What should small businesses know about Instagram’s new changes?
Rachel Klaver is a marketing strategist, specializing in lead generation and content marketing.
OPINION: Once in a while, I sometimes get the urge of columnists to write an open letter to a recipient who will never read it or even care that we write it.
Recently, my fingers are itching to write an impassioned letter to Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, asking him to give us small business owners a break. While there have been some really positive announcements for business on Instagram recently, including the promise that the platform will start prioritizing smaller accounts over larger ones in terms of delivering content, the constant changes that we have known in our pandemic and post-pandemic lives have felt overwhelming to say the least.
Luckily for me, I didn’t need to write this open letter, because after a slew of changes were implemented a few weeks ago, a grassroots protest began to #makeinstagraminstagramagain. It might have gone unnoticed until big platform influencers like Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner picked it up and shared it in their stories.
The Kardashians have already had a negative impact on the growth of social media platforms. In 2017, as Shapchat began to decline, Kylie Jenner tweeted that she was no longer using the platform (after being one of its first big users), and overnight the company lost over three million users, resulting in a loss of over US$1.3 billion. (2 billion New Zealand dollars).
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Within hours, Mosseri was live with an update on Instagram’s changes. On July 28, he said, “I’m glad we took a risk. If we don’t fail once in a while, we’re not thinking big or bold enough. He also admitted that it was time to think about how to make these changes more palatable to Instagram users. “We absolutely have to take a step back and regroup.”
We’ve all had the time to take advantage of the Instagram we have today, but if there’s one constant in digital marketing, it’s change. And change is always coming to Instagram.
Since most of the changes they attempted to implement and plan to introduce again were while I was away from work for surgery leave, I needed help to let me know. I interviewed Sarah Galbraith from The Social Approach on the MAP IT Marketing podcast
Galbraith’s company, The Social Approach, helps Kiwi small business owners create content for their Instagram posts, providing monthly caption images and templates, along with support and guides. She lives and breathes Instagram and what it can do for small businesses in New Zealand.
As you may have noticed, I found all the changes on Instagram exhausting, and that led me to explore other platforms such as TikTok, which I enjoy more. Ironically, the changes on Instagram are heavily influenced by TikTok’s dominance over the social media landscape.
So what were the big changes that came, went and came back? Well, Mosseri explained it earlier in the year when he said “Instagram isn’t just a photo-sharing app anymore.” For a while, Instagram has been toying with different forms of video, and over the past month they’ve now simplified that into a simple video feed. Anything less than ninety seconds will be considered a reel and shared beyond your audience, and longer videos will generally be shared with your existing subscribers.
However, the changes went further than that. For a long time, the classic Instagram image has been a square. Now it’s a long vertical rectangle, and it looks more and more like a TikTok feed, whether it’s a video or an image.
However, the biggest change, and the one they completely backed off on, was to the people we see in our feed. The plan was to move from our current flow of around 15% new unknown accounts, up to 30%. It’s a lot like the “For You” page on TikTok which contributes to Tiktok’s ability to help anyone grow an audience of fans and followers. “It will no longer be our friends and family. And our subscribers will be less likely to see our material,” says Galbraith.
His solution is simple. Focus on posting more content in your feed posts and videos that are relevant to new audiences, and “Focus on building your community in Instagram stories and direct messages.” However, Galbraith concedes, simple doesn’t always mean easy. “It’s a huge change. But it gives us more opportunities to be put in front of people who have never heard of us before.
Like all platforms, Instagram rewards content that others like and share by showing it to more people. The more shares you get, the more Instagram shares it with new people beyond that audience. “My take,” Galbraith shares, “is that they really appreciate public and private shares (to direct the message). They tell Instagram that your content is worth watching and they reward it.
However, Galbraith also cautions business owners against vanity metrics like the number of views on a video. “A reel with a few hundred views can often be more successful for your business than a reel that has had thousands. Never depend on how many views your reel has gotten. It’s getting harder and harder to get a fresh look at your content. What we really want to measure is engagement (comments) from the people who are your ideal customers.
Engaging on posts has always been important on Instagram. This will not change. Galbraith has a system she uses to help her posts and videos perform well when published. “Before I post, I go and like every comment that was made on my account the day before. This alerts those people on my account, and if they see it, they can also see my new post. Then I reply to all comments on this new post ASAP, so Instagram knows I’m here for my audience.
One of the benefits of “old Instagram” was the long captions people added to their images. These captions are now displayed on the video/image screen, and if they are too long, you will miss some information. Sarah has a simple solution to overcome this change. “Write a short caption and use the longer caption as a script for your video instead.”
Back in February, I wrote about the evolution of hashtag usage, and Galbraith noticed that the platform now favors less than the 30 allowed. “I have a few that I use almost all the time,” says Galbraith. “Some are around the specific post, but some are the ones my target audience would use to help them find me, and some are the ones that tell Instagram or search engines what I’m posting.”
Hashtags aren’t the only thing Instagram uses to help determine who should see your content. “You want keywords that describe what you do or what you sell in your post. The words you use in your bio are also very important, as well as your account name,” shares Galbraith.
With the shift to video and the promise of doing more in this area, is there a benefit to creating Instagram-specific content? Or should we just post our short TikTok-like videos on each platform as is? Galbraith suggests that we absolutely should use video on all possible platforms because there is always a place for static images. “You can use them in all sorts of ways, and even use them in a (video) reel if you don’t want to be filmed yourself.” Instagram makes this easy with templates you can insert your images into. “You can just add the photos and they’ll sync to the music for you,” says Galbraith.
However, Galbraith still suggests editing video content to fit Instagram if you share it on other platforms. “Change the wording a bit. Make sure people know you speak clearly to them on Instagram. If you have time, download it and add additional text and effects right on the platform.
Galbraith says it’s important to remember the benefits of Instagram even though we’ve noticed a drop in reach or engagement through the changes Instagram is rolling out. As she explains, “We have to remember that every piece of scope we still get is a free scope. It’s a free tool that’s available to us, and we get something cheaper than paying for advertising, and it’s on a platform designed to help us find our own communities. I really liked this, as I know I often get frustrated when I feel my progress is slipping back, and it’s good to remember that we still have this free platform to share our stuff on.
Good. I guess that open letter is pending.