They built their businesses on Instagram. Then the platform changed
By Clare Duffy, CNN Business
After losing her construction job at the start of the pandemic, Kaitlin Tokar decided to try selling some of her collection of vintage furniture and homewares on Instagram.
“It took off much faster than expected,” she said. Her account, Midnight Tokar Vintage, has racked up nearly 6,000 followers since its launch in September 2020 and she launched a second account focused on clothing resale. Even with a relatively modest following, Tokar, a 30-year-old single mother living in New York City, was able to make the Instagram store her full-time source of income about a year ago.
But more recently, her posts haven’t reached as many of her followers and repeat customers, which means items are selling much more slowly, issues she says may have something to do with the recent changes. brought to Instagram’s platform. “Things are just not seen. … I will still receive messages months later [posting something] like, ‘Oh my god, I’ve never seen that,’” Tokar said.
She is not alone. As Instagram increasingly prioritizes videos and recommended posts in users’ feeds in a bid to keep pace with rival TikTok, some small businesses that have been built on the platform are finding it harder. to reach their subscribers and face a drop in engagement, and are worried about the future of their businesses. Some small business owners have joined users in starting a Change.org petition calling for Instagram to be “remade Instagram” – which has garnered more than 300,000 signatures since its launch last month. Others raised their concerns directly on the platform in posts and stories.
“I still have my customer base…but the way Instagram is changing, it just doesn’t feel sustainable to me anymore, I don’t feel like I can really grow,” said Liz Gross, who since 2011 has been selling Instagram. vintage. fashion via his account, Xtabay Vintage. Gross said 98% of his business came from the platform after his physical store closed during the pandemic.
Concerns from small business owners are part of a larger backlash to Instagram’s changes, which some users say strip away the app’s photo-sharing legacy and make it harder to connect with communities than Instagram. they spent years building on the platform. Many users have complained that instead of seeing their friends’ posts on their feed, they are now much more likely to see suggested posts, ads and Reels (Instagram’s short video response to TikTok) which could whether or not to interest them.
After a wave of pushback last month, including from social media heavyweights such as 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 tested in an apparent effort to look 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 manager Adam Mosseri suggested that suggested videos and posts remain central to the app’s future.
In response to questions about concerns from small business owners, Anne Yeh, a spokesperson for Instagram’s parent company Meta, reiterated that Instagram is temporarily reducing the number of recommended posts in users’ feeds in response to comments from users. 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’re doing it right,” he said. Yeh said in a statement.
Mosseri said the move to more recommended content is intended to help creators on the platform, which suggests users will be more likely to discover something they haven’t already followed. But some business owners say it’s more important to just make sure their posts reach the people who have chosen to follow them.
“I have people writing to me saying they don’t see my posts anymore and wondering if I’m still posting,” said Gross, who typically posts several times a day for his 166,000 followers. “Only a tiny, tiny fraction of the people who follow me actually see them.”
Pinpointing precisely why post reach fluctuates on any platform can be a challenge. Instagram provides professional users such as businesses and other creators with a dashboard that shows the performance of their content, including the number of accounts viewing and engaging with their posts.
Similarly, Liz Sickinger, owner of Six Vintage Rugs, said that while her followers typically 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 felt resentful of the time spent 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 if her posts actually showed up as recommended content in other users’ feeds, but said, “I guess not because I don’t post a lot of videos and My account growth has completely plateaued.”
Many small business owners are also frustrated with the platform’s focus on video and say they feel they need to create Instagram videos or reels to get their posts seen, regardless of whether the format has or not make sense for their products.
“I didn’t come into this business wanting to be entertaining,” Tokar said. “Creating this content takes so long and it’s such a time-consuming job to get started. My hours are spent sourcing, photographing, listing, researching, cleaning and delivering. … It’s already a full-time job.
Accounts can pay to “boost” their posts so they appear as sponsored posts in the feeds of more users, which several business owners say now seems to be one of the only ways to ensure engagement with still images. Sickinger said his ad spend has doubled over the past year “because organic reach is dead.”
For Gross, who said sponsored posts have helped her grow over the years, now having to pay to be seen seems unfair. “What’s the point if you’re not actually going to show [my posts] to the people I paid money for in the first place? ” she says.
Business and e-commerce are key to Instagram’s future growth strategy, and the app has introduced a growing list of shopping features in recent years. Instagram encourages business owners to use all of the app’s features — including Stories, Lives, Posts and Reels — to ensure followers see and engage with their content. The company also offers training for 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 every month, although it doesn’t have a separate figure for Instagram.
Given Instagram’s huge reach, quitting smoking is difficult for both users and businesses. But some business owners say they are considering expanding to other platforms due to the changes. Tokar said she started making sales through e-commerce sites Depop and Etsy, and she no longer depends on her store for all 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 transfer an Instagram account’s following to an audience elsewhere, and other platforms often come with fees and other policies that can make selling more complicated than on Instagram.
“It kind of keeps me up at night because I don’t know how I would reach people otherwise,” Gross said. “I mean, I might start doing Twitter posts. But visually, the impact of Instagram has always been that you have an image that you have seen, so losing it would have a huge impact.
Saïd Sickinger: “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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