to tag a friend in the post's comment section to enter. Contests that require entrants to post a photo or video on their personal Instagram profile that mentions and/or tags the business and/or their contest hashtag in their post's caption copy usually get great exposure also. If you need tips on how to host a photo contest on Instagram, look no further than Instagram's blog. Social Media Examiner also has a good post on this topic. 

2. Invite an Influencer to "Takeover" Your Brand's Instagram Account

An Instagram account takeover is when a brand invites (and often compensates) a guest instagrammer to post on their account for a period of time, often for 1-3 days. A guest instagrammer is usually someone who is popular, i.e. has a large Instagram following. There are many benefits to having an Instagram takeover. One of the most valuable benefits is having your business's account introduced to a unique group of followers who likely have similar interests and tastes as the person you've invited to takeover your account. This often leads to an increase in followers, post likes and clicks on your bio's URL.When an Instagram takeover happens, the influencer will usually post on their own account letting their followers know that on they're taking over a brand's account.Here's an example post of when NYC-based fashion blogger Kat Tanita took over Amazon Fashion's Instagram account a few months ago.


And here's the post Amazon Fashion posted to announce the takeover.


3. Pay Influencers to Post About Your Brand

In a post titled, "What Spending $57,000 on Instagram Taught Me," Neil Patel describes how, in addition to hosting a series of big-prize giveaways, he paid models on Instagram to shoot themselves with his prizes and give away some of them on their profiles. Neil discovered that every time a model posted about his Instagram account, roughly .2% of the model's followers started following his account. He liked this result so much that he started paying more models and lifestyle accounts to post about his account, this is how he got 143,000 plus followers. Neil's practice of paying influencers, i.e. accounts with massive followings, can work for your business too if you align yourself with the right type of accounts. Meaning, if you have a health product, team up with fitness gurus on Instagram. Or if you're a trendy agenda book company, team up with a female fashion and/or lifestyle blogger who shares your same aesthetic.

4. Include Instagram In Your Partnership Agreements

If your business is planning to partner with an influencer in either a small or large capacity -- it could be to help you announce a new product or promote your giveaway, it's advantageous to include posting stipulations in your contract withyour partner(s).For instance, both parties can agree on a number of brand-related Instagram posts within a specific period of time. You can also specify in your contract that your influencer(s) must use specific calls to action and tag or mention your brand's Instagram account in their posts' caption copy. In a FastCo.Design article, this topic of Instagram posting agreements is mentioned when explaining how Chiara Ferragni, astyle blogger who now has more than 3 million Instagram followers, makes her money. It's stated that, "Brands will partner with Ferragni to host events, and pay her to post a certain number of Instagram photos promoting their goods."


The beauty of Instagram is that it's a creative platform. That said, if your business is looking to have an impact with its community, it's important to follow the app's lead and be creative. And not just with your posts, but in all respects of the platform, including advertising.

See how easy it is to create your first Instagram contest or promotion.

Get Started Today. No credit card required. Risk-free.

About the author

By Dana Kilroy ・4 min read

Dana Sullivan Kilroy is a communications professional with more than 20 years of experience delivering compelling content. Her work has appeared in national, award-winning publications and sites, including: The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Fast Company, Inc.

Get marketing tips straight to your inbox

Thank you!
Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
We’ll email you 1-3 times per week—and never share your info.