A few months into graduate school, I found myself on a faded, smelly couch at a skate park writing a paper about great works of literature. While I was typing away on my laptop, a skateboarder walked up to me and asked, “Which one is yours?” as he gestured to the guys skateboarding nearby. After I pointed mine out, he said, “If I skate off this ramp, will you give me your number?” This perplexed me as I had just clearly told him I was there with my boyfriend. I told him I wasn’t interested. “What if I do a trick off the ramp?” he pressed, and again I declined. While he got a point for persistence, this skater had no chance of getting my number because I was not his target audience. The same applies in the world of social media, where it’s challenging to maintain a consumer base. One misstep and you can quickly alienate your audience.

Instagram has become a huge platform for businesses. An Instagram junkie, I have eaten at restaurants, bought clothes, and read books based on posts by people I follow. In 2013, Instagram introduced ads into users’ feeds and for the most part they have been well received. Brands like Old Navy and Ben & Jerry’s have had very successful ad campaigns. Because of the personal nature of the platform, however, it’s easy to frustrate users with an ad that is overly intrusive to their feed. Last month, Instagram opened their advertising API to all businesses. Before you start posting, here are some things to consider about advertising on Instagram.

  1. Know Who You Are Talking To

While I’m sure my would-be suitor thought he had a good chance of getting my number, he didn’t understand that while I may have met his criteria, he did not meet mine. The same is true for your audience. Who are you trying to talk to? Moms? Grads? Artists? When you have a specific group in mind, your odds of reaching them through social media will increase. McDonald’s ran a general promo on Instagram for weeks to advertise their Minions toys. Compared to the sleek photos that filled the rest of my feed, the generic, cheesy ad cluttered my feed. As a result, I quickly scrolled past without a second look. While Instagram populates ads based on your preferences, the McDonald’s ad tried to universally reach all of Instagram and in the process alienated many users (as their comments confirmed).

  1. Understand Your Context

With my laptop and non-beanied head, I stood out from the rest of the people at the skate park, which is probably why this skater approached me in the first place. It’s great when your brand stands out from the rest of the crowd—just make sure it’s for a positive reason. Instagram showed me an ad for a Bose speaker and it wasn’t until after I read the caption that I realized it was a company I did not already follow. The ad was an attractive photo of a living room that looked like it belonged in a West Elm showroom (a brand I do follow). When you use high-quality photos with creative content, you’re more likely to stand out by blending in.

  1. Realize You Won’t Get them All

I’m not sure if I was the first girl that skateboarder tried to pick up that day, but I can guarantee he did not have a 100% success rate. It’s an unrealistic expectation to believe your ad will appeal to everyone who sees it. Generally, the comments I see on Instagram ads are friend tags or gushy praise, but there are always people who point out negative aspects about the brand, Instagram, and humanity in general. You won’t be able to win them all, so don’t water-down or alienate your brand to please everyone. Stay true to your mission statement, and those who align with your values will find you.

By opening their advertising API, Instagram has given marketers an excellent tool to reach customers in new and unique ways. As you’re planning your Instagram strategy, remember that you’re not just showcasing a product, but as media guru Seth Godin says, you’re creating “a platform you can use to build your own audience, one that you can nurture, educate and ultimately convert.” No skateboard required.

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Autumn PrivettWriter/Editor

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