Dinoski, a children’s outdoor gear firm, relied heavily on Instagram as a promotional tool before co-founder Will Chapman noticed a peculiar trend on the platform somewhere in February of this year. Since then, the brand’s post engagement and impressions have consistently remained at or below 20% of their former levels. “We have 23,000 followers; our most recent post received 20 likes instead of the usual 200.” Not only did he see a decline in interest, but so did others.

The creator of Studio Cotton, Aime Cox-Tennant, claims that “no one could have predicted how catastrophic this crash has been” and that her company has seen a decrease in customer involvement of 90 percent. The social aspects of Instagram, including users’ ability to communicate with one another and remain in constant contact with a company, were what gave the platform its true strength. When you can’t get in touch with individuals to cultivate relationships, the payoff is low.

Brands in disarray

Instagram has promoted itself as a useful platform for local companies, and for a while, this was the case. More than 70 percent of online customers use Instagram to research products before making a purchase, and the site is home to more than 200 million businesses.

What Will, Aime, and other firms are facing is actually the culmination of a gradual shift at Instagram, which is causing entrepreneurs to rethink their approach to the platform or risk losing sight of the customers they’ve worked so hard to cultivate.

Later, a social media marketing company, discovered that user interaction with feed posts (picture and video) had dropped by 44% between 2019 and 2020. Where did all that time go? In 2020, Instagram debuted a new video feature called Reels, and the company quickly realised that the addition of this feature improved user engagement by more than 500%. Instagram attempted (and mainly failed) to defend the move to video a few weeks back, but the backlash was so severe that the company has since announced it is reversing parts of the changes. Many companies, though, aren’t waiting around to see what comes next since they’ve already been burnt by a steady decline in customer involvement.

Swich the channel.

From here, many different brands are dispersing to different channels and approaches. Some are going to TikTok, where some businesses have found viral success via the strategic exploitation of trendy noises and user-generated material. Will is shifting his focus from Dinoski’s Instagram to the company’s WhatsApp account, where he communicates product updates and special offers to the brand’s most devoted followers. He is also considering experimenting with sponsored posts on the community platform Nextdoor and Web3 experiences, two avenues he says he wouldn’t have considered if Instagram hadn’t undergone its recent changes.

The inventor of the reusable handwash company Blackmarket, Martina Schwarz, has been sharing more business updates on LinkedIn, where she has received 13% of the pledges for a recent crowdfunding campaign. She is also resorting to antiquated forms of advertising, like placing an ad in the local paper.

Staying means either putting in the time and effort to develop Reels, increasing your advertising, or shifting your attention to one of Instagram’s other top priorities. Manufacturer of a Popular Menstrual Supplement Guud currently handles 60% of its customer conversation activity through Instagram, and part of its approach involves engaging with users through Stories and encouraging them to contact the company through direct messages.

Aime thinks that this change will encourage retailers to return to fundamentals like regular website updates, a streamlined user experience, solid search engine optimization, and email marketing, which generate a considerably more reliable return on investment. She argues this should serve as a “wake-up call” that we can’t trust these channels, or at least those where we don’t control our own data.

This piece first appeared in the newsletter Courier Weekly. Get more information, analysis, and motivation by signing up now.