Why Small Businesses Still Aren’t Joining Instagram

According to a recent poll, only about 1 in 4 small businesses is on Instagram.

(So, not many.)

Especially when you consider that Instagram has more than 500 million users – that’s more than LinkedIn. It gets almost as many unique users in a single day as Twitter gets in a month!

So why aren’t small businesses using it?

Is Instagram not as effective as marketers pretend?

Or are there maybe a few misconceptions about Instagram that need to be debunked?

Let’s cut to the chase and take a closer look.

Why small businesses DON’T use Instagram

Small businesses don’t ignore one of the world’s most popular social networks without a reason.

Can you guess what that reason is?

Is it that they don’t have time?


Because on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, writing, scheduling, and posting updates can take a LOT of time – especially without the right tools.

(That’s why in 2017, a whopping 87% of marketers are going to spend as much or more than they did in 2016 on content delivery tools like social media schedulers. It’s why scheduling tools like Edgar have so many users!)

But actually, only 5% of small businesses who don’t use Instagram say it’s because they don’t have time.

On average, brands of any size only post to Instagram once or twice per day – a lot less than they ought to be posting on networks like Twitter. Scheduling updates isn’t that big of a deal when you’re only posting a few per week!

So what else could it be?

Is it that your customers just don’t use Instagram?

That’s the reason given by more than 20% of small businesses – which is shocking, considering that more than 300 million people per day DO use Instagram, and half of all users follow brands. Heck, the only social network that’s more popular than Instagram is Facebook!


Instagram’s supposed unpopularity isn’t the most shocking misconception in the world – over the past three years, its number of monthly users has quintupled, which is the type of popularity that can really sneak up on marketers who might still think of it as a niche network!

(And to be fair, demographic changes make a big difference. As little as 4% of Internet users over the age of 65 use Instagram – so if you ever want to know what your grandmother had for brunch, you’ll probably have to just call.)

What’s MORE shocking? A third of the small businesses that don’t use Instagram don’t use ANY social media.

But consider what marketers think about social media in general! Fewer than half of marketers think that their Facebook marketing is actually effective, and most of them spend six hours or more per week just on social media.

[Tweet “Fewer than half of marketers think that their Facebook marketing is actually effective.”]

If you’re a small business, you probably don’t have that kind of time to spare! (Another reason why saving time with social media automation and scheduling is so popular.)

So, what’s the biggest reason small businesses give for not marketing on Instagram?

They don’t know how.


That’s what more than a third of those surveyed said!

And while it may have been a good enough excuse in the past, those days are pretty much over.

It’s okay to not want to get too attached to a social network too early on. Even popular ones can get shut down unexpectedly!

But Instagram is long past that point – in fact, Facebook (which owns it) is continually throwing resources at it to make it even more user-friendly and popular. Tools that allow users to filter and manage comments, for example, make it easy to control what can and can’t show up on your account – a problem other social networks have sometimes struggled to effectively tackle.

Instagram is here to stay – but whether or not you know how to use it, and whether or not you already DO use it, there’s something unique about this network that every hopeful marketer needs to keep in mind.

Your definition of success on Instagram should be very, very different

For brands, one of the top priorities on social networks like Facebook and Twitter is driving organic traffic – giving your followers on those networks links to your site, and compelling them to visit.

On Instagram, not so much. (It doesn’t help that Instagram doesn’t allow you to post clickable URLs in your updates – just in your profile.)

This is just one of the ways that Instagram is designed with users – not marketers – in mind.

Instagram doesn’t allow fully automated posting the way other networks do.

Its new live broadcasting feature lacks the functionality that has made live video so popular on Facebook.

Estimates say that in 2016, Instagram will have made about $1.5 billion from advertising – Facebook made almost five times that much in a single quarter.


Basically, Instagram is a useful tool for marketers, but not quite in the same way that other social networks are. You can tell from brands’ goals specific to this network: instead of focusing on things like driving traffic and paying for ads, they’re more interested in being discovered by new people, demonstrating their values, and engaging the customers they already have. (That’s how WE use Instagram, too!)

Whether or not you already use Instagram for your marketing, make sure that you’re setting yourself up for success with the right expectations – it might change your mind about just how effective your efforts actually are!

Are YOU marketing on Instagram?

However big or small your business may be, are you marketing on Instagram?

What do you love about it? (What do you hate about it?) And if you’re not doing it at all, why not?

Share your thoughts in the comments below! (No filter required.)

  • What a great read! I loooove IG for business, and do so for clients too, but you gotta be smart about it. People don’t follow you on IG to be “marketed” to…

  • Linda

    I’ve just started using Instagram a few months ago and have gotten several clients with hardly any special calls to action. Because of the slower pace, I find it less overwhelming to use.

  • Patrick Pitman

    Internet marketing is characterized by tracking with accountability. Instagram’s weak on accountability.

    Business owners have yet to exhaust what can be optimally advertised and tracked on Facebook and Google. To add Instagram to the mix without the click-through accountability seems low priority. And the behavior you describe seems to confirm this.

    The Manta study you link to describes a survey result showing most business owners don’t know how to use Instagram. That’s the big reason given, but it’s more accurately that business owners don’t know *why* to use Instagram.

    Compare to this: Many product business owners may not know how to sell on Amazon.com marketplace — but that’s something they quickly remedy once they grasp why.

    It’s not lack of knowledge that’s holding back Instagram adoption among businesses, it’s lack of confidence in ‘why’.

    One reason given is to be discovered. Every business wants this, and being discovered by more people sounds reasonable as a goal for Instagram use, but how do you know if your business is being discovered on Instagram?

    Every marketing activity brings a cost, and without the benefit attributable to Instagram, this social media network’s adoption by business seems perpetually deferred.

    • Ane Urquiola

      Really soon Instagram will be rolling out a “shop now” feature that will allow users to shop directly from an Instagram post within the app….that will allow some businesses to track ROI in using Instagram

      • GeminiRed Creations

        I would totally be on board for a shop now feature. I have a plug-in on my website that connects to FB and allows people to “shop now” and would love to include that on IG.

  • For me the issue in not using Instagram is that it’s not fully functional on a desktop. I run all my digital marketing from a desktop (with twin screen) or Mac laptop, and being older a mobile screen is too small for me to use comfortably. I have pre-digital era thumbs and wear varifocal glasses .. not a great combo for fiddly little keyboards and one tiny little screen. I do use Instagram for one business, but I outsource it to someone who loves it and she does a great job, but that’s the only business that can afford to outsource it. And of course I have a MeetEdgar account … but use it for Twitter and FB only.

  • nicole piar

    Instagram has been the most effective social media platform for my business. I am an artist, illustrator, writer, and creator of the Spirit Cats Inspiration Deck. I think because my work is so visual, Instagram is just the best place for me. There are also lively, organically-formed communities that surface under hashtags. I have actually gotten to know some of my followers and have had great connections via the direct message functionality (which most people block in twitter due to spam overload) My Instagram followers have long ago doubled my facebook followers and 5x my twitter followers and I have never had to use any advertising on it. Also, I get way more engagement on my posts (up too 300 likes per post vs. 10-20 on facebook) I think due to the facebook algorithm, not many of my followers see my posts unless I boost it with dollars. I credit my Instagram account with really helping me to expand my audience.

  • Simone

    Instagram is my FAVOURITE of the social media platforms, I love it! Where I am based in Indonesia, it is hugely popular and there are many small businesses that operate using Instagram as their “online store”. It is quite amazing! Now that there are Stories as well, it is the perfect tool for me to engage with my community and network etc.

  • I like engaging with my readers on Instagram, but it takes a lot of work to take pictures, create pictures, schedule, and often receive no obvious return of investment. After awhile, I feel like the extra effort doesn’t really pay off when using Instagram. Also, it would be nice if you guys implemented an option for instagram in Meet Edgar — sort of like what Buffer and others do.

    • Tom VanBuren

      If Instagram opens up its API to fully-automated posting, that might be on the table! Until then, the fact that scheduling tools rely on a half-automated, half-manual workaround just doesn’t make it a great fit for Edgar.

  • Hal Schlenger

    What metrics do you track to show the value of time and effort to engage customers and prospects on Instagram?

    • Ane Urquiola

      You could always create a bit.ly link to whatever you want to link to, to track how many clicks you get on the url you have in your Instagram profile..

  • This article sums up my frustration with Instagram, that I cannot use it to drive traffic to my website. I concur it is about brand awareness but that does not really help me, plus it would help if I could automate it. Hopefully one day Edgar will add this to it’s list of automation tools!

    • Ane Urquiola

      Every time you post to Instagram, you should include a call to action in your caption, telling people to “click the link in my profile to shop” or “click the link in my profile to read the rest of the blog post (or article)”, etc…then you can link to whatever you want there.

    • Shelly Waldman

      totally agree! You have to tell people what you want them to do. As a small business think about how you and where you want to drive people. IG > BLOG > OPT-IN > Email or maybe it’s IG>website > shop. But be clear on your call to action and choose just one per post.

  • I love Instagram, it’s my favourite (and so far, most effective) social media network. However what we need is a better scheduling tool…. Edgar, Edgar, where fore art thou?! Any chance of adding IG to your fantastic scheduling tentacles any time soon?

    • Tom VanBuren

      That would depend first and foremost on whether Instagram makes changes to its API – since it doesn’t allow tools like Edgar to perform the same type of fully-automated scheduling/posting as networks like Facebook, this one is just a bit out of our hands!

  • Mimosa Books and Gifts

    We use it, and in fact I just posted something. But it’s clunky. These were the steps: Take a picture with the phone, email it to myself as an attachment, download the attachment, upload it into Mailchimp, use Mailchimp to edit the photo (because it was also going into a newsletter), download the edited photo, email it as an attachment to my phone, save the edited photo, get onto Instagram, upload photo there, thumb-type a caption and hashtags, and post (sharing to Facebook & Twitter). That’s a lot of steps just to share a pretty picture of something new in the store (at five in the morning, which is when I have time to do it). We just decided yesterday to have a coworker who has more time and a better grasp of Instagram do some posting from home once a week; hopefully that will help us boost our presence there.

    • Ane Urquiola

      Have you tried a photo editing app that you can use on your phone (A Color Story is a great one)…also, if you have dropbox or google drive, you can download the apps to your phone, then upload the pic there and then download to your computer (or someone you share the account with can then download) to use for your newsletter (saving you some steps)….

  • Peter Harper

    Hi, great content as always. Thanks…. Love what you guys are doing.

    A bit off piste, but I just note the MeetEdgar trend to have looping video clips embedded in the thread. From a UX perspective this distracts from the punch of the article and for many people is simply annoying. I notice this trends in your email shots as well. I conducted some user research a while back. Teenagers with attention and concentration issues may like it, but most demographics reported that flashing ads and movement was unwelcome. I’d be interested to see if I’m alone here, could be 🙂

    • Tom VanBuren

      Thanks, Peter – and thanks for sharing your feedback on the GIFs! (Maybe that should be something we write a blog post about in the future!)

    • Amanda Howell

      GIFS aren’t a flashing ad, so perhaps those aren’t in the same topic as your research. As for if you’re alone, I’m 31 and I happen to find GIFs to be delightful, generally speaking. Especially if they’re using pop culture references in a witty and relatable way.

    • Hannah Bock

      I actually read this article thinking, “man, I need to add gifs like this to my blog post!”. Will have to do some of my own research into my target market to see what they think..I think it could go both ways.

      • Tom VanBuren

        Definitely worth finding out for yourself! (We used to use them pretty rarely, but found that our readers overwhelmingly loved what they added to our posts – so we kept it up!)

        • Hannah Bock


  • GeminiRed Creations

    I use Instagram with 3 accounts – personal, for my main small business, and a book I just published. I love it and use it all the time. Yes, there are some clunky things about it. I would like to be able to post directly from my laptop, but it’s not an option so I make it work. I have a process that works for me, but may not work for everyone. You just have to find your own rhythm. Also, I do like the integration between FB and IG in that if I boost a post on FB I can also include it on IG.

  • Instagram has helped me connect with more people than any other social platform till now. This is the one place where I have been able to have meaningful conversations. So far, I really like it!