Despite the growing popularity of Instagram, most small businesses aren't using the social media network to their advantage, new research finds.
Less than one-quarter of small business owners actively use Instagram as a marketing tool, according to a study from Manta, a provider of small business products and services.
By not using the mobile photo-sharing app and social network, small businesses are missing out an opportunity to engage with current customers and connect with millions of new ones, said Sara Oberst, vice president of marketing for Manta.
"Instagram is arguably today’s most popular social media platform, so it has great potential to become an effective marketing avenue for small business owners," Oberst told Business News Daily. "Instagram is an especially visual social media platform, which gives small businesses the opportunity to use images and videos alone to connect with followers and identify new ones."
Not having a clear understanding of Instagram is what's holding back many small business owners from using the social network. The research found that 39 percent of those who aren't on Instagram said the reason why is because they aren't really clear on how it works.
In addition, 33 percent of those surveyed said they don't use Instagram because social media isn't part of their marketing strategy, 21 percent said their customers don't use Instagram, 7 percent don't see the value in it and 5 percent said they have no time for it. [See Related Story: Instagram for Business: Everything You Need to Know]
Of the 24 percent of the small business owners surveyed who are on Instagram, 92 percent said they do so to reach new customers and 41 percent said they are using it to show off their company's values. Other common reasons small business owners said they are using the social networking app is to support their community, engage their existing customers, provide customer service and promote sales or specials.
The good news for small business owners who want to use Instagram, but don't know how, is that it is easy to get started, Oberst said. One of the first steps she suggests is to browse their competitors' Instagram profiles to get a sense of how others in their industry are engaging with followers.
"In doing so, owners can also determine what works and what doesn't in terms of posts and videos," Oberst said. "Small businesses can also better strategize a plan for marketing on Instagram when they have an idea of how to separate themselves from the competition."
Once you have a better sense for how it works, Oberst encourages small business owners to download the app and then upgrade to an Instagram for Business account after going through the basic setup.
"Instagram for Business provides business owners with access to features that personal users don't typically have," Oberst said. "For instance, owners with an Instagram for Business account gain access to analytics tools and the opportunity to promote posts with paid ad campaigns."
When creating their profile, small business owners should ensure they choose a profile name that is identifiable to customers and is consistent across all their social media accounts, according to Oberst.
Other tips she offers include making sure that their first posts are consistent with their overarching social marketing strategy; using hashtags to gain more followers; post images when traffic is higher for increased interaction; post regularly; and interact with influencers, customers and prospects directly.
Instagram isn't the only social media platform small businesses aren't using. Overall, 51 percent of the small business surveyed said they don't use any type of social media as a marketing tool. The most popular social media outlet for small business owners is Facebook, according to the study.
Oberst said small business should be looking to all types of social platforms to market their businesses. However, deciding which ones to be active on most depends on each business's goals and customers.
"By deciding what they want to accomplish out of their social media marketing, small business owners can better choose the platform that's right for them," Oberst said. "To better determine which sites to use, small business owners must figure out which social channels their customers are on, whether they’re selling to businesses or consumers, as well as how they want to tell their business's story — either via text, photos or videos."
The study was based on surveys of 1,402 U.S. small business owners.