Instagram Influencer Ads - How to Set Up and Deliver Results

By
Paul Johnson
In
Best Practices
March 18, 2020

What are influencer ads?

Influencer ads combine the best of influencer marketing and paid social.

Influencer ads can be run via “boosting” branded content ads or as dark posts. This article focuses on dark posts, which let performance marketers tap into influencer handles (identities), content, and audience targeting via Facebook Ads Manager. Dark posting allows greater control and effectively unlocks a new media and acquisition channel for consumer brands. 

Dark posts do not require an influencer to publish an organic instagram post on their feed. This means influencer collaborations can involve more content, which advertisers can use to create several different ad variants for different audiences or optimization. Dark posts can be run as in feed images, slideshow or carousel ads, and instagram stories. They also have a clickable CTA (e.g. shop now) with the URL and UTM parameters defined by the brand.

When done right, influencer dark posts complement a brand’s paid social strategy and fully incorporate paid social best practices. Leveraging Facebook and Instagram influencer content and audiences can deliver better results than traditional advertising - especially for apparel, beauty, and lifestyle brands. This marketing tactic elevates influencer campaigns from delivering brand awareness and engagement rate, to driving measurable sales and return on investment.

Influencer ads should be a core part of every Instagram influencer marketing strategy. The tactic works with all types of influencers - from micro-influencers who are gifted free products, to bloggers, to celebrities like Kim Kardashian or Kylie Jenner. The only requirement is that influencers have their Instagram profile set to business or have a creator account.

Delivering results combines the art of finding high quality content creators and the science of turning sponsored content into an acquisition channel.

The art: working with the right influencers who create compelling sponsored posts and connect with an engaged audience.
The science: optimizing influencer content across audiences (including influencer audiences) to increase performance for your paid social objectives.


How to run influencer ads

One of the biggest challenges with influencer marketing today is reaching a brand’s target consumer. In fact, 49% of marketers cite that declining organic reach is one of their biggest concerns. Brands have embraced the reality that they need to work with influencers on social media to create high quality content and connect with their target audience in an authentic way. The question is how to actually reach those audiences. The great thing about dark posts is follower count becomes less relevant; instead of looking at the number of followers an influencer has, you can focus on the quality of content and determine if their audience is a good fit for your brand.

To maximize influencer marketing ROI, influencer ads must part of the strategy

Influencer marketing 1.0 

  1. Brand identifies and activates social media influencer
  2. Influencer creates and publish Instagram post
  3. Brand measures performance (maybe coupon code redemptions)

Influencer marketing 2.0 - Influencer ads

  1. Brand identifies and activates social media influencer
  2. Influencer creates and publishes Instagram post (and sends additional creative to brand for use in dark posts)
  3. Brand gains advertising access to influencer accounts to whitelist content and audiences
  4. Brand incorporates influencer handle (identity), content, and audiences into prospecting and retargeting campaigns

Typical results when done right - improvements to social media marketing Return on Ad Spend (RoaS) by 20%+

As influencer marketing “grows up”, brands are putting a greater emphasis on measurement and results. Influencer partnerships are incorporating influencer dark posts so that content can reach the right audience, and brands are able to measure the impact of this digital marketing channel.

Influencer ads vs brand ads comparison chart


The power of influencer ads is realized as “social proof” achieved. Social proof, in this case, isn’t the number of likes or comments on each post, but rather the fact that your audience(s) sees posts from several influencer handles advocating for your brand through highly relatable content.

Influencer dark posts are gaining momentum. Last year, 80% of influencers granted brands whitelisting access to social media accounts

The most successful brands today are building relationships with influencers similar to how they would with publishers - by realizing the importance and power of targeted content distribution.

How to set up influencer ads

Turning influencer marketing campaigns into a scalable media channel.

Influencer dark posts enable content to be optimized across influencer handles, audiences, and content to deliver measurable, scalable results across prospecting and retargeting audiences. This means the best content from micro-influencers can go from reaching a few hundred or maybe a thousand followers, to reaching tens or hundreds of thousands of Facebook and Instagram users who are receptive to influencer content.



Influencer Whitelisting Advertising access



The typical process for running influencer ads:

  1. Advertiser activates Instagram influencer for partnerships, and secures rights to advertising access
  2. Influencer manually grant advertising permissions through their business manager (this process isn’t easy and requires education and hand holding from advertiser)
  3. Influencer gets content approval from advertiser before posting
  4. Influencer posts content on their own channels and share raw assets manually as needed
  5. Influencers manually share stats with advertiser as agreed upon (daily, weekly, or monthly basis)
  6. Advertiser leverages influencer handles (identities) and creatives in paid social campaigns. Dark posts do not require the influencer to create organic Instagram posts or Instagram stories.

How influencer ads works with Lumanu:

  1. Advertiser activates influencer for partnership, and secures rights to advertising access
  2. Advertiser requests permissions via Lumanu for ANY influencer
  3. Influencers grant advertising access in 1 click
  4. Lumanu ensures all influencer assets flow into advertiser’s Facebook ad account automatically
  5. Advertiser leverages influencer handles (identities), creatives, and audiences in paid social campaigns

Note that dark posts do not require the influencer to create organic Instagram posts or Instagram stories. However, there should be some visibility for the influencer for ads that are running (either via email or shared folders or automatically via Lumanu).

Influencer advertising pain points

Working with creators to obtain advertising access is a pain point for anyone who takes on the task - the process is far from straightforward. Depending on how an influencer has their account setup (business profile or creator account, how their instagram is connected to their Facebook Page, if they have a business manager or not), the process of setting up partner access differs.

Obtaining advertising permissions  

Whitelisting (e.g. granting advertising permissions) can be a major headache. The process varies considerably depending on several factors: whether the influencer has a business manager or not, their account is set to a business profile or creator account, or they grant permissions via Facebook or Instagram. Unlike business profiles, creator accounts do not have API access, meaning partners can not create influencer audiences, and creators can not connect to third party applications.

Transparency & trust

Running dark posts gives a lot of power to advertisers, which often leads to a back and forth approval process. Whitelisting can cause tension between advertisers and influencers regarding how much visibility the influencer is given, what dark post ads have been run, and what the advertiser is allowed to do once they gain advertising access to the influencer’s account. Often, advertisers will encounter some hesitation and must build trust to be granted this access.

Contract language confusion

Contracts that loosely mention advertising or whitelisting details of what those permissions entail leaves room for disagreement and potential lawsuits. Brands have legal resources at their disposal, so unless the influencer has a strong legal background, they’re unlikely to understand the details of their contract. On the brand side, it can be very difficult to keep track of all the moving parts: which content is allowed to be used, where, and for how long.

Lumanu helps solve several challenges with the manual whitelisting process

Automated process to manage permissions

The process of gaining advertising permissions can be repetitive and inefficient. It’s manual, meaning it’s prone to user error, and the process differs depending on the set up of the influencer’s account. This time commitment makes influencer advertising difficult to scale. Lumanu streamlines the whitelisting process, allowing influencers to grant advertising access in one click.

Security

Creators can be concerned with sharing advertising access to their account, especially if brand collaborations represent a significant portion of their overall income. Their social media channel is their business and their brand, and whitelisting requires them to hand over a lot of control to advertiser partners. Lumanu gives creators a single place to view and manage all of their collaborations, ultimately providing them with peace of mind.

Transparency & reduced communication for approvals

When a creator grants advertising access to their account, they have little visibility into what their advertiser partners are doing. Lumanu provides influencers with real time visibility into all activity that is being run by the advertiser. This visibility allows brands to create ad variants to creative and copy (including removing excess hashtags) without sending suggested edits and revisions back and forth via email. This trust and verify process, facilitated by Lumanu, increases transparency and streamlines communication.

Influencer Audience Access

All influencer audiences flow automatically into advertiser’s Facebook ad account, eliminating back and forth with the influencer. This access allows advertisers to build custom and lookalike audiences within your existing workflow, giving you the power to then prospect and retarget highly engaged influencer audiences.

How to deliver results with influencer ads

Influencer dark posts require a test & learn approach to deliver optimal results. To get the most out of your marketing budget we suggest optimizing for these 5 variables:

  • Creative
  • Variety
  • Copy
  • CTAs & Headlines
  • Audiences

Creative

Transform and optimize influencer creatives

Content strategy for brand ads will often hold true with influencer creatives. If a brand is using high quality video in Instagram ads, the performance of a feed image might not do well in comparison. Ensure your creative requirements are communicated clearly to the creator (how product is shot, etc.)

At a minimum try to start with 3-5 influencers and create a few variants of your influencer’s posts across Facebook, Instagram and/or Facebook.

Make sure the product is the star of the image, especially for new products which have less recognition. Creative for complex purchases (high price tags - technology especially) tend to perform better when showing detailed product videos or specs. Combining influencer + brand creative helps engage new audiences with the brand story. Additionally, content transformations, such as turning carousels into slideshows or adding an end-card to carousels, can drastically improve CPAs.

Incorporate influencer ads into retargeting campaigns

Retargeting website visitors, and even abandoned cart customers, with influencer content is an effective strategy to combat ad fatigue and improve ROI. Due to possible audience overlap in campaigns, it is effective to target consumers with influencer handles (identities) who can often say things the brand can’t. Influencers are able to deliver a fresh, relatable perspective, and maybe even offer an exclusive discount. 


Examples of influencer ads

Variety

Use a variety of influencers and content in each ad set

Using content from multiple influencers builds social proof within audiences and reduces ad fatigue to maximize results. Influencer dark posts perform best when ad sets include a minimum of 3 influencers and 5-8 pieces of content. As with traditional brand ads, there is often a testing phase to figure out the ad creative and placements that perform best.

Edit copy as needed to maximize results and ensure compliance

  • Ensure the brand is mentioned upfront (within the first 7 words). When post copy clearly calls out what the ad is for, traffic tends to be higher quality (people have opted into the purchase funnel).
  • Make product benefits and/or problems clear. Making the product benefit and/or problem up-front & clear to the viewer builds trust. This also gives you a great opportunity to implement incentive or a discount to drive urgency as a strong call to action. Remove excess copy, including hashtags. Recommend removing hashtags in the copy since these are clickable and can be a distraction.
  • Re-use/Alter Content. Editing copy allows the freedom to remove or change discount codes and re-use content around holiday events.

CTAs & Headlines

Use your headline for important call outs

A good headline has the ability to catch and maintain a consumer’s attention. Use headlines to clearly communicate key product benefits and brand positioning. Headlines are also a great way to tell a consumer what you want them to do next. When possible, use your headline copy to call out any deals or discounts. Putting the call to action front and center not only intrigues the consumer, it pulls in higher quality leads. It’s important to test and iterate on different headlines to determine best performers for your influencer dark posts.

Audiences

Leverage custom and lookalike audiences from multiple influencers in one adset, even if you don’t use creative from all influencers. 

Influencers have built loyal followings that seek out curated content on Instagram. The trick is to focus on engaged (i.e. active users and relevant audiences). These audiences are likely to purchase, especially in beauty, fashion, and lifestyle verticals. Leverage custom and lookalike audiences from multiple influencers in one ad set, regardless if you are using creative from all influencers.


Using influencer custom audiences in Facebook Ads Manager


It’s no secret that influencer marketing is an evolving and fast paced space. Understanding how DTC brands are using influencer dark posting and incorporating their tactics into your strategy CAN put you two steps ahead of the competition. Having ultimate control over your influencer assets is extremely powerful in today’s world - it allows your brand to go so far as drive purchasing decisions. Any Facebook or Instagram influencer, whether micro-influencer or celebrity, has the ability to build trust with consumers in a way brands can’t; consumers believe in the authenticity of the influencer, and they’re engaging with social media posts they truly care about.  

But the advantages don’t stop there. Not only do dark posts allow you complete control over your influencer assets, they’re FTC compliant and show up as sponsored content or a paid partnership in a Facebook or Instagram users feed. As the Federal Trade Commission cracks down, it’s reassuring to know this strategy helps alleviate brand safety concerns.

Without needing further reiteration, it’s clear that mass dark posting is where the influencer marketing world is headed. It makes campaign success uncertainty a concern of the past, and provides you with information and assets needed to leverage campaigns. No matter how you do it, it’s worth implementing into your campaign strategy.

Want to learn more?
Sign up for the latest insights.
Paul Johnson is the Co-Founder and Head of Operations at Lumanu
LinkedIn
Instagram