The businesses they created were built through Instagram. Then, the platform changed.

New York (CNN Business)After losing her job in construction early on during the pandemic, Kaitlin Tokar was inspired to sell some of her antique furniture and homewares on Instagram.

“It was a lot quicker than I anticipated,” she said. The Midnight Tokar Vintage account has picked more than 6000 followers since it was launched in September of 2020. She’s also created a second account focused on resales of clothing. Even with modest followers, Tokar, a 30-year-old single mom living in New York City, successfully made her Instagram shop her primary source of income around one year ago.

In the last few months, her posts aren’t reaching the same number of followers or regular customers, and this has meant that items have sold out much more slowly, problems she thinks could be related to recent changes made to Instagram’s platform. “Things haven’t been seen. … I continue to receive messages for months after I posted something] that say”Oh my God, I didn’t know this before,'” Tokar said. She’s not all alone. As Instagram is increasingly putting more emphasis on videos and recommends posts on its feeds to users to keep up with its rival TikTok, small-scale companies founded using the app are experiencing a hard getting their message out to their fans and are seeing a decrease in engagement. They’re concerned regarding the long-term viability of their companies. Small business owners have joined users to voice their concerns on a Change.org petition that calls to “make Instagram Instagram again,” which has racked up nearly 300,000. Signatures in the time since it was created in June. Others have expressed their displeasure directly through posts and stories.

“I still have my main customer base … however, the way Instagram changes doesn’t seem sustainable anymore. I don’t think I’m growing,” said Liz Gross, who, since 2011, has been selling vintage clothing through her account Xtabay Vintage. Gross claimed that most of her revenue was derived from the platform after her brick-and-mortar store was shut down during the outbreak.

Small business owners are concerned. Represent a broader opposition to Instagram’s recent changes, which, according to some users, have snuffed out the platform’s legacy of sharing photos, making it more difficult to join the communities they’ve spent years creating through the app. Many users complain that instead of seeing their friends’ posts on their feeds, they’re more likely to see suggested rods, ads, and Reels (Instagram’s short-form video response to TikTok), which they might or might have no interest in. After an outpour of criticism in the last month, which included prominent social media stars like Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian, Instagram said it would temporarily halt some of its changes. Instagram announced it was going to stop the full-screen option it had tested in an apparent attempt to make it look more like TikTok and reduce the number of suggested posts appearing in users’ feeds until it could improve the algorithm it uses to predict what people are looking for. However, Instagram head Adam Mosseri has said the use of videos and suggested content will remain essential to the future of the app.

In response to concerns of small-business owners, Anne Yeh, a spokesperson for Instagram parent company Meta, has reiterated that Instagram has temporarily reduced the number of posts recommended on users’ feeds as a result of feedback from users. “We are aware that modifications to the app may be an adjustment, and we believe that Instagram must change with the times; however, we’re taking the time to ensure that we are doing it right,” Yeh said in an announcement.

Mosseri has claimed that the shift to more suggested content is designed to aid those who create content on this platform, meaning that users are more likely to find something they haven’t previously followed. Some business owners believe that just making sure that their posts are seen by those who choose to join their list is far more valuable. “I have people who write me and say that they don’t read my posts and ask me if I publish,” said Gross, who usually posts multiple times a day to her followers of 166,000. “Only the tiniest percentage of people who follow me view them.”

Instagram

Finding out why the reach for your posts fluctuates across any platform is difficult. Instagram allows professionals, such as businesses and other creators, an overview of how their content is performing and the number of accounts that see and respond to their posts.

In the same way, Liz Sickinger, owner of Six Vintage Rugs, said that, while her followers generally interact with her content when it is featured on their feeds, recently, her posts are only seen by just 5 percent of those that follow her.

“As an artist, I’ve become angry with my time there.” Sickinger, who started her website selling antique rugs in 2014 and has more than 42,000 followers, said to CNN Business in an email. She said she’s not sure if her posts will show as recommended content in other feeds of users; however, she said, “I suspect not because I don’t make a lot of videos, and I am at a complete stop.”

Many small-scale entrepreneurs are also frustrated with Instagram’s emphasis on video. They need to create videos or Instagram Reels to enable your posts to be seen regardless of whether or not this format is suitable for their business.

“I did not enter this profession to entertain,” Tokar said. “It’s very time-consuming creating this content, and it’s an exhausting task in the beginning. My time is spent searching for and taking photos, listing and searching, and cleaning and giving. … This is already an entire-time job.”

Accounts can pay to “boost” their posts to the point they can be displayed as sponsored posts in more people’s feeds. This is something that several business owners have said is one of the best ways to increase engagement with still images. Sickinger stated that her ad budget has doubled over the last year “because organic reach is dying. “For Gross, who said sponsored posts have helped build her fan base over the years and now having to pay to get noticed feels unjust. “What do you gain when you don’t display my posts to people I paid to reach in the first place?” she asked.

E-commerce and businesses

E-commerce and businesses are crucial to Instagram’s growth strategy as the app has recently introduced a broader array of shopping-related features. Instagram encourages business owners to utilize every app component, including live posts, stories, and Reels, to ensure that their followers can view and engage with their posts. Instagram also offers training for small business owners about the platform, including local events held in specific cities. Instagram Meta, the company that owns it, claims that over 200 million companies worldwide utilize its services every month, but it does not provide a separate number for Instagram.

Due to the immense reach of Instagram, It’s hard to leave both users and companies. However, some business owners have said they’re looking at expanding into other platforms due to the new features. Tokar has said that she’s begun making sales on the online stores Depop and Etsy. She’s not relying on her store for all of her revenue. Additionally, Sickinger added that she’s “saving grace” is the capability to connect with her loyal customers by email.

However, there’s no method to transfer an Instagram account’s followers to a different audience on other platforms, and they often have fees and other rules that make selling on these platforms more complicated than on Instagram.

“It sort of keeps me awake in the night because I’m not sure what other ways I could be able to reach people,” Gross said. “I think I could begin making Twitter posts. But the visual impact of Instagram was always to be able to share an image that you were able to see so that it would be a huge loss.”

Sickinger added: “My business would not be the way it is now without this system, and that’s why I’m so committed. I’d like them to know who their customers are, however truly, and I’m not certain that they have.”

By Mia

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