(CNN Business) — After losing her construction job early in the pandemic, Kaitlin Tokar decided to try selling some of her collection of vintage furniture and home goods on Instagram.
“It took off much faster than I expected,” he says. His account, Midnight Tokar Vintage, has amassed almost 6,000 followers since its launch in September 2020 and he has opened a second account focused on reselling clothing. Even with a relatively modest following, Tokar, a 30-year-old single mother living in New York City, was able to turn her Instagram shop into her full-time earner a year ago. year.
But lately her posts haven’t been reaching as many followers and regulars, which has meant that items are selling much more slowly, issues that she thinks may have to do with recent changes to the Instagram platform. “Things don’t show…I keep getting messages months after (posting something) like, ‘Oh my gosh, I never saw this,'” Tokar said.
It’s not the only one. As Instagram increasingly prioritizes videos and to the recommended posts in users’ feeds in an effort to keep up with your rival TikTokSome small businesses that built on the platform are having a harder time reaching their followers and are facing declining engagement, saying they are worried about the future of their businesses. Some small business owners have joined users in a Change.org petition to “make Instagram be Instagram again,” which has garnered more than 300,000 signatures since it was launched last month. Others have 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 anymore, I don’t feel like it can really grow,” said Liz Gross, who has been selling vintage fashion through Instagram since 2011. your account, Xtabay Vintage. Gross said that 98% of her business comes from the platform after her physical store closed during the pandemic.
The concern from small business owners is part of a broader backlash to changes to Instagram, which some users say are moving away from 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 are now much more likely to see suggested posts, ads, and Reels (Instagram’s short video answer to TikTok) that they can or not interest them
Following a flurry of criticism last month, including from social media heavyweights like Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian, Instagram said it would temporarily pull some of the updates. Instagram said it would pause a full-screen option it had been testing 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 the people want to see. However, Instagram boss Adam Mosseri has suggested that videos and suggested 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 user feeds in response to feedback. from them. “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 this right,” Yeh said in a statement.
Mosseri noted that the move to more recommended content is intended to help creators on the platform, suggesting that users will be more likely to discover something they weren’t following. But some business owners say it’s more important to make sure their posts reach the people who chose to follow them.
“People write to me saying they don’t see my posts anymore and wonder if I’m still posting,” says Gross, who typically posts several times a day for his 166,000 followers. “Only a tiny fraction of the people who follow me actually see them.”
Pinpointing why post reach fluctuates on any given platform can be challenging. Instagram offers professional users, such as businesses and other creators, a panel which shows the performance of your content, including the number of accounts that view and engage with your posts.
Likewise, Liz Sickinger, owner of Six Vintage Rugs, says that while her followers tend to engage with her content if it appears in their feed, lately her posts are only seen by around 5% of the people who follow her.
“As a creator, I’ve come to 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’s not sure if her posts actually 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 stalled.”
Many small business owners are also frustrated by the platform’s focus on video, saying they feel they must create videos or Instagram Reels for their posts to be seen, regardless of whether the format makes sense for their products.
“I didn’t get into this business wanting to be entertained,” Tokar said. “It takes a long time to make that content, and it’s a time-consuming job to begin with. I spend hours searching and shooting and making lists and researching and cleaning and delivering (…). That’s already a full-time job. “.
Accounts can pay to “boost” their posts so they appear as sponsored posts in more users’ feeds, which several business owners say is now one of the only ways to guarantee engagement with still images. Sickinger said his advertising spending has doubled in the past year “because organic reach is dead.”
For Gross, who says sponsored posts have helped her grow her following over the years, now having to pay to be seen seems unfair. “What’s the point if you’re not going to show (my posts) to the people I paid money to reach initially?” she said.
Business and e-commerce are central to Instagram’s future growth strategy, and in recent years the app has introduced a growing set of shopping features. 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 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 around the world use its services each month, though it didn’t have a separate figure for Instagram.
Given the tremendous reach of Instagram, leaving it is difficult, both for users and businesses. But some business owners say they are considering expanding to other platforms because of the changes. Tokar said he started making some sales through the e-commerce sites Depop and Etsy, and is now no longer dependent on his store for all of his income. And Sickinger said his “saving grace” has been the ability to reach his regular customers through an email list.
However, there’s no way to easily move followers from an Instagram account to an audience elsewhere, and other platforms often have 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 else I could reach people,” says Gross. “I mean, I could start posting on Twitter. But visually the impact of Instagram was always that you have 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 involved. But I want them to really understand who their user is, and I’m not sure they do.”