Small Business Advice

Instagram changes could be damaging for small businesses

Jack Stratten

It's about to get trickier for small businesses to attract customers on Instagram

Instagram has become an increasingly powerful tool for helping small business owners to find and build their audience. Some entrepreneurs actually credit Instagram for being their most vital marketing channel. But the photo-sharing platform is changing – and perhaps, changing for the worse as far as small businesses are concerned.

Timeline changes could squeeze out SMEs

Instagram is planning to stop user timelines from appearing in chronological order. Instead, just like feeds on Facebook – who bought Instagram in 2012 – the order of content will be calculated by an algorithm that will order by popularity and relevance. All posts will still appear, but the order will be different.

In other words, users are more likely to get a news feed dominated by their closest friends or favourite celebrities. Small businesses they might have followed speculatively are therefore worried about not reaching their customers.

Instagram is yet to confirm when timeline changes will take effect. It suggested that ‘testing’ could take several months, but a more precise date will be communicated soon.

70% of posts are missed

Instagram’s justification for the changes is fairly compelling: people, on average, miss about 70% of posts in their news feed.

An order based on your activity – who you engage with most keenly and frequently – could therefore mean a better user experience. The problem is, how can a small business compete with a user’s best friend or most idolised celebrity?

So far, there have essentially been two responses. Firstly, many are campaigning against the changes. A petition has already gained well over 300,000 signatures in very little time, and some significant Instagram users have thrown their weight behind the campaign too.

On the other hand, other observers have made an important point: these changes just mean content has to be better. A timeline based on popularity means that any business has to share content that their customers will love, every time. Quality content will still reach the top.

These observers also note that, with Twitter trialling the same timeline changes, and Facebook having already established them, this transformation is inevitable. So arguably, it’s time to adapt rather than complain.