They built their business on Instagram. Then the platform changed

“It went faster than I thought,” she said. Her account, Midnight Toker Vintage, has racked up nearly 6,000 followers since its launch in September 2020, and she launched a second account focused on resale clothing. Despite having a relatively modest following, Tokar, a 30-year-old single mother living in New York City, was able to turn Instagram Shop into her full-time source of income about a year ago.

But lately, her posts haven’t been reaching many of her followers and regular customers, which means items are being sold very slowly, which she thinks may have something to do with recent changes to the Instagram platform. “Boys just haven’t been seen. … I’ll still get messages months later [posting something] Like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve never seen this,'” Toker said.
He is not alone. As Instagram increasingly prioritizes videos and recommended posts in users’ feeds to keep pace with rival TikTok, some small businesses built on the platform are struggling to reach their followers and face declining engagement, and they’re worried. About the future of your business. Some small business owners joined a Change.org petition calling on users to “make Instagram Instagram again” — which has garnered more than 300,000 signatures since it was launched last month. Others have raised concerns directly on the platform in posts and stories.

“I still have a core base of customers … but the way Instagram is changing, it doesn’t feel sustainable anymore, I don’t feel like I can really grow,” said Liz Gross, who has been with the company since 2011. Selling vintage fashion through your account Xtabay Vintage. Gross said 98% of her business comes from the platform after her brick-and-mortar store closed during the pandemic.

The concerns among small business owners are part of a larger backlash to Instagram’s changes, which some users say are moving away from the app’s photo-sharing legacy and making it harder to connect with the communities they’ve spent years building on the platform. Many users have complained that instead of seeing their friends’ posts in their feed, they are more likely to see suggested posts, ads and reels (Instagram’s short video answer to TikTok) that may or may not be of interest to them.
After a wave of pushback last month, including from social media heavyweights like Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian, Instagram said it would temporarily roll back some updates. Instagram said it would pause a full-screen option it was testing in an apparent attempt to resemble TikTok, and roll back the number of recommended posts in users’ feeds until it can improve its algorithm for predicting what people want to see. . Still, Instagram head Adam Mosseri has suggested that videos and suggested posts remain central to the app’s future.

In response to questions about the concerns of small business owners, Annie Yeh, a spokeswoman for Instagram parent company Meta, reiterated that Instagram is temporarily reducing the number of recommended posts in users’ feeds in response to user feedback. “We understand that changes to the app can be an adjustment, and we believe that Instagram needs to evolve as the world changes, so we want to take the time to make sure it’s right,” Yeh said in a statement.

Mosseri said the move to more recommended content is meant to help creators on the platform — suggesting that users are more likely to discover something they didn’t already follow. But some business owners say it’s more important to make sure their posts reach the people they follow.

“I’ve had people write to me who say they never see my posts and wonder if I still post,” said Gross, who typically posts several times each day to her 166,000 followers. “A tiny, tiny fraction of the people who follow me actually see them.”

Determining exactly why the reach of posts fluctuates on any given platform can be a challenge. Instagram offers professional users such as businesses and other creators a dashboard that shows how their content is performing, including the number of accounts that view and engage with their posts.

Similarly, Liz Sickinger, owner of Six Vintage Rugs, said that while her followers typically engage with her content if it pops up in their feed, recently only about 5% of her followers see her posts.

“As a creator, I resent the time there,” Sickinger, who started her account selling antique rugs four years ago and has nearly 42,000 followers, told CNN Business in an email. She added that she wasn’t sure her posts actually appeared as recommended content in other users’ feeds, but said, “I don’t doubt it because I don’t post a lot of videos and my account growth has completely plateaued.”

Many small business owners are also frustrated by the platform’s focus on video, and feel they must create videos or Instagram reels to get their posts seen, whether the format makes sense for their products or not.

“I didn’t go into this business wanting to entertain,” Toker said. “It’s going to take a long time to make that material and it’s a very time-consuming job to begin with. My hours are sourcing and photographing and cataloging and researching and cleaning and distributing. … It’s already a full-time job. Yes.”

Accounts can pay to “boost” their posts so they appear in more users’ feeds as sponsored posts, which many business owners now feel is the only way to ensure engagement with static images. Sickinger said his ad spending has doubled in the past year “because organic reach has taken off.”

Instagram pulls back updates after criticism from Kardashian family

For Gross, who said sponsored posts have helped her following over the years, paying to be seen now feels unfair. “If you’re actually going to show what’s good about it [my posts] The people I paid to get in the first place?” she said.

Business and e-commerce are key to Instagram’s future growth strategy, and the app has introduced a growing slate of shopping features in recent years. Instagram encourages business owners to use all of the app’s features — including Stories, Live, Posts and Reels — to ensure followers see and interact with their content. The company also offers training to small business owners on the platform, including in-person events in some cities. Instagram’s parent company, Meta, said more than 200 million businesses worldwide use its services each month, although it does not have a separate figure for Instagram.

Given Instagram’s massive reach, it’s hard for both users and businesses to leave. But some business owners say they are considering expanding to other platforms because of the changes. Tokar said she has started conducting some sales through e-commerce sites Depop and Etsy, and no longer relies on her shop for all of her income. And Sickinger said his “saving grace” has been his ability to reach repeat customers through an email list.

Still, there’s no way to easily transfer an Instagram account’s followers to an audience elsewhere, and other platforms often come with fees and other policies that can make selling there more complicated than on Instagram.

“This kind of keeps me up at night because I don’t know how I’m going to reach people,” Gross said. “I mean, I could start doing Twitter posts. But visually, the effect of Instagram has always been that what you see is the image, so that’s going to have a big impact.”

Sickinger said: “My business wouldn’t be what it is today without this platform, which is why I’m so invested. I want them to really understand who their users are, and I’m not sure they do.”

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