They built their businesses on Instagram. Then the platform changed

“It came out a lot faster than I expected,” he said. Her account, Midnight Tokar Vintage, has amassed nearly 6,000 followers since launching in September 2020 and has started a second account focused on reselling clothing. Even with a relatively modest following, Tokar, a 30-year-old single mom living in New York City, was able to turn the Instagram store into her full-time source of income about a year ago.

But more recently, his posts haven’t reached as many of his followers and regular customers, causing items to sell much more slowly, problems he believes may have something to do with recent changes in Instagram platform. “Things just don’t show up… I’ll still get messages months later [posting something] like, ‘Oh my God, I never saw that,'” Tokar said.
She is not alone. As Instagram increasingly prioritizes videos and recommended posts in users’ feeds in an effort to keep pace with rival TikTok, some small businesses that were built on the platform are finding it harder to reach their followers and are facing a decline in engagement, and say they are worried. about the future of their businesses. Some small business owners joined users in a petition calling to “make Instagram Instagram again,” which has garnered more than 300,000 signatures since it was launched last month. Others have expressed concerns directly to the platform in posts and stories.

“I still have my core customer base … but the way Instagram is changing, it just doesn’t feel sustainable anymore, I don’t think it can really grow,” said Liz Gross, who has been selling vintage fashion since 2011 through his account, Xtabay Vintage. Gross said 98% of its business comes from the platform after its 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 stripping away the photo-sharing app’s 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’re now much more likely to see suggested posts, ads, and reels (Instagram’s short video answer to TikTok) that might be of interest to them or not
After a wave of pushbacks last month, including from social media heavyweights like Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian, Instagram said it would temporarily roll back some of the updates. Instagram said it would pause a full-screen option it had been testing in an apparent effort to be more like TikTok and reduce the number of recommended posts in users’ feeds until it can improve the algorithm that predicts what people want to see . Still, Instagram boss Adam Mosseri has suggested that suggested videos and posts remain central to the app’s future.

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

Mosseri said the move to more recommended content is meant to help creators on the platform, suggesting users will be more likely to discover something they haven’t already followed. But some business owners say that simply making sure their posts reach the people who have chosen to follow them is more important.

“I have people writing to me saying they never see my posts again and wondering if I still post,” said Gross, who typically posts several times a day to her 166,000 followers. “Only a tiny, tiny fraction of the people who follow me actually see them.”

Determining precisely why post reach fluctuates on any platform can be challenging. Instagram provides professional users, such as businesses and other creators, with a dashboard that shows how their content is performing, including the number of accounts viewing and interacting with their posts.

Similarly, Liz Sickinger, owner of Six Vintage Rugs, said that while her followers tend to engage with her content if it appears in their feed, lately her posts are only seen by about 5% of people who follow her

“As a creator, I resented the time there,” Sickinger, who started his account selling antique rugs four years ago and has nearly 42,000 followers, told CNN Business in an email. She added that she’s not sure if her posts show up as recommended content in other users’ feeds, but said, “I suspect not because I don’t post many videos and my account growth has completely plateaued.”

Many small business owners are also frustrated by the platform’s focus on video, saying they feel they have to create videos or Instagram reels to get their posts seen, whether the format makes sense for their products or not. no.

“I didn’t go into this business wanting to be entertained,” Tokar said. “It takes a long time to make this content, and it’s a time-consuming job to start. My hours are spent buying, photographing and listing, researching, cleaning and delivering… This is already a full-time job.”

Accounts can pay to “boost” their posts so that they appear as sponsored posts in more user feeds, which several business owners said now feels like one of the only ways to ensure engagement with the still images. Sickinger said his ad spend has doubled in the past year “because organic reach is dead.”

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For Gross, who said sponsored posts have helped grow his following over the years, having to now pay to be seen feels unfair. “What’s the point if you’re not really going to show [my posts] the people I paid money to reach initially?” he said.

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

Given the enormous reach of Instagram, quitting is difficult, for both users and businesses. But some business owners say they are considering expanding to other platforms because of the changes. Tokar said she has started making some sales through e-commerce sites Depop and Etsy, and is now no longer dependent on her store for all of her income. And Sickinger said his “saving grace” has been the ability to reach his regular customers through an email list.

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

“It keeps me up at night because I don’t know how it would reach people,” Gross said. “I mean, I could start doing Twitter posts. But visually, the impact of Instagram was always that you had an image that you saw, so losing that would have a tremendous 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 user is, and I’m not sure they do.”

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