Don’t Be Afraid of the High Cost of Instagram

Students looking at ads on Instagram

You know your prospective students are on Instagram. You see them engage on the platform all the time. That’s why higher education marketing agencies were quick to investigate the platform when Instagram rolled out ad options for businesses. But the cost of Instagram quickly sent some users into sticker shock. How could the site’s recommended cost-per-click bids be over 10 times Facebook’s?!?!

If you ran away from the platform without really giving it a chance, we have some news for you.  If you target well and use the right strategy and creative for the platform, you can get real results without overpaying.

Here’s what you need to know about the cost of Instagram and how you can get the best ROI from the platform:

Target the Right Audience

If you’ve run Facebook Lead Gen campaigns in the past, Instagram will be familiar. Instagram ads run in the same user interface so you can carry your targeting over. Begin with the audiences and ad sets that have gotten you the best results on Facebook. Look for high click-through rates, solid lead volume, low costs per lead. Use what you’ve done on Facebook as your start point for Instagram. Once you have results you can measure, you’ll want to optimize accordingly and introduce new targeting into the mix.

If you’re new to Facebook lead generation, start with these audiences:

  • Remarketing
  • Custom Audiences
  • Lookalikes

Use the Right Creative

Instagram ads follow the same ad guidelines as Facebook, so you might be tempted to replicate current Facebook ad creative for Instagram. But the Instagram audience is more visual, and is more engaged with “storytelling” images – unlike Facebook, where a harder sell creative often produces the best results. Keep photo quality a top priority, and ensure you swap out your ad images at least once every couple of weeks.

And don’t forget to implement those call to action buttons! They’re the only way your prospective student will know how to navigate to your website or landing page…and that’s your main objective, right?

Don’t Be Intimidated by the High Cost of Instagram

It’s easy to get scared off by those crazy high minimum bid suggestions for advertising on Instagram. But once you’ve done the work to build up solid campaigns, don’t get cold feet just because the cost-per-click seems expensive. The metric you really care about is your return on investment.

Check out this example from an actual ESM Digital client campaign: Using the same 30 mile radius and lookalike audience, the recommended CPCs were:

  • Facebook $ 1.44
  • Instagram $17.28 (12X Facebook)

Crazy, right? But remember, you’re interested in ROI so let’s dig more deeply. Ask yourself:

What’s your actual average CPC? (your bid sets the max you’re willing to pay, not what you will pay every time)

What’s your Click Conversion Rate? (the percentage of people who convert after clicking through to your landing page)

Here were the results from our ACTUAL client case study:


  • Average CPC: $0.74
  • Total Ad Clicks to Website: 21,165
  • Total Spend: $15,662.10
  • Click Conversion Rate: 0.66%
  • For 139 Leads, at a $112.68 CPL


  • Average CPC: $4.66
  • Total Ad Clicks to Website: 240
  • Total Spend: – $1,118.40
  • Click Conversion Rate: 4.2%
  • For 10 Leads, at a $111.84 CPL

Bottom line – while the recommended CPCs were significantly higher we saw less clicks to the landing pages (saving the client money), and a higher Click Conversion Rate (protecting cost per lead).

Instagram can be a great addition to your lead generation and brand awareness efforts. If you’d like to learn more about how you can use social media to improve higher education enrollment, contact ESM Digital today. We can help you build, execute and measure effective digital marketing campaigns.