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?

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Previous comments
Melissa Ann's picture

Age group: sometimes I've done the full range... but I prefer to start from 25-65.
Location targeting is extremely tight, I choose areas close to my studio. However, I find that IG still shows the ad to people in my city/state overall.
Generally, I find that the interest targeting is the most accurate in its targeting, literally almost all the new followers are either photographers or the other interests I have put in... but location targeting is the least precise, it still shows it to people outside the regions I've chosen.

Alex Armitage's picture

I'll keep those things in mind! Good info to have for anyone who is trying to grind. I wish I could focus to a more local audience.

Mr Blah's picture

I haven't read a decent, well written article with actual original content and usefull info on this site in a long while. Between bag reviews, Crossposting other people's work with a small intro and garbage click baiting, your article stands tall above what this site generates on average.

Great work and interesting results!

Alex Armitage's picture

Hey! I'm guilty of making a few crossposts with small intros too! There are certainly some quality articles on here that don't get the attention they deserve. That said, what would you change or want to see here?

Also thank you for such high praise and kind words.

Mr Blah's picture

Well the site started with BTS videos and things that were more instructional. But it clearly went down the "penny per click" route judging by the ammount of "easy" articles (repost, aggregation from other sources, straight up copying press releases,) to generate more content and so drive traffic. I get it, it's the name of the game.

But now the good content is drowned in the less than average one and the site doesn't really have an identity to speak of. Any knid of topic goes as long as it's (very) remotely related to cameras or a single picture... It's as generic as /r/pics.

phanter fan's picture

Please please please do some research before you do this. There are many studies proving that this kind of Advertisement kills your engagement, which then in further posts kills your placement.

Listen to people who have an Instagram following like:

Or research some of the studies. Here a nice explanation of the problem:

Alex Armitage's picture

Good information to have! I know a lot of these rules but certainly assumed paying the actual company would have different effects. I'll keep this in mind for the future, however I don't expect to use any more money this way :)

Kima Shik's picture

Wow. That's an impressive result. But you know what, you don't really need to strive too much to promote your page. The decision is here: https://zen-promo.com/view_likes_on_instagram
With its help you will be able to gain more and more followers, likes and views, and as a result more popularity. It also offers free 7 days trial to see if it works personally for you. And in case you have a lot to do, you don't need to beworried about anything - the program does everything itself.

Killian Rogers's picture

There are also some other cool ways of promotion. For example, you can use this tool https://3xpush.com/ to advertise your site/product/service and etc. It's a great tool you can push traffic with.

Jade Musik's picture

So, I am curious if anyone can answer me on this. I did a promotion and set the budget for 12 dollars but when I looked at my bank statement it was for 15. Instagram claims they don’t charge more than your budget amount so how come they charged 3 more dollars?