“It took off a lot faster than I expected,” she said. Her account, Midnight Tokar Vintage, has amassed nearly 6,000 followers since starting in September 2020, and she 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 make her Instagram store her full-time source of income about a year ago.
“I still have my core customer base … but the way Instagram is changing, it just doesn’t feel sustainable anymore, I don’t feel like I can really grow,” said Liz Gross, who since 2011 has been selling vintage fashion through her account, Xtabay Vintage. Gross said 98% of her business comes from the platform after her brick-and-mortar store closed during the pandemic.
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 user feeds in response to user feedback. “We understand 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.
Mosser has 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 it’s more important to simply make sure their posts reach the people they chose to follow.
“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 each day to her 166,000 followers. “Only a tiny, tiny fraction of the people who follow me see them.”
Similarly, Liz Sickinger, owner of Six Vintage Rugs, said that while her followers usually engage with her content if it appears on their feed, recently her posts are only seen by about 5% of the people who follow her that.
“As a creator, I 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 her posts are actually showing up as recommended content in other users’ feeds, but said, “I suspect not because I don’t post a lot of videos and my account growth has completely dropped.”
Many small business owners are also frustrated by the platform’s focus on video, and say they feel they have to create videos or wraps on Instagram in order to get their posts seen, whether or not the format makes sense for their products.
“I didn’t get into this business wanting to be an entertainer,” Tokar said. “It’s so time-consuming to create that content, and it’s a time-consuming job to begin with. My hours are spent searching, photographing, sorting, researching, cleaning and distributing. … This is already a full time job.”
Accounts can pay to “boost” their posts so they appear as sponsored posts in more users’ feeds, which some business owners said now feels like one of the only ways to get engagement with images static. Sickinger said her ad spend has doubled in the past year “because organic reach is dead.”
For Gross, who said sponsored posts have helped grow her following over the years, now having to pay to be seen feels unfair. “What’s the use if you’re not really going to show up [my posts] the people I paid money to reach in the first place?” she said.
Given Instagram’s incredible reach, abandonment 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 she’s started making some sales through e-commerce sites Depop and Etsy, and now she’s no longer relying on her store for all of her income. And Sickinger said her “saving grace” has been the ability to reach her repeat customers through an email list.
However, there’s no way to easily transition an Instagram account’s followers to an audience elsewhere, and other platforms often come with other fees and 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 would reach people,” Gross said. “I mean, I could start tweeting. But visually, the impact of Instagram was always that you have an image that you’ve seen, so losing that would have a tremendous impact.”
Said 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.”