He built his business on Instagram. Then the platform changed. CNN Business

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CNN Business

After losing her manufacturing job early in the pandemic, Caitlin Tokar decided to try selling some of her vintage furniture and home goods collection on Instagram.

“It went faster than I expected,” she said. His account, Midnight Toker Vintage, has racked up nearly 6,000 followers since its September 2020 launch, and he launched a second account focused on resale clothing. Tokar, a 30-year-old single mom who lives in New York City, was able to make her Instagram shop her full-time source of income about a year ago, even with relatively modest followers.

But lately, his posts are not reaching his followers and regular customers, which means the items are selling very slowly, which he thinks may have something to do with recent issues Instagram platform changes, “Things just aren’t being seen. … I’ll still get messages months later [posting something] Like, ‘Oh my god, I’ve never seen this,'” Tokar said.

She is not alone. As Instagram increasingly prioritizes Video And recommended post in users’ feeds in an attempt to keep pace with rival tiktokSome small businesses built on the platform are having a tough time reaching their followers and facing declining engagement, and say they are concerned about the future of their businesses. Some small business owners have joined voices with users a Change.org Petition Calling to “reinvent Instagram” — which has garnered more than 300,000 signatures since it debuted last month. Others have raised concerns in posts and stories directly on the forum.

“I still have my core base of subscribers … but with the way Instagram is changing, it doesn’t seem sustainable anymore, I don’t think I can really grow,” said Liz Gross, who has since 2011 Selling vintage fashion through my account, Xtabay Vintage. Gross said 98% of his business comes from the platform after his brick-and-mortar shop closed during the pandemic.

Concerns Are Part of a Big One Among Small Business Owners feedback Regarding Instagram’s changes, which some users say are taking 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 on their feed, they are now more likely to see suggested posts, ads, and reels (the short video answer to TikTok) that they may or may not be interested in. Might be possible.

After a wave of pushback last month that included social media giants like Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian, Instagram said it would temporarily walk back some updates. Instagram said it would stop a full-screen option it was testing in an apparent effort to make it look like TikTok, and reduce the number of recommended posts in users’ feeds until it Can’t improve the algorithm that predicts what people want to see. , Still, Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, suggests that videos and suggested posts remain central to the app’s future.

In response to questions about concerns from small business owners, Instagram parent company Meta spokeswoman Anne Ye reiterated that Instagram is temporarily reducing the number of recommended posts in users’ feeds in response to user feedback. Ye said in a statement, “We recognize that changes to the app may be an adjustment, and while we recognize that Instagram needs to evolve as the world changes, we take the time to ensure want.”

Mosseri has said that the move toward more recommended content is intended to help creators on the platform — suggesting that users will be more likely to find something they didn’t already follow. 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’ve had people text me who say they never see my posts anymore and wonder if I still post,” said Gross, who typically writes to his 166,000 followers every day. Posts several times a day. “Only a tiny, tiny fraction of the people who follow me actually see them.”

It can be a challenge to accurately determine the volatility of a post’s reach on any given platform. Instagram offers professional users like business and other creators a dashboard Which shows how their content is performing, including the number of accounts that have seen their posts and connected to them.

Similarly, Liz Sikinger, owner of Six Vintage Rugs, said that while her followers usually engage with her content, if it pops up in their feed, her posts are seen by only 5% of people recently. those who follow them.

“As a producer, I’ve been outraged by the time there,” Sikinger, who started his account four years ago selling antiques and has nearly 42,000 followers, told CNN Business in an email. She said she’s not sure if her posts are actually showing up as recommended content in other users’ feeds, but she added, “I don’t doubt it because I don’t post many videos and my account’s growth is not entirely up to the mark.” has since stabilized.”

Many small business owners are also frustrated with the platform’s focus on video, and say they think they should create videos or Instagram reels for their posts to see, whether the format makes sense for their products or not.

Tokar said, “I didn’t go into this business for fun.” “It takes a lot of time to create that content and it is such a time-consuming task in the beginning. My hours are spent sourcing and photographing and listing and researching and cleaning and delivering. … it’s already a full-time job.”

Accounts can pay to “boost” their posts so that they appear as sponsored posts in more users’ feeds, which many business owners said now seems to be the way to ensure engagement with still images. One of the only ways. Sikinger said his ad spend has doubled in the past year “because organic reach is dead.”

For Gross, who said sponsored posts have helped him grow over the years, paying to watch now seems unfair. “What good if you’re not really going to show [my posts] To those people to whom I had initially paid money to reach?” he said.

Business and e-commerce are critical 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, Post and Reel — to ensure followers see and interact with their content. The company also provides Training For small business owners on the platform, including individual events in some cities. Instagram’s parent company Meta says more than 200 million businesses worldwide use its services each month, though it didn’t have a separate figure for Instagram.

Given Instagram’s tremendous 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 he’s started doing some sales through e-commerce sites Depop and Etsy, and is no longer dependent on his shop for all of his income. And Sikinger said his “saving grace” has been the ability to reach his repeat 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 there more complicated than on Instagram.

“It keeps me awake at night because I don’t know how to reach people,” Gross said. “I mean, I could start doing Twitter posts. But visually, the effect of Instagram was always that you have an image that you saw, so losing it would be a tremendous impact.”

Sikinger added: “My business would not be what it is today without this platform, which is why I am so invested. I want them to really understand who their users are, and I am not sure they do. .