What’s the trick to Story Ads that work?

This is the latest installment of our series focused on the ways social platforms and ad strategies are evolving.

It has been more than two years since Instagram first rolled out Story Ads, and next month will be the one year anniversary of Facebook launching its own version of Story Ads . The ad format has been a big win for the company and advertisers. In April, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said more than three million advertisers were running Story Ads across Instagram, Facebook and Messenger; and, a recent report from Kenshoo found Instagram Story Ads accounted for nearly 20% of ad spend on the platform during the second quarter of this year.

It’s no surprise Story Ads are performing well — Instagram reports 500 million accounts are using Stories on its platform, with one-third of the most viewed Stories coming from businesses and one in five Stories generating a direct message from viewers. Just last month, Instagram confirmed it was experimenting with increasing the ad load in Stories, not surprising considering the amount of activity Stories are generating.

For marketers who haven’t used Story Ads, now might be time to consider adding them as engagement with the content continues to grow across Instagram and Facebook. In the latest installment of Marketing Land’s series on the future of social, we asked advertisers with experience running Story Ad campaigns what’s working for them.

Instagram Story Ads can include polls as in this ad sequence from Ruggable.

Test, test and test again

Jose Sánchez, head of the creative Studio at Smartly.io, said his company recommends, at least, 10% of an advertiser’s overall spend should go towards experiments and testing.

“When constantly testing, you’ll learn the best way to communicate and engage with your audience,” said Sánchez, “We have found that small changes, such as logo placement or the color of the copy, can bring huge wins.”

He believes that brands need to be persistent and adopt a test-and-learn approach, building an iterative process to test variations of things like overall video length, fast versus slow pacing, content localization, color schemes and user generated content.

Akvile DeFazio, president of social media agency AKvertise, relies on testing when determining what ads are best suited for audiences of varying ages.

“I typically recommend that, before making assumptions, especially if you are not in the target demographic yourself, test Story Ads for B2B and B2C to know for certain how they work for your business and specific audiences,” said DeFazio, “It’s worth a test to know if and how it works for you. Once you know if a Story Ad doesn’t work well, then exclude them going forward.”

The creative that’s delivering results

Story Ads can incorporate video, audio and calls-to-action.

DeFazio said her agency always recommends Story Ads for its e-commerce clients, with carousel video Story Ads doing exceptionally well as it prompts the user to explore more products.

“With these ads, we are able to showcase more and utilize the most ad real estate as you can use up to ten carousel cards,” said DeFazio, “Our sweet spot tends to be three to five cards as we suspect users don’t want to see too many options.”

Andrew Foxwell, co-founder of the social media advisory firm Foxwell Digital, said user generated content that looks native to platform performs best for the campaigns he is running: “For example, boomerangs and still images that are shot quickly and simply on phones, and generally look like something you’d see posted by a friend versus a more stylized image shared by a brand.”

Foxwell’s agency is also seeing a lot of success with Instagram Story Ads that include polls.

“In one instance, we inserted a discount code directly into a poll, with one choice being ‘Do you love it?’ and the other being ‘Get 15% off with code IG15’ and that specific Story Ad helped us scale one brand from $500 to $15,000 a day.”

According to Sánchez, brands need to continually test their creative against different attribution models to determine what’s going to work best for them.

“I recommend analyzing the performance of the creative mix by using different attribution models and comparing the creative mixes,” said Sánchez, “The conflict in results based on different attribution models makes assessing results challenging. Incrementality is ultimately what matters most, which is why I would recommend understanding the optimal creative mix.”

Instagram versus Facebook

In terms of adoption — both from users and advertisers — Instagram Story Ads have had a sizeable head start over Facebook Story Ads as they were launched more than a year before Facebook’s ad unit. Foxwell said his agency isn’t even recommending Facebook Story Ads to any clients right now since they haven’t proven to be a reliable source for direct-response conversions yet.

“Compared to time spent in the Facebook News Feed, users simply aren’t turning to Facebook Stories as much,” said Foxwell, “You also can’t add a poll on Facebook Story Ads, which has proven helpful for Instagram Story ads.”

DeFazio’s agency is testing Story Ad campaigns on both platforms for e-commerce clients with audiences that include younger and older demographics, but is finding the same results as Foxwell.

“The impression share isn’t there for Facebook, and click-through-rates (CTR) are much lower,” said DeFazio, “For one of our water bottle clients, the CTR was two-times higher on Instagram Story Ads compared to Facebook.”

Take advantage of Facebook’s ad tools

For Story Ad campaigns, Foxwell recommends advertisers take advantage of the Asset Placement Customization tool in Facebook Ads Manager that lets users customize ad assets by placement within the same ad set.

“For example, this tool allows you to target a 2% Lookalike Audience of your best customers with both an image that’s sized properly for a video link post (4:5 aspect ratio) and an Instagram Story asset (16:9). This tactic keeps the learnings at the ad set level, which can help advertisers get through the learning phase more quickly,” said Foxwell.

He also recommends building funnels entirely dependent on Instagram Stories via Facebook’s Campaign Budget Optimization feature.

“We’ll commonly build out a Campaign Budget Optimization (CBO) campaign and have multiple audiences within the same CBO running only to Instagram Stories,” said Foxwell, “We’ve seen this strategy be impactful for incremental results, particularly in the lower part of the sales funnel.”

Build toward the audience

For Foxwell’s clients, most of which are B2C-focused, he has found that Instagram Story Ads perform particularly well if the client is already actively posting organic Stories on the platform — even more so if the client’s target audience is age 45 or younger.

DeFazio doesn’t count out Story Ads when building campaigns aimed at older audiences — instead, her agency is using creative to help drive the results they want to see.

“With accounts where we target older demographics, one thing we’ve noticed that works well, as older audiences get familiarized with ephemeral content, is to educate them in the process by adding overlay text to ‘Swipe Up’ with an arrow pointing to the call-to-action button to click through to the website from a Story Ad.”

History shows that Story content is likely to draw the attention of more people, regardless of their age. In 2017, when Instagram first launched Story Ads, the company reported 150 million users were engaging with Stories. Two years later, that number is now up to 500 million. With more and more users turning to Stories, both to post and consume, Story Ad performance is bound to grow right along with the content’s adoption.

As Sánchez points out, “A big part of the News Feed audience has moved to Stories, and thus, brands need to always be ready to adapt to new consumer behavior.”

More about social media marketing’s future

About The Author

Amy Gesenhues is a senior editor for Third Door Media, covering the latest news and updates for Marketing Land, Search Engine Land and MarTech Today. From 2009 to 2012, she was an award-winning syndicated columnist for a number of daily newspapers from New York to Texas. With more than ten years of marketing management experience, she has contributed to a variety of traditional and online publications, including MarketingProfs, SoftwareCEO, and Sales and Marketing Management Magazine. Read more of Amy’s articles.

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