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I Spent 50 Dollars on Instagram and This Is What Happened

I Spent 50 Dollars on Instagram and This Is What Happened

For those of us trying to expand our social media presence, Instagram has been the king for quite some time. So what happens when you put a little money into promoting yourself on Instagram? I tried it and here are the results.

There are tons of tips, tricks, and rules out there for people trying to up their follower count. You can even pay for followers, but by now you should know that doesn’t actually produce results and can even hurt your account. However, there are legitimate ways to promote yourself within the platform.

Some of you might be a little skeptical about spending money to advertise online, especially on social media. Honestly I am too, and I had no idea what the results of this experiment would be before trying it out. If you’re trying to brand yourself like a business than it is an completely justifiable expense, however it’s not that simple in my case. Unlike someone trying to sell a service such as shooting portraits, weddings, headshots, etc; as a landscape photographer in my current position im simply just trying to gain followers. The campaign or promotion that I created might not be exactly the same as yours, but it should still be a good indicator of what $50 can get you.  

Choosing a Photo

A tree standing alone in Yosemite Valley

This was the image I chose to promote. A very simple image, certainly not one of the most eye-catching photos in my portfolio, but I wanted to use something that would be considered average (maybe a 3, using Fstoppers rating system). This seemed like the fairest way to go about running this test. That being said, if you were to promote your Instagram I do suggest choosing one of your best photos.

Promotion Settings

I chose to promote a newly-uploaded photo (less than 5 minutes old) and only run the promotion for 1 day. My thinking was that the first day you post a photo is its most important and likely to be when it gets seen. Instagram prioritizes photos that have a lot of engagement early on. Also, the predicted amount of people reached doesn’t seem to change if you spread out the promotion over more days, so why not skyrocket the engagement right when the photo is fresh.

Manual audience created for promotion

I created my own target audience: all ages, located in US/Europe, with interest in landscape photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, REI, and a few others. You can set this up however you like for whatever you think would be your best demographic. My estimated reach was listed at 41k-110k. 


The Numbers

These are the results of the campaign. 6700 likes to the photo, 4 comments, and I gained 40 followers. Followers are the main goal for me, specifically real and active followers. This is one of the benefits of paying to boost a photo, rather than paying a service to find followers.The followers you gain through a photo campaign are much more likely be active humans. That said, this was likely still not worth it for me. My follower acquisition cost was a little over $1.00 which might be affordable to some, but since I am not selling any services, it is financially unsustainable for me.

There are other factors to keep in mind when running a campaign like this. The quality of your content is important. Your profile feed needs to be appealing as well. Mine certainly isn’t the creme de la creme but it’s decent. I did run this exact same campaign a few weeks prior using a photo that stands out more, the one I wrote about in a recent article.

Exact same campaign a few weeks earlier using a different photo

The results from that campaign were even less impressive. I wanted to try again just in case the first time was a fluke. This also gave me two trials to report using different types of photos. The results for both promotions were less than I expected. If I wanted to gain 20,000 followers it would cost roughly $25,000. Obviously this stat is a bit misleading considering I would hopefully continue to grow and produce without any campaigning, but strictly looking at the data it puts the cost per follower into perspective. 


This type of promotion was likely not worth it for what I’m trying to accomplish which is to gain followers. For someone that might simply want more eyes on their services, this might be great. If a campaign like this is reaching 32,000+ people and you book 2-3 shoots from those views, that result is likely well worth the cost. Once again, because my goal is to gain followers it’s not sustainable.

I’m planning to do a follow up to this trial by spending $50 on influencer marketing so look for that article in the coming future. For now I’d love to hear what you think about my little experiment. Have you paid to boost a photo on Instagram? Did I waste $100? If you could quantify it, how much would you pay per “real” follower?

If you're passionate about taking your photography to the next level but aren't sure where to dive in, check out the Well-Rounded Photographer tutorial where you can learn eight different genres of photography in one place. If you purchase it now, or any of our other tutorials, you can save a 15% by using "ARTICLE" at checkout. 

Alex Armitage's picture

Alex Armitage has traveled the world to photograph and film some of the most beautiful places it has to offer. No matter the location, perfecting it's presentation to those absent in the moment is always the goal; hopefully to transmute the feeling of being there into a visual medium.

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Seems to me that collabs with other landscape photogs and YouTube creators is a better way for somebody like you to gain followers, while a photog, as you mentioned, with a business to promote would benefit from purchasing those ads.

Agreed. If anything, the problem with paying for Instagram promotion is that you end up losing more than you ever gain. You would do better just by posting three or more photos a day - along with doing real-live events where people can see your work and follow you accordingly.

I don't disagree! This was more of an experiment than anything else. I've tried other forms of "advertising" myself and typically they all usually suck for gaining real followers.

If all that you are after is to gain followers on IG, it is a slow marathon; good, quality content, posting regularly, if not multiple times per day, 25-30 relevant hashtags, and tagging a few large users that could be helpful if they like and/or share your work.

Paying them or Facebook anything only encourages them to further screw the reach and engagement on everyone's pages. $50 for 40 new followers probably from their fake account storage isn't worth it. Likes mean nothing if people aren't paying attention. Basically they threw a few follows at you to keep you paying. I want them to just come out and charge $10 a month for business accounts and then LEAVE IT THE HELL ALONE. Then they can continue being greedy and we can continue just posting content and not playing games to break through their crap.

It's certainly not easy to break through. I think if I just spent more time actually on instagram, it might be possible. However I personally don't even really like the platform but find it a necessary evil.

I'm at 25k now without tricks, just people finding me through models I shoot. Probably harder if you shoot landscapes cause they don't tag you much. Only worse thing than struggling to get likes is seeing how little these sites allow the followers you do have to see what you post. It's a crack dealers mentality, give the first few away for free until you're addicted and then charge. I get business through word of mouth, not likes so I don't worry much.

This isn't to negate what you said at all, because you're totally right. Word of mouth and especially gaining followers through models can be really helpful. They post your work, you gain a few of their followers etc. Not sure what you shoot, but shooting models in general, especially attractive ones definitely makes gaining followers a little faster. All of that said, it's a different game for landscapes like you said. You just kind of have to post and hope people start to see and like your content.

* just looked your portfolio. Can confirm you photograph attractive people! :) But also your content and quality is top notch. You could probably photograph some potatoes and gain a few followers.

Can I cheat and have cute girl holding potatoes?

I'm no expert but I think that might be better than just the potatoes.

Spent $65 and this is what happened...

I know several photographers who paid to "boost" their posts on FB. Afterward, all of their engagement stats went down to below the "pre-boost" numbers.

Facebook is even worse for photography. I gave up on trying to gain any followers on there honestly.

The other problem with this is you're assuming that all 40 of those followers will stay with you, and not unfollow in the coming days. I'd be surprised if you only lost 50% of them in the next 30 days...

I gain a lot of followers when I make a post that end up unfollowing. However, it seemed like *most* of the people who followed me during this campaign weren't an account that looked like it was following/unfollowing people. That said, they could all unfollow me. I have zero control over it sadly and I do agree it's always a possibility.

I wouldn't give them another dime to get followers. Almost everyone that uses Instagram thinks they need lots of followers. I just use it to post new work and every once in a while, I gain a new loyal follower. It's so skewed with fake followings that's it's rediculous now. What will 100k followers get you with horrible photography? In the end, nothing except bragging rights. Good PODs and collabs are best as stated above.

Do PODs still work?

Hi Alex, thanks for posting your findings. Why do you want more followers?

I'm unclear on what your business model is and what your aims with social media marketing are to support that model. You've written that you don't provide a service; as a landscape photographer do you sell prints? That's absolutely something you can market via Instagram and Facebook but followers seems like the wrong KPI to be tracking.

How did the click through rate to your website change when you were running the campaigns?

I didn't want to get too deep into the business aspects of landscape photography too much in this post. I actually had more written out and omitted it because it was off topic and I plan to write a completely separate article on making money shooting landscapes. That said, yes I do sell prints. However I find that the best way to make money doing landscapes is to grow a following. That pays dividends later on to things that net you money like workshops, tutorials, etc. Prints are sadly pretty low on the totem pole for sustainability.

Thanks for the comment and question! I hope my future article might answer why I want more followers a little better, but for now this is the short and sweet version.

Would love a more specific article on making money shooting landscape photography! Looking forward to that!

It's coming!

Interesting results. For a business, I'd like to see the effect of this experiment if you restricted the geography to a far more local range (say 100 miles or less for local customers) vs. US and Europe. Please continue the experiments!!!!

I plan to! I actually have two I'm working on now but it'll take me some time to do them. I don't have a local demographic one planned, but that's because my market is a little wider. I think your reach would be far less (specifically for me because I don't live in or near a major city), but your response rate/following might be better if your photos characterize the places around you.

Since I'm in Los Angeles area, I'd be really curious for this area. Since you're just looking for followers, maybe you could tailor the geography to a major city like LA, NYC (or a commercial photography center in Europe, although I'm biased to LAX.) Don't know if that's possible, but it would be enlightening!

I live in Northern Florida with no major cities for almost 200 miles! So it's quite the challenge to even find fellow landscape photographers here.

As a side note do you have any portfolio images from the panhandle?(EDIT I see a couple on your IG. Writing for fstoppers the real way to gain followers haha) I think a lot of those areas like st marks, appilachicola, st George, all the springs etc. are beautiful but might not be the big epic landscape shot so many people want.

Great article, thank you !

I don't have a lot I'd considering portfolio worthy, although I shot more around the area a few years ago. I have some ideas I'd like to shoot in the future but it requires really specific scenery.

It might be not worth it but you will never know until you tried it. The lesson here is to sum up what is working and what is not and continue to the next method until you find the best method to achieve your goal and at the end it will all be worth it. For me, I have tried all kinds of ways to gain clients and after many " failed attempts" I finally got the sweet spot on how to spend my marking budget to achieve my goal. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there like this so we can all learn something from your "failed attempts". Thank you for sharing.

I actually haven't taken any of the other comments as negative. They are all honest feedback that I can even agree with. I knew going in that this could be just wasted money. But I wanted to find out and see what happened like you said.

Thanks for the kind words and appreciation. Thanks especially for taking the time to comment and be positive :)

Man... it's so sad to see people continue to fall for this "follower" BS.

Ask yourself this before you give away more of your money:

1) is a follower a customer?

2) is a follower leading anybody else to buy anything from you?

3) will you be able to influence your followers to buy anything from any supplier that *you* might be able gain a reward from?

and finally

4) are you really looking to build your brand (which hopefully engages in some kind of business) or are you just looking for some kind of fame?

The truth will set you free.

its really about how you set up the campaign. The writer chose to target people with interests in landscape photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, REI. This would attract fellow photographers and not a customer. If you wish to target a customer you would target interests that they are interested in. for example for my print sales of illustrations, i would target people interested in pop culture, marvel, ironman, etc. and not words like digital art, illustration, artwork, etc.

I personally think gaining a following is essential to make it as a landscape photographer. it doesn't have to be a large one, so certainly not "fame" in any regard. But enough word of mouth and eyes on you to essentially sell what people might want from you. I appreciate the feedback and also don't like anyone feeling like they have to have followers to have a career.

Would it be different outcome, as in more followers, if you set the target audience to worldwide?

Highly possible but the "reach" would have been the same I think. It basically charges you per person reached.

Also I tried selecting "world" in the target audience and couldn't get it to work, so I just started doing a lot of countries.

Hi! Have you considered the possibility that your audience might be the issue ? I've personally tried boosting IG posts about 10 times now, usually for around 8-10 euros and, although I didn't get the same reach, I was not too far off in terms of new followers.

Seeing as you had a lot of reach but average engagement (22%) and very little clicks (0.5% of those who liked actually followed you), it feels like your audience was not tailored enough for your content (or the other way around).

Speaking from experience again, your target audience seems too broad. In terms of locations, the selection seems very large and odd with the addition of Italy. In terms of age, I've seen that most people interacting with my posts are aged 25-35, which makes sense because which 13 year old likes landscape photography? Finally, in terms of interest, I don't understand your choices at all. I don't think that "Adobe Photoshop Lightroom" enthusiasts are many on IG. Maybe try sticking with themes like "Nature," "Travel" or "Outdoors" ?

IMHO, I think you just threw money at IG without focusing too much on your audience which is the defining factor of any successful campaign on Social Media. I'm personally lucky enough for my SO to be a professional Online Marketeer/Social Media Manager, but I think everyone can achieve decent results with better defined audiences!


Remy, you're totally correct that I could target a smaller audience geographically. My thinking was that I'm looking for people interested in photography/landscapes anywhere in the world. Which is why I selected the interests that I did such as Photoshop and Lightroom. Those are the people I'm looking for that might have interest in what I'd like to do in the future. The teen demographic is spot on. A lot of the reach (half I think?) was the 13-19 bracket I think. If I did this again, I'd take you up on the advice of trying specifically for an older target.

Also it doesn't show all the interests I picked to my audience. One being Outdoor Photography. I found that picking things like "Nature," "Outdoors," etc are also very broad. Millions of people have those as interests and I'd prefer to gain more photography focused followers if I had my choice.

I hope that answers some questions but I don't disagree with you. I definitely threw money at them to see what happens.

I had exactly the same results, but for Facebook.
Spent 30 euros 2 times, checking how it would go and if it would make any sense to put money to promote.

Results of the last campaign were disastrous. Check the screenshot.
My goal was for people to visit my website. There was a link to the website with a big discount for my product
For 30 euros (which would be about 35-40$), out of 3.000 people only 4 clicked on the link. Audience was also targeting USA and Europe, people interested in landscape and nature photography.
I got some 200 likes on the image, that was in the post, but it was just a random promo image, and I am not really interested in likes – I needed either visitors or followers

Anyways. I think I'll skip on putting money to Instagram and Facebook directly, and will just keep producing better content and keep up with my photography journey =) I think it results in better engagement and followers in the end

This is the conclusion I have come to as well. I tried some lower budget facebook ads and they were even worse than this.

Interesting read. This Instagram app is not about content at the end of the day, it’s about using content to play the algorithm game. A true rat race.

Remember that it is used by a ton of consumers. We as photographers all just see it as the rat race :)


FB ads really did work about 5 years ago. Now, don't even bother.


A big problem with all this landscape photography is that most of the people that follow us are other photographers who just want you to follow them, and non of us are making our living out of prints or even corporate clients, the bulk for landscape photographers are teaching workshops to other wanna be photographers and enthusiasts or selling tutorials.
This field is bound to be saturated in a few years as there are many talented people in this genre doing the same thing.

That is one of the biggest inherent issues with landscape photography. One of the main ways to monetize and sustain yourself is to teach your competition essentially. Definitely topics I want to talk about!

For the amount of people reached, the profile visits from link clicks IS SO LOW!

I think if I changed the demographic to older ages and less teens this might increase. But yes it is really low :\

:-( IG ads work for me, since I started using IG ads, I gain 100+ followers per ad, very targeted audience... always manually done. I shoot portraits and model/beauty, which I imagine people prefer to see than landscape photography. Also my page is not just professional photography. I share my personal travels taken with iphone. Some behind the scenes, iphone taken. I try to give my page a personal touch.

I think you should try again, but use a custom/targeted audience.... I choose my audience by using the theme of the photo and perhaps the profession of the person in the portrait. E.g. if it's a portrait of a blogger.... I make sure to not just put "portrait photography" in the custom audience;s interests, I also put "blogger" "fashion blogger" etc.... therefore other photographers and potential customers who would like similar portraits are seeing the ad.

50 dollars is too much.... depending on duration of the ad.... I find 1 or 2 days is fine. 15 dollars for 2 days, or 7 dollars for one day. That's the duration I've always done. 1 or 2 days.

I'd love to try again with different settings. More targeted age group and maybe different interests? What kind of demographics are you targeting, just locally or surrounding areas?

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