How To Use Instagram Ads For Recruiting

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Can paid Instagram advertising help you recruit qualified candidates? We ran a test campaign to find out—here’s what we learned and how to do it yourself.

Example Instagram ads for recruiting

Could targeted Instagram advertisements help us attract qualified applicants? Recruiting Social was seeking a technical recruiter for our Los Angeles office, and it was the perfect opportunity to experiment with Instagram’s paid marketing capabilities. We ran two ads for three days that linked to the job posting for the role in an itsy-bitsy test campaign.

Here’s how we did it, the results we got, the lessons we learned, and how you, too, can set up an Instagram advertising campaign to attract candidates.

(Spoiler: we got all of one click on our ad. While it didn’t generate any new applicants for us, lots was learned, and as far as I’m concerned, Instagram still shows tremendous opportunity for paid recruitment marketing. Read on for the details.)

Why use Instagram ads

Instagram boasts 400 million active users worldwide. Thirty percent of those users – or 120 million – reside in the U.S. Despite only opening its advertising platform in the third quarter of 2015, the photo sharing app is poised to become the second most-likely place marketers spend their social advertising budgets. Why? Maybe because Instagram boasts a higher-than-Facebook-or-Twitter engagement rate for top brands. In other words, the ads work.

Recruiting Social wanted to experiment with Instagram ads because our team members are very active users of the platform. It’s where our existing, thriving and happy team members put their attention, and so our logical assumption was that it would also be where our best potential candidates put their attention, too.

Who you can target

Instagram is owned by Facebook, and it runs on the same advertising platform. That means you can build super-targeted custom audiences based on the personal and professional information people have filled out in their Facebook profiles.

Targeting categories include …

  • Location, including city, metropolitan area, state, province or country
  • Job title
  • Current or past employers
  • Education level

… Among many other demographic options. Spend a little time exploring Facebook’s Audience Insights tool to see just how powerful its targeting tools are.

If your company maintains a talent community, or you have a list of past or potential candidates, you can also create an audience from a list of email addresses. And if you have a Facebook tracking pixel installed on your career website, you can target ads to people who have already visited the site or job board, but may not have applied yet.

Whether you want to attract a steady stream of part-time sales associates to your clothing retail stores, recruit experienced servers with an interest in wine to your restaurant chain, or poach sales managers from your competitor that’s going through layoffs, you can put your ads in front of the right people – and only the right people.

How are Instagram ads different than regular posts?

Part of the value of Instagram ads is that they don’t really look like ads. When well executed, they look like any other Instagram post, with the one distinction that they incorporate a call to action and link to a landing page destination of your choice, for example, a job posting or your career website. Ads also don’t show to your followers or show up in your account’s list of past posts. Only the people you’re targeting see your ads.

How much do ads cost?

There are two ways to pay for your ads:

  1. CPM: Cost per thousand (‘mille’) impressions. Though the costs change depending on the competition for your target audience’s eyeballs and the number of other advertisers using the platform, a report by Nanigans shows that a global average CPM on Instagram of $5.78 [PDF].
  2. CPC: Cost per click, which on Instagram means the number of people who clicked your ad and were taken to your landing page. Like CPM, CPC varies widely depending on your targeting criteria. Nanigans reports an average CPC of $0.65. I suspect – and this is based merely on assumption – that if your company’s customers overlap with your target candidates, you can expect a lower CPC.

For our own experiment, we went with CPC, because we wanted people to click through to our job posting. If your objective is employer brand awareness, CPM might be a better pricing option.

How to create your Instagram ad campaign

What you need

Budget: Start small. If you’re paying based on CPC, decide how many clicks you want to receive. For our experiment, we set a $30 ‘lifetime’ budget. If you prefer, you can set a daily budget instead of one that runs the lifetime of your campaign.

A Facebook account: You’ll be using the Facebook Ads Manager to set up your ads, so you’ll need an account.

An Instagram account: From what Instagram account will you be posting the ads? It needs to be connected to the Facebook account you’re using to set up your ads. You can use your company’s ‘careers’ or corporate Instagram account. Don’t do it from your personal account – that’d probably be pretty creepy. We ran our ads from our company account @recruitingsocial.

The 8 steps

1. Set your objectives and plan for success

You’re not running Instagram ads just for the sake of running Instagram ads. What are you trying to accomplish? To promote a specific role and send people to the job posting? To encourage a particular audience to check out your career website or job board? Whatever it is, write your objective down. Make that objective the wellspring for all your decision-making on this project.

With Recruiting Social’s test campaign, our objective was to promote our technical recruiter role to technical recruiters who live in LA, and get them to check out the posting.

Next, identify and write down under your objective:

  1. Your target audience, in as much detail as possible
  2. Your budget for the campaign
  3. The top two or three selling points for the role or your company as an employer
  4. The destination URL you’re sending people to
  5. The start date and, if applicable, end date for your ad campaign.

Here’s what our list looked like:

  1. Technical recruiters who live in Los Angeles County
  2. $30 total
  3. Not your average recruitment agency; we love and have fun doing what we do
  4. (if that link doesn’t go anywhere, it’s ’cause we’ve filled the role and the posting has come down)
  5. Start date: Thursday, May 19. End date: Sunday, May 22.

Note that on the right-hand side of the screen, the ads manager provides an assessment of how specific your targeting is.

2. Select your visuals and write your caption

With your objective and key selling points in mind, select your visuals. Keep them simple and in line with what people expect to see on Instagram: photos.

Facebook’s advertising policies (also applicable to Instagram) can be found here, but know that:

  1. The recommended image size is a 1,080 pixel wide, by 1,080 pixel tall square
  2. Ads must not include added text covering more than 20% of the image

Additional suggestions:

Skip text or logos. Adding either or both of these to your image is tempting, but they scream ‘ad’ and are apt to turn people off. Keep it basic, and let the photo’s subject communicate your message.

Be true to your brand. Make sure your visuals accurately reflect what you are promoting: the role, your company, and workplace. Work within the brand guidelines set out by Marketing function, or better yet work with the Marketing team to make this whole darned campaign happen.

DIY photos are authentic. High quality, purchased stock photography is just fine, but original photography of your workplace, team or product is better. You don’t need to hire a professional photographer – DIY photos taken with your phone can often look more authentic in the context of an Instagram feed.

Get the permissions you need. If you’re using images of any of your employees, make sure you have a signed model release granting you permission to use their likeness.

For our experiment, our image choice was about portraying what makes us a different workplace than typical recruitment agencies. We took fun, colorful photos of a couple members of our team – the people our new recruit will be working with:

Original photography for Recruiting Social’s Instagram advertising campaign to recruit a new technical recruiter

3. Write your caption copy

Your caption is just as important as your visual. A few tips:

‘You’, not ‘we’. Make your ad about the person seeing it, not your company.

Keep it short. I’d suggest no more than two or three short sentences, including a call to action tell your audience what to do next.

Include a call to action. Tell your audience what they should do next!

No more than one hashtag. And only if it’s a branded hashtag incorporated into your ad’s copy. For example, “#companylife is like nothing else.” Though descriptive or popular hashtags help expand the audience for a regular Instagram post, you are paying to put your ad in your target audience’s feed. Extra hashtags are superfluous and will just make your copy hard to read.

Here’s the copy from our test campaign, which was written to complement the photo it captioned:

“This isn’t just work. I love my #recruitinglife.” Join our LA team as a tech recruiter.

4. Create your campaign in Facebook Ads Manager

Navigate to the Facebook Ads Manager at Select ‘send people to your website’ as your objective. Enter your destination URL, and create a descriptive campaign name; we called our campaign ‘Technical Recruiter – LA’. Click ‘continue’.

Setting you Instagram Advertising campaign objective

5. Define your audience

Under ‘audience’ you will be setting the targeting parameters of your campaign. Many of the qualifying criteria can be found searching in the ‘detailed targeting’ box. If you are looking to target based on a list of email addresses or people who have visited your website, you will need to click ‘create a custom audience’ and select ‘customer list’. If you’d like to save your newly-defined audience for future use, check ‘save this audience’.

Here’s what our super-simple targeting criteria looked like:

  • Location: Los Angeles, California (+25 miles)
  • Age: 21–65+
  • Gender: All
  • Languages: English (All)
  • Job Titles: Technical Recruiter

Screenshot of setting the targeting parameters in an Instagram advertising campaign for recruiting

6. Set your ad’s placement, budget, and schedule

Under ‘placement’ deselect every option except Instagram by clicking the check marks. Scroll down to ‘budget & schedule’. Using the drop-down menu, select either ‘daily budget’ or ‘lifetime budget’ and enter the value you’ve budgeted. Under ‘schedule’, you can either opt to let your ads run indefinitely or define a start and end date.

Clicking ‘show advanced options’ will reveal the settings for how you will be charged for your ads. By default, it is set to ‘link click’: CPC. I suggest you leave all advanced options set to their defaults.

You can run multiple ad sets within a campaign, but for right now you’ll only run one. Give it a descriptive name – we called our test ad set ‘LA Tech Recruiters’ – and hit ‘continue’.

Setting placement and budget of an Instagram advertising campaign for recruiting

6. Format your ad’s image

Make sure the ad format is set to ‘A single video or image in your ads’. Scroll down to the ‘media’ section and click ‘images’. The Ads Manager will have automatically pulled the main image from your destination URL, so you’ll want to make sure to remove it by clicking the X. Click ‘upload images’ and upload the image or images you are going to be using. I recommend you use at least two – that’s how many we used – because it allows you to test what type of visual best resonates with your audience.

Setting the images in an Instagram advertising campaign

7. Format your ad’s text

Scroll down to the ‘text’ section. You can disregard ‘connect your Facebook page’ because your ad is only going to run on Instagram. Likewise, the ‘headline’ will not display on Instagram. In the ‘text’ field, paste your caption copy.

Optionally, your ad can include a call to action button, to prompt users to click on the ad. While you can choose an ‘apply now’ call to action, I’d suggest using ‘learn more’. It’s a smaller ask, and so more likely to prompt action. Keep it easy, reduce friction, get more clicks!

Make sure the correct Instagram account is set up to represent your business in the campaign. You can disregard both ‘display link’ and ‘URL parameters’ – neither of these are relevant for an Instagram ad.

To the right, you can preview what your ad will look like with each of the images. Look good? Great. Hit ‘review order’ to give everything one last look, or, if you’re feeling confident, click ‘place order’. If this is the first time you’ve produced an ad for either Facebook or Instagram, you’ll be prompted to provide billing information (i.e. pull out that fancy corporate credit card).

Once your order is placed, Facebook’s advertising moderators will review your ad, and, so long as it meets their ad criteria, should approve it within a few hours.

Setting the text for your Instagram ad campaign

8. Track your ad’s performance

From the Facebook Ads Manager – which you can access from your Facebook homepage by clicking the drop-down arrow on the far right-hand side of the blue navigation bar and selecting ‘manage ads’ – you can track your ads performance and demographics.

Monitoring the success of your Instagram advertising for recruiting

Our results & takeaways

And? Our campaign’s results? We got one link click, and one like. Wah, wah. I suspect part of this is that we only ran the campaign for two and a half days – you gotta give people some time to check their Instagram before you can expect them to see your ad! – and also because we targeted to specifically, just like the audience definition dial told us when we were setting up the ads. Guess there aren’t that many technical recruiters in LA!

Despite our results, we’ll use these again. There’s just too much opportunity not to experiment more – tremendous opportunity, I think, if you’re recruiting for evergreen roles. And really, the key benefit right now is that nobody else is really doing it. The mere act of promoting roles and your employer brand via ads on Instagram signals that you’re different.

So? Gonna try running a few Instagram ads to see for yourself?

Christian De Pape, Recruiting Social’s Head of Marketing and Content

About the author

Christian De Pape is Head of Marketing and Content at Recruiting Social. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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