Bunny ears and a pumpkin tote by artist Jade Muat-Dodd from Merseyside, UK. She says she tries to post on Instagram 2-3 times per day to boost engagement.
If you’re struggling to get your small business noticed on Instagram, you’re not alone. Constant updates to the app’s layout and the ways it measures engagement have been making social media management difficult for independent makers– and with the holiday shopping season well underway, small businesses need engagement more than ever.
If you spend a lot of time on Instagram, you may have heard of the elusive “algorithm changes” stymieing makers in recent months. While it’s difficult to track which specific updates have brought about difficulties for small businesses, the fact remains that many users have seen a significant drop in engagement and dwindling numbers of followers during 2020. Here are some tips on how to combat these trends.
The first step to engaging your followers is getting their eyes on your content. This is actually harder than it sounds. 2020 metrics have shown that any given post is actually only added to the feeds of around 10% of your followers. If those followers don’t like, comment, share, or save them, these posts never get the chance to reach a wider audience.
“On average my posts will get 150-200 likes, which is a lot, but compared to my 6,000 followers it really isn’t,” says Jade Muat-Dodd, an illustrator from Merseyside, UK who specializes in feminist gifts.
“It would benefit my little business so much if I could rely on my work getting seen by my followers.”
One way to combat low engagement is to post regularly, giving various small portions of your following a weekly or even daily opportunity to see your products. Some makers suggest posting at least once per day to keep up a steady flow of new content that may engage your followers.
“I try to post a minimum of once a day, but I aim for 2 or 3 posts daily,” says Muat-Dodd. “I’ve tried things like posting at different times of the day, using different hashtags, and paying to promote posts, but none of that has made much difference.” Try playing around with your own posting rate to find what works best for you.
Fairy terrarium shaker charm by Ashley Smith of Le Spirit Designs who often includes questions in her Instagram captions to encourage interaction with her followers.
Encourage saves and shares
On Instagram, engagement is everything. This means that another way to expand your reach is to post content that will get followers to react. Remember the statistic earlier that each photo you post only reaches 10% of your following? That number can quickly go up if your post proves popular in terms of likes, comments, shares, or saves. Instagram rewards this engagement by showing your post to more people– including potential new followers and even buyers!
“I’m trying to encourage more conversation with my audience so we can get to know each other and form a bond,” says Ashley Smith of Le Spirit Designs. This often means ending her post captions with a question, encouraging readers to reply in the comments and start a conversation. She also includes question boxes in her Instagram Stories, letting viewers submit queries and replies directly.
Recent Instagram wisdom tells us that the algorithm has shifted to favor shares and saves over likes and comments. Why? It’s likely because shares encourage interaction with other users on the app, while saves indicate that a post is interesting enough to get viewers to come back to it later. Try encouraging these behaviors from your followers by mixing in some relatable, evergreen, and educational content into your feed.
Instagram may have started out as a photo-sharing platform, but the recent success of TikTok and other video-based apps has forced it to pivot quickly to offer more video-sharing options. The newest among these tools is called Reels, a service similar to TikTok that allows users to shoot and edit short videos for their feeds.
“It’s a piece of Instagram that definitely shouldn’t be ignored right now,” says Smith. “I’ve watched a mutual [a follower who she also follows] go from around 600 to over 6,000 followers in just a few months, from exclusively posting reels.”
If this new service isn’t for you, there are plenty of other ways to add videos to your feed. The video function within Instagram Stories is a popular way to share updates and preview new products, while the IGTV service is designed for longer-form video content like how-to videos and vlogs. You can also host special events in real-time on Instagram Live, or simply post videos to your profile just like how you would post a picture.
Moon and star masks by artist Sekai who is focusing on building meaningful connections on the Instagram platform through one-on-one messaging.
All these methods can feel overwhelming, but as Instagram’s updates make the platform increasingly video-forward, it’s worth your time to figure out at least one video tool that works for you. Play around with Reels, IGTV, video stories, or video posts during a slow sales period and see what happens! Makers have found great success just from sharing typical aspects of small business life, like packaging an order, creating a new product, or sharing shop tips with the larger maker community.
When the algorithm seems to be working against you, the most powerful way to bypass it is through meaningful connections within your maker community. This is certainly true for maker Sekai, who creates custom apparel like masks, hats, and sweatshirts: after Instagram’s controversial “mask ban” in the early days of the pandemic, she was left without her usual level of engagement from followers.
“It’s such a lose-lose situation for me,” she told the Craft Industry Alliance. “I feel like regardless of saves, my reach is always about the same.” For this reason, she urges fellow makers to foster connections with one another to create a lasting support network. Muat-Dodd shares that her recent follower growth has been largely due to seeking out connections with like-minded makers and Instagram users.
“I’ve gone from 1,000 to 6,000 followers since March, [and] I’ve worked really hard at it,” she says. “To get there I’ve been following people who like similar posts to mine, and hoping they follow me back.”
While not everyone will see this rapid rate of growth, Sekai emphasizes meaningful connection as the key to Instagram community-building– and her follower count of over 14,000 backs it up.
“Honestly, focus on one-on-one interaction,” she says. “Message as many people as possible and give genuine support… it takes a long time, but that’s probably why I’m staying afloat.”
Natalie Wallington is a freelance political journalist and maker based in the New York City area. She has professional interests in social and environmental justice as well as investigative reporting. She is also a freelance editor and copywriter, and runs a small Etsy shop where she sells stationery and embroidered gifts. You can find her website here and her Etsy shop here.