I can’t say that it’s the case for everyone, but over the past few months we’ve seen a steady and significant decline in reach and engagement for Studio Cotton and our small business clients on Instagram. This previously beloved social media platform was once a indie brand favourite, giving creative business owners access to a massive audience on a level playing field with the big dawgs.
But now, us small business owners are getting a bit ‘meh’ with Instagram. I had my own thoughts, but wanted to ask the community – if you’re falling out of love with Instagram, why?
35 small business owners shared their answers with me, and now I’m sharing them with you.
Betrayal, a lack of trust and missing what came before
So you invest your time, your money and your creativity create content that just ticks all those Instagram check boxes. Your reach increases, you get that sweet sweet high from Instagram likes, comments, shares and saves. Your Instagram follower count trickles up. Sometimes it even rockets up.
A few months later? Nothing. You’re still doing everything right – everything that Instagram algorithm and your followers ruddy loved in the past, but now you’re hardly reaching anyone at all.
Heck, you’re not even reaching your own Instagram followers. It’s no wonder small business creators who invested heavily in the platform feel betrayed, and can’t be convinced to re-invest knowing there’s a really good chance their social media marketing activity still be in vain.
Having spent the last few years slogging away building a very small following I finally felt I knew what Instagram wanted from me as a small business owner. I committed to an aesthetic, knew I needed to “turn up” on the regular, and then suddenly it feels like unless you’re making video content and sharing it every day you’re not going to grow at all.
I don’t have the time to make videos etc so I feel like I’ve been left behind. Also really miss the chronological feed and seeing posts from people I’ve chosen to follow rather than who Instagram suggests I should follow.
It feels like I am talking but nobody is listening and that is very frustrating. I have a lovely community of people who have always shared their personal experiences with me and now I feel like that connection is lost in the metasphere!
Maybe it’s because I’m a photographer, but I miss the simplicity of the old Instagram…when a single photo told a story. I feel like stories, reels & ads have taken over and photographs are lost. Plus, it’s uninspiring to see users share the same style reels & to hear the same songs over and over. I stick around because most of my old insta friends and favourite accounts are still active. It just takes more effort to find the quiet creatives among the noise!
Payoff perils with the Instagram return-on-investment
Now let’s talk small business brass tacks. For us, Instagram is a business tool (that yeah, can be super addictive for the person managing the Instagram profile) and it needs to provide a positive return in investment.
Whatever we’re putting in – be that our time, creativity, money, emotions or something else – we need to receive something of greater value for our business.
Instagram has never been a particularly efficient sales tool but this visual social media platform has had some great business benefits. It has a database of over one billion Instagram users with insane geographic reach and coverage and the ability to host niche communities.
This size and market dominance allowed small businesses and startups to access our target markets and start populating our marketing funnels.
But if we’re not reaching that audience, we’re not getting sales, we’re not getting awareness, it doesn’t seem sensible that we’re still expected to put the same amount, and more, in.
I find that content I spend time planning and making and am proud and excited to put out usually doesn’t perform as well as the off-the cuff, spur-of-the-moment-type content. It’s a battle between what type of content I should create that will entertain my audience but also generate sales.
Definitely falling out of love with the massive reduction in reach, its atrocious! I understand insta is a money making business, but jeez louise! Every post I tag products in absolutely falls on the face of the planet and is shown to a tiny fraction of my audience (<10%,been as low as 1%!). So frustrating!
The impressions I get are a 10th of what they were 2 years ago, therefore engagement is less too. I find the scrolling stunts my personal creativity and consequently fresh content.
I’m just completely over investing time into something that gives me very little back. I never had a great reach but it use to feel like I got back what I put in. I’ve tried creating content to move with the changes (videos, reels that add value etc) but they added so much extra time and energy to my week for even less reach than ever before I’d rather put my efforts into my website.
Dragged out Instagram despondence
Every month it can feel like Instagram gets just a little bit less, well, good. A slow and sometimes meandering decline both in the joy Instagram brings and the small business benefits makes us feel less inclined to dedicate efforts towards creating platform-optimised content.
With dragged-out Instagram despondence, there’s not often one big thing that caused you to take a step back from social media – it’s more like there was less and less to keep your small business coming back.
I hate it. Which is why I love Tailwind App, I definitely spend so much less time on Instagram now.
Literally exactly this. I’m still getting some leads from Instagram but the likes and reach have tanked over the past year. It makes using the platform so unsatisfying. I’m only really sticking around because it’s building my mailing list
Falling out of love with the time and effort put in to maintain a cohesive on brand account, it’s like having an extra job! Seeing a lower reach and how the platform has changed is disappointing when you do not want to or have time to do reels, videos and lives. I love Instagram as a visual platform but struggle to adapt to the ever changing algorithms or even understand them half the time! So I have just ended up doing and carrying on the same which I know has a negative impact on my account.
Instagram has become my nemesis, I feel like I am wasting precious time I could be using elsewhere but I keep logging on and keep trying to create content that might engage and wasting more time. It is a vicious cycle.
I’ve completely fallen out of what-was-a-kind-of-love with Instagram. I have a lot of followers but my reach has diminished since the introduction/ prioritization of video content, since it’s so hard for a small business to create good looking videos (and I’d only just mastered decent photography!). I’m moving on, and my mental health is soooo much better because of it…
Endless ‘essential’ Instagram features
Instagram posts. Instagram Stories. Instagram Reels. Instagram Shopping. Is IGTV still a thing? What about Instagram Guides? I really liked them but I don’t think anyone’s mentioned them since their launch like 18 months ago.
Sometimes it feels like we must embrace every corner of the platform to stand a chance of maintaining or growing Instagram reach. But. We’re small businesses. We literally don’t have time create content to a professional standard for every Instagram feature because we’re, ya know, running ruddy businesses.
And yet, we still want to do things the right way. The best way. Thing is, when there are so many Instagram avenues to walk down, we can often end up staying firmly in our safe space – or just heading home.
I think the only reason I’m still enjoying Instagram is that I started a new account last year and am just about managing to stay in favour of the algorithm… My old one had 2200+ followers and posted to just crickets! I’ve also been so confused that all the new Instagram best practices just don’t seem to apply to my account; I’ve posted at the “right” times, used fewer hashtags, and had a stab at Reels but carousels with 30 hashtags at 5 pm still perform best for me!
I’m feeling Instagram is penalising me for not having enough hours in the day to interact with lots of other accounts 🤯 and oh the “damage” after taking a few days off!! I feel like it’s not encouraging a healthy balance!
A post used to be enough. Now I feel everything needs to look and be perfect, pretty, poised and funny. I also now need to be always camera ready, now how to make and edit videos and get my point across in 30 seconds. If I’m not utilising all of instagrams features then my normal posts won’t do well anymore so now I think what is the point!
I don’t have the time nor energy to film/edit reels, which seem to be IG’s favorite child right now.
I mainly feel like what we seem to be expected to do for our posts to be seen just seems like too great a job to take on if content creation isn’t your main focus/if you don’t have a dedicated social media person or team. And just to compound that, even if I sat down and tried to keep up with posting enough grid posts/reels/igtv …I’ve no confidence that in another 6 months they won’t introduce more functionality which means there’s another thing to think about.
Videos. If I wanted videos to be the *only* thing I was seeing, I’d have gone to tiktok. I like videos and they have been really great from some Instagrammers, but they are now all I see on my Instagram feed. I miss the clever, thought provoking photography.
With reels, attention spans are getting shorter, and eye-catching and entertaining content does a lot better as opposed to helpful informative videos. It’s quite discouraging because I want to provide value in a way that truly communicates my brand message but those types of posts are not getting seen as much
Fitting into an uncomfortable and fleeting Instagram mould
I’ve got nothing against wiggle-pointers. I have chuckled at my fair share of business memes. I’ve saved a few posts from those uber-macho brand thought leaders. I dig those ~aesthetic~ videos as much as the next lady. But they’re not the kinda thing I want to make for my small business.
A lot of small business owners feel this way too, where the trending thing you absolute must must do just feels at odds with how you want to portray your brand, or pushes you out of your comfort zone in a very-much-not-good way.
And because the Instagram world like to pop us in a proper pickle, sometimes we invest time in learning how to fit a new mould in a way that works for our small businesses, only for the rug to be pulled out from under us the moment our skills and understanding allow us to execute our new on-trend ideas.
I don’t want to dance around to reels or pose in front of a camera to get greater reach. My value is not in poor quality selfies or awkward dance routines but in finding independent goods with sustainable supply chains.
Grace Kingsbury, Nåde Store (@nadestorelondon)
I feel myself doing things that aren’t fully me or having to document everrry time I’m painting or doing anything which totally ruins the process and takes forever and has taken a lot of joy out of it. This year I’m trying to get back to creating what I like not what I think people will like and posting when it feel authentic not when I feel I should.
It feels like if you don’t do reels with lots of scenes, different expressions, cool outfits, jumping and finger pointing to the air, Instagram won’t share your content as much, so you won’t grow. Photography can be so beautiful and thought provoking – why does Instagram prefer videos now? It is much more time consuming for brands and the return is not assured.
I started Instagram for my business quite recently, and I feel like by the time I’ve understood what to do, what’s trendy and how to do it, it’s already not trendy anymore. It’s like running after your tail, you can never really reach it and if you do reach it, you end up bitting yourself 🤦🏻♀️ and when I search for strategies, I find everything and then the exact opposite. It’s exhausting haha !
Instagram feels more inauthentic than ever. I feel like I’m expected to smile, dance, point, comment, all to win over and please people I don’t even know in hopes they might click that almighty “follow” button. And for what? Instagram isn’t here to build my business; it’s here to build Instagram’s business. It feels like a bait-and-switch: “Just grow our business and we pinky-promise yours will grow too. Oh look, a cute dog!”.
Fatigue with learning, hacking, competing, and gambling with the Instagram algorithm
Who doesn’t love hearing about the Instagram algorithm? Oh, everyone? Yeah, that sounds about right. The dreaded, secretive Instagram algorithm has turned into an obsession for many small business owners – it’s even the subject of my own viral Instagram post from 2021 (which you can read more about in my blog, 7 (plus 3) smart & easy things to do *after* your Instagram post goes viral).
Or at least, it was an obsession. In the decade since Instagram was founded, the Instagram algorithm has undergone immeasurable tweaks and changes to ensure maximisation of ad revenue for the Meta family. Over that same time, endless advice has been shared on how to defeat, beat, work with and hack the algorithm to grow a small business reach.
Some of that advice from Instagram themselves, and a heck of a lot more from social media experts and social media ‘experts’.
There’s no wonder we’re tired. We’re tired of changing pish up. We’re tired of learning new ‘tricks’. We’re tired of being told what the ‘right’ way is, and even more about the ‘mistakes’ we’re making.
All the work that goes into sustaining an account, feels like ‘feeding the monster’. You have to put so much into it with very little output, yet daily, we see people who seem to succeed here. Which continues the cycle of hustling by producing content and it never feels good enough, yet we still hope that we will be the lucky ones that will ‘go viral’ and our life will change forever.
Instagram has never been setup for us to win at sales has it really. It’s setup for Meta/Facebook to make more money. So it feels like we’re never going to win. I’ve personally fallen out of love with Instagram, I like keeping my life to myself. But as our business is clients hiring us to tell their personal story we know we’re going to have to share more not less to win sales on Instagram. At the same time we’re actively pursuing finding clients through other avenues.
It’s becoming increasingly tricky to genuinely connect with an audience when the goalposts keep changing. When we move out of our comfort zone to try and be brave and show up on reels – it seems to take a lot of time/effort and not necessarily have those lightning bolt moments anyway. Feel like I have to change my brand to fit the app rather than showing up genuinely sometimes.
Feels as though it’s much more of a “game” than in the past. Obviously you need to stay true to reaching your target audience, but there are so many bells and whistles to doing it that it’s so hard to know the right path to take. There’s so MUCH functionality that it feels overwhelming and confusing.
All this talk about ‘the algorithm’ (and all it relates to) is so disheartening. Don’t get me wrong, I still do it and keep shouting in the void, but people actively chose to follow my business, and just because they don’t interact much means I’ll be out of reach for them. It just seems a bit hopeless if I’m honest, no one wins (but Instagram ofc).
Pivoting to greener marketing pastures
So with a lower reach, reduced return on investment, and a massive joy decline, our small business heads have started to turn. Social media platforms, marketing channels and PR opportunities that may have been low priorities before are starting to take over that Instagram-shaped hole.
I choose to use Instagram as a shop window to and the shop floor of my business. It’s a glimpse into my world. I’m chatty in the DMs and I quickly signpost potential clients to my website and email to get both of us into a different space. I diversify my marketing efforts that I’m able to view Instagram as just one part of the pie. Mmm pie.
The amount of time I spend creating reels which I think are awesome vs how many people actually see it/engage with me is disproportionate… Basically,I expect too much from Instagram and would be better off using my time to write stories (blogs).
I’ve realized that my sales come from art fairs and wholesale, so this year I’m going to focus on growing and refining those aspects of my business. Instagram is like buying lottery tickets – maybe something will go viral someday and then lead to sales, but pouring a lot of energy into it seems foolish.
I think they’ve inadvertently done me a massive favour, because I’m focusing my efforts on social content that can be pushed from my website, rather than pulled across from Instagram!
I’ve always been of the view that Facebook/Instagram are a commercial enterprise set up to make themselves money, not us, which I actually think is fair enough. I’ve always believed the community bubble would burst eventually and we should focus on the areas we can directly control.
I’ve taken Instagram off my phone as a bit of an experiment and only have it on my iPad. This makes it much more intentional which works for me right now. Instagram was taking up so much time for very little return and actually I’ve found hat even Twitter (yes, Twitter!!) has been more beneficial to my business so far in 2022.
Beef with a bad business and a beastly brand
Want to know more about how grotesque social media giants like Instagram can be? You need to check out The Social Dilemma, available on Netflix. These platforms are designed to be addicted, exploitative, and they are literally dangerous.
Their brand values are not aligned with those of every small business I know, but it’s a compromise many of us have to make. We have felt the need to use the services of these bad businesses so that we can grow our own organisations that aim to make the world just a little bit nicer.
But when these beastly brands are no longer helping us achieve our goals of loveliness, it makes it much, much easier to ditch the ick.
I read a lot about the dark side of social media, which as well as making me sleep with one eye open causes me to wonder why I choose to be part of enormously complex data webs.