Let’s rip off the Instagram band-aid, because you’re not crazy. Your ability to reach your audience organically on Instagram has decreased significantly in recent years. For instance, in 2021, the average organic reach of an Instagram post hovered above 16%. In 2022, that number dropped closer to 13% along with signs that we will likely to continue to see that number contract rather than rebound.
Of course, we’ve all been experiencing Instagram’s diminishing organic reach returns for years, and I’m not excluded from this narrative:
@smallbiznatalie Reply to @remoteworkbestie back when hashtags went viral and people actually saw your content on Instagram 😅 #communityovercompetition #risingtidesociety ♬ original sound – Natalie Franke
And this downward spiral of organic growth has created one very large problem:
Today, many of you rely on Instagram to market your business … and now that’s harder than ever.
If this leaves you wanting to stab Instagram with a dull spoon, trust me, I get it. I’m right there with you, tarnished cutlery in-hand. You might also be wishing we could just go back “the good ol’ days” of Instagram, when everything felt, well … easier. Where did it all go wrong?
It used to be that you worked really hard to get people to follow your business on Instagram, but that was the steepest hill you had to climb. Once they followed you, you were in! They would see your content, they’d fall even more deeply in love with your brand, and everyone would live happily ever after.
Today, it’s a completely different story. Once someone follows you, you have absolutely no guarantees they will see your content. On top of that, more people are seeing ads than ever before in their feeds, and that trend will only continue as Instagram’s parent company, Meta, reportedly struggles with revenue.
Meanwhile, you’re left with a business is hurting. You’re also constantly battling crippling “comparisonitis” because while you’re in pain, others seemingly have it figured out and aren’t suffering the same reach and engagement woes you are.
🔎 Related: Why you keep attracting bad clients (+ what to do about it)
Even though you’re seeing same headlines about how organic Instagram reach is dwindling, all of the suggested posts in your feeds have visible engagement metrics that “prove” everyone else knows what they’re doing. You’re the one who’s the screw-up.
Yes, there may have been moments where you felt like you cracked the Instagram algorithm code to earn occasional organic boosts. But overall, the effort doesn’t feel worth it anymore. Every time you think you’ve figured it out, Instagram makes another change — a new focus, more ads, increased suggested content — and you’re right back at Square One.
Or, Square Zero likely feels more accurate.
If this is where you are, you are not the problem. You’re also most certainly not alone. However, there is something you need to accept, because I think it’s easy to forget why this is all happening.
Whenever you find yourself screaming into the void, “Why can’t Instagram just stop ruining everything?!” this is what you need to remember.
Instagram is not a charity; they need to make money. Full stop. Yes, in some ways they can make money off of your free content. That’s why they’re paying some creators to make reels, because it’s a part of the platform they’re working to build up as part of their long-term strategy.
But ad revenue is the real name-of-the-game for Instagram:
Since Instagram is quite literally banking on ad revenue for its business, what’s happening right now makes a heck of a lot of sense. Of course, it’s going to point the limited number of viewers and retention it has toward ads. That’s how it guarantees what’s called ROAS (“return on ad spend”) for brands who pay-to-play on the platform, to attract more ad spend.
🔎 Related: 5 undeniable small business trends you can’t ignore
Even though it makes sense on paper though, it makes me sad.
Instagram wants to be the platform that is for the creators, for small businesses … and it could be. It could be a place where people feel genuinely free and excited to show up and create and be their best selves and meet other people. But we can’t deny that their efforts to strengthen these ad revenue streams are harming that potential.
Look, we have every right to be frustrated. However, like I said earlier, the most important thing you can do now is remember that Instagram is a business. They’re going to do what they want, as is their right, when they want, in the name of revenue and growth.
Sometimes, Instagram can feel like a crappy partner. Sure, maybe they bought you flowers a few times when you first started dating, but while they aren’t the worst, they are who they are, and you can’t change them.
More than that, you shouldn’t keep waiting for them to change. It’s time for you to focus on you, instead of pouring your heart and soul into something and someone who doesn’t give a damn about you.
Could Instagram surprise us down the road with a massive, pro-small business pivot? Maybe. But it’s unlikely and, if they did, I wouldn’t immediately jump to trust them.
Rather than daydream of Instagram righting all of its wrongs, you need to focus on you.
You need to separate your worth, your value, as well as the worth and value of your business from Instagram. I know this isn’t easy, especially if you’re someone who has been on the platform for more than the last couple of years. But your first step must be redefining your relationship with Instagram.
That sounds really nice on paper, I know. But how do you actually do that? By being honest with yourself:
Those are tough questions to be willing to ask yourself, because I know you were sold a false bill of goods. You were made to believe Instagram wasn’t “rented land,” and that it was built just for you.
🔎 Related: You don’t want to focus on clientflow, but your life depends on it
But that’s not reality. Any digital or social platform you look rely on, from Instagram to Etsy, is rented land. You’re always going to be playing by someone else’s rules; and they’re always going to look out for themselves first.
What do you actually own?
I’m not suggesting you contract your universe into a tiny pinpoint that only exists within those three categories. But you certainly need to diversify how and where you show up outside of them. You shouldn’t rely on a single platform or digital space beyond your website and your email list to drive revenue and new customers for your small business.
You should also be asking yourself questions like:
That last question is crucial, because it’s so, so easy to get stuck doing what’s easy and comfortable. Without thinking, we’ll make choices for our business that are based purely on our personal preferences, not facts or data or even anecdotal evidence of what our ideal customers want from us.
This is the type of decision-making you need to disrupt. Emotional, preference-based, comfortable decisions will kill your business. If you stick to that way of thinking, this pain you’re feeling right now will never go away.
Has Instagram changed? You bet. Does it suck that we’re even having this conversation today? Yes. You’re upset and angry, and you have every right to feel that way, because you’re not wrong. In fact, the data proves you’re watching a once-reliable platform turn on you in real-time.
Still, as with other challenges you may face in your business, you have to take responsibility. You can only stay mad for so long before you’re allowing this to continue to happen to you. At some point, we all have to admit we’re reliant on a platform that does not care about us.
It’s up to you to take control of your destiny.
I know it’s scary. Many of you reading this right now have clung to Instagram even through the worst of this because it’s what you know and understand. But even if Instagram were the sincerely pro-small business platform you wanted it to be, they would still make changes you wouldn’t like. You’d still find reasons to be frustrated and complain.
Just like Stella who got her groove back and Diane Lane when she ran off to Tuscany, you don’t need what’s currently holding you back.
Now that we’ve screamed and cried and ranted and wailed, it’s time to get up and dust yourself up. This is your moment to break free. It’s time for you to snatch your paintbrush back from Mark Zuckerberg and become the artist behind your own masterpiece again.
And I’ll be here cheering you on, every step of the way.
© 2023 Natalie Franke