By Sarah Matista

By now, you’ve probably heard of Instagram Stories or seen them at the top of your Instagram feed. Instagram’s latest feature, released last month, enables users to post photos and short video clips that disappear after 24 hours. Sound familiar? Everyone on the internet is claiming it’s just like Snapchat, but there are some critical, user-friendly differences that small businesses should use to advance their social media presence and brand equity. Let’s explore all that the new feature has to offer.

What are Instagram Stories, and How to Get Started?

Instagram Stories allows users to post 10-second photos or videos that are time-sensitive, so unlike other photos, videos and Boomerangs, these stories disappear after a day and do not show up on your profile grid. Similar to Snapchat, users have access to text and drawing tools that can help enhance the content. And there is no limit to how much you can post in a day, so curating a behind-the-scenes experience is possible without counting seconds.

9to5mac created an excellent tutorial to walk you through the simple steps of Instagram Stories. Watch this comprehensive video and you’ll be posting your own Instagram Stories in no time.

Advantages of Instagram Stories

So why embrace Instagram Stories when Snapchat exists? There are several key differentiators that may make this platform superior, and ultimately more effective, for small businesses.

  • Easily see who is viewing your videos. As simple as this sounds, it’s helpful to know who is actually viewing your content. With a little research, you can decipher audience personas and determine what types of content resonate best with your target demographic.
  • Stories are based on Instagram’s algorithm, which is dictated by user tendencies instead of ad dollars, so brands can get in front of their true target audience without competing with brands that have huge advertising budgets. Small businesses can make great strides with free marketing efforts that reach target audiences in a real-time, authentic way.
  • Instagram Stories are based on its users consuming content rather than pushing their own photos and videos. For brands, this is a major leg up as users are coming to the platform to view clips and images that are meaningful, educational and exciting to them. Major brands will quickly adopt this method of audience outreach and garner significant engagement from their growing number of followers.
  • It has a simpler design, and therefore is more likely to be adopted.
  • Messaging between viewer and creator is only available through Instagram Direct, the platform’s version of direct messaging. It fosters one-on-one communication and helps develop relationships with consumers. Just remember to check your messages and reply in a timely manner to encourage conversations with your brand.

Why Use it for Your Small Business Social Media Marketing Efforts?

Beyond the stylistic and functional differences between Instagram and Snapchat, Business Insider reported that “Instagram has around 300 million daily active users versus Snapchat’s reported 150 million.” With nearly double the number of daily users, Instagram offers businesses greater impact and influence on followers. Plus, the advertising pull is so much greater on Instagram that it’s really a no-brainer for small businesses.

Another benefit of Instagram Stories is the ability to present your business in a candid and authentic way. If something exciting happens in your office or store one day, capture it and post to Instagram Stories. There’s no time to edit when something is happening in the moment, and trends show that consumers want less formal marketing and more reactive, engaging and ‘behind the scenes’ views of their favorite businesses.

Being in the moment also highlights another reason small businesses should consider Instagram Stories: it brings social media marketing in-house. It eliminates a third party vendor and allows your employees to build the brand narrative in a way that aligns with your business’s vision, while also being cost-effective.

Instagram Stories gives small businesses an opportunity to build a social presence that conveys a genuine, fun, and innovative brand. Once that brand is established, your business will be well on its way to success in today’s marketplace. Now, how will you take advantage of all that Instagram Stories has to offer?

Sarah Matista is the marketing communications manager for Vistaprint Digital, which helps small business owners build their presence online. Follow her on Twitter: @SarahMatista.