How Indie Beauty Brands Are Dealing With Instagram’s Algorithm Changes

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 20 brand founders and executives: Have you been impacted by the algorithm changes at Instagram, and have you changed your approach to the platform?

Annie Tevelin Founder, SkinOwl

We have absolutely been impacted by the IG algorithm. We used to post once a day, but, due to the fact that Instagram incentivizes you for posting content, we have made it a point to post as much authentic content as possible. I didn't want to get caught in the trap of posting just anything. If anything, the algorithm has encouraged me to really consider the message we are sending our fans and followers on a daily basis. 

We've also been sponsoring posts to send the message to people who aren't aware of the brand. In a nutshell, if there is a cap on the amount of people who will see our posts, I want to make sure it matters to us and feels good to the people looking at it.

SIMA MOSTAFAVI Founder and CEO, Pistache Skincare

Oh my goodness, yes! Some time mid-spring, we noticed a change in our engagement on Instagram specifically and thought it was a unique issue until more research revealed that other brands were also experiencing that issue. Instagram, like Facebook before it, is becoming a pay-to-play platform and, although we allocate a certain budget to paid marketing, we can't be spending all our resources there. 

We've needed to evolve and to boost our engagement organically. One thing we've turned to is optimizing our content. We look at analytics to see which types of photos perform the best and create new content around what our audience is already responding to.

James H. La Founder, Niucoco

I think the changes on Instagram impact both brands and influencers. At the end of the day, it's about leveling the playing field. It forces brands to be better at engaging customers, whether it's with relevant content or simply by engaging the audience. 

Meanwhile, it also holds your influencers to a higher standard (than just likes and followers), and they will need to provide compelling and relevant stats in order to engage brands. This article highlights why those algorithm modifications were required.

Amanda McIntosh Founder, Take My Face Off

Yes, we see a difference, but we had already been trying a new approach, which seems to be giving us immunity to the change. We had been noticing for a while that the typical attractive, professional photos weren’t cutting it. 

For us, posts where something happens are the most successful. Even though Instagram may not prioritize videos and GIFs over still images, people can’t help staring longer if they think there will be a payoff of some kind. And they’re tired of produced videos. Our biggest-performing posts are casual, imperfect, interesting videos. I feel bad for other companies seeing a decline, but we’re currently reaching more people than ever without paying anything.

Sébastien Tardif CEO and Co-Founder, Veil Cosmetics

Yes, we have been impacted by algorithm changes on Instagram. I noticed it right away as the numbers of new organic followers, liked posts and engagement started to dwindle bit by bit.

Honestly, I was not surprised as we had experienced the same thing on Facebook and knowing they had acquired IG, it was only a matter of time before they would impose this monetization model. It is really pitiful when you realize that established companies with access to large amounts of capital will always get the upper hand by simply injecting more money, which the platform is now designed to do. Their content is always going to get more visibility as indie brands get silenced and pushed into a corner.

We are not just going to throw good money over bad into the platform and feed their already full coffers. That money is getting invested where our products are available and sold online to help us to get in front of more clients and continue to engage with these active/potential clients. Instagram has almost become some sort of a window or portfolio for the brand, available to people wanting to check out our brand and style.

Ebru Karpuzoglu Founder, AveSeena

As many other Instagram users, we have felt the impact of the unannounced changes in the algorithm. With the new algorithm, we focused on posting more stories and new posts several times a day to reach to our audience at their most active times. The new algorithm made it much harder to convey our message to our potential fans to see. This definitely made us spend more time to rethink and reposition in creating compelling captions to post on Instagram.  

With that in mind, we tailor our posts based on our audience’s interest points such as clean beauty, healthy lifestyle, indie beauty and related targeted subjects. Although these changes have been particularly challenging, they enabled us to dive deeper into Instagram and provide our audience high-quality content.

Stephanie Kim Co-Founder and CEO, Moonlit Skincare

We knew there would be new algorithms and changes coming in the pipeline since early last year, so we didn’t want to rely too heavily on Instagram anymore. We view the platform as a visual mood board and a place where we make announcements for new launches.

Louis Marty Co-Founder, Merci Handy

To be totally transparent, our engagement rate is growing every month on Instagram. Obviously, we have adapted our strategy due to the evolution of Merci Handy and the algorithm. We are working very hard everyday to create not only content, but engaging content. 

After four years of entrepreneurship and a lot of hours on Instagram, my conclusion is simple:  Instagram is fair. If you are creative and able to create amazing content, engaging your community around your values, you will have very high performance.

Mary Sculman CEO and Co-Founder, PYT Beauty

We know that Instagram prioritizes feeds based on what the user engages with, has interest in and finds relevant, which we are happy to see. We are purposeful with the content we are posting. We work to understand what our followers find most relevant and where they are most engaged, and then, give them more of what they want (less of what they don’t). 

We have found that interactive content such as videos, IG stories, reposting from followers that are using our products and of course responding to all our DMs is very important. Additionally, we utilize Instagram with our community to understand better what they may want from us by way of asking questions and listening to their responses. We believe that IG is a powerful way to communicate, meet new customers, create collaborations and gain awareness.

Nasimeh Yazdani, MD Founder, Seaside Medical Technologies   

Although we flex with the changing tide of SM/search engine algorithms, we keep true to our brand by offering our followers information they need to make healthy decisions about what to use on their skin in times of healing. When content is deliberately pushed in feeds and stories are most paramount, we’ve learned to adapt with enhanced visuals and relevant information that resonate with like-minded individuals.

Ju Rhyu Co-Founder and CEO, Hero Cosmetics

We had been impacted by the algorithm changes, and one thing we did that has worked is actually post less frequently. This has improved our engagement a lot, by 2x at least. I'm not sure exactly why or how this works, but the theory is that, since we're focusing less on volume and more on quality, our content gets more favor and therefore more engagement. But, really, who knows how the Instagram algorithm works? It's a big, black box.

Nina Zilka CEO and Co-Founder, Alder New York

We have been impacted by the algorithm changes at Instagram. If anything, we're now spending more of our advertising budget on Instagram specifically because it's clear that they are prioritizing sponsored content.

We've also started to make a lot more videos since they're prioritizing video content. And we're continuing to engage with our small, boutique stores in-person because they always have strong, real-life relationships with their customers.

Melissa Boerema Director of Marketing, InstaNatural

We’ve definitely noticed a dip on our feed recently due to the new algorithm. In response, our main priority for the platform is to increase engagement. It seems more important than ever to keep your audience engaged with your brand and its content in order to remain top of mind (and feed!).

Although we've seen a decrease in the amount of likes on our posts, at the end of the day, our followers are more engaged, which we feel is more valuable. To achieve this, it's crucial to know exactly what type of content resonates best with our audience.

We measure engagement on every post to see if we can discover trends on the type of content or what days of weeks or times of day perform best. We’ve also scaled up the amount of stories we share to increase opportunity for engagement. Although these may not be new tactics, they are so important to help establish a social media strategy especially in light of this new algorithm change.

Ali Grant Founder, Be Social

Yes, we are certainly seeing a decrease in engagement and reach on the content being pushed via static Instagram posts. We've implemented new ways to utilize the platform, including an increase in story content creation, IGTV and the use of video.

Pushing consistent content out on the platform is key and ensuring the type of content is unique. For the brands running influencer campaigns, we've moved to programs that include video, stories and IGTV, as we are seeing higher engagement, reach and ROI from this type of collaboration.

Evelyn Ginossi Founder, Marine + Vine

Lush UK isn’t the only company tired of fighting Instagram algorithms, but smaller businesses simply can’t afford to walk away. Checking an Instagram is nearly as second-nature as Googling something these days. Even if there’s a dip in engagement due to an algorithm change, you never know who will check your Instagram for an overview of who you are as a brand, including potential buyers, customers and investors.

While Instagram algorithm changes are frustrating, it’s an unavoidable part of a necessary and still cost-efficient means of brand and product awareness as well as customer outreach. Instagram is instrumental in reinforcing our brand identity and providing appealing bites of relevant content to foster brand and product education. As a self-funded business owner, more traditional mediums of outreach and communication such as paid advertising and PR are used sparingly due to their higher cost of development and return.

Prior to Marine + Vine’s official launch in January 2019, I have made it a priority to stay on top of our metrics and study available data and performance to make tweaks to both content and outreach. I periodically test new content styles, messaging and techniques to see what resonates with our developing following as well as strengthens our brand profile. As a whole, the M+V Instagram account has evolved a lot since I first started posting, and it will continue to evolve to meet future changes and challenges with the Instagram platform as a whole.

Cathy Chapman President, Lunette

It seems like sponsored content has much more visibility on the platform as of recently. We’ve really have had to up our game with paid partnerships and rethink our advertising strategies to keep up visibility in the period care space.

There is always a new trend and, just when you think you’ve nailed it from the marketing perspective, a new trend comes along. As a leader in the category, we definitely have to be constantly evolving our marketing strategy to keep up with Instagram’s ever-changing space. We really rely on our in-house social media marketing team to be up to date on known algorithm changes and trends.

Samantha Lim Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer, HipDot

I've grown a thick skin to algorithm scares over years of managing all types of Instagram accounts. Any time a post does poorly engagement and performance-wise, I automatically assume it was because of the algorithm. But, then, I'll post another piece of content and it will shoot right back up, which is a good reminder that a lot of the time, it's probably just my content.

Don't get me wrong, sometimes it actually is because of algorithm changes, but, in either case, I always come back to the same lesson: post content you believe in and your community will reward you for it. We should measure success based on more than just metrics, also on storytelling, representation and creativity.

Algorithm changes will continue to happen as makers continue to game the system and hack the platform. It's a good level set and actually keeps things from being too cookie cutter. I believe that, if you stick to your messages, create original content, and share a meaningful point of view, your content will continue to build your story and be a window into your brand.

Andrea Lisbona CEO and Founder, Touchland 

We take our engagement on social pretty seriously. Instead of leaning on the platform for superficial follower growth, we look at it as a tool to have meaningful and productive conversations with our customers and prospects.

We encourage our followers to have open dialogue with us and share their amazing testimonials as well as the occasional hiccup they wish to discuss. We find customers love our transparency, and engagement is simply the byproduct of our willingness to stay attentive and listen to what our audience is saying.

Regarding the algorithmic changes by Instagram, we feel they are doing everything in their power to encourage brands who wish to engage meaningfully with their followers and suppress accounts simply looking to rack up the follower count.

So, there’s no magic to it, just be real! Be authentic, and treat each engagement on social as if it were your first customer. The rest will fall into place.

Valerie Obaze Founder and CEO, R&R Luxury

Along with most independent brands, we have been negatively impacted by the algorithm changes at Instagram. Some of our posts barely get seen by 1,000 people when we have 22,000 followers. When we first noticed the changes, we started creating more engaging content such as videos and did a series of boosted posts in an attempt to increase views. 

We generally post approximately six times per week. And, along with the marketing team, I took the decision that we continue posting even though the content may not be seen. The thinking behind that is simple, we always push customers to view our Instagram page through our non-social media marketing communications as the page serves as a hub of information. It includes beauty hacks, snippets of information on the benefits of our products, and also a series of reviews from influencers and our customers who have used our products. Referrals have always been important to us. 

One tactic we have taken to try and increase the amount of people seeing our posts is using IGTV. Instagram is pushing its new video platform, so when we post a video to IGTV, along with a preview on our page (as opposed to simply posting it on our IG feed), we find that we get much higher views and engagement on those posts. 

This issue really highlights the importance of using (and not neglecting) other methods of communication to reach your customers whilst also using social media. Social media is an amazing free tool to attract and retain customers. However, there are also other ways of connecting with your audience. My background is in PR and communication, so I have always ensured that, as well as social media for R&R, we also use more traditional methods of engaging customers such as on-going media relations, pop-up events and monthly mailers. 

WhatsApp is also one of the tools we use to connect with customers in the African markets. We find that our customers, especially in West Africa, want to have the option to order via WhatsApp. So, as we accept orders, we also have their phone numbers, which allows us to take advantage of free WhatsApp tools such as WhatsApp status (similar to Instagram Stories) and WhatsApp broadcasts, which allow us to directly reach our customers.

DAVID SIMNICK CEO and Co-Founder, Soapbox

IG is constantly changing its algorithm and optimizing its platform. With each algorithm change, I think everyone sees a bit of a difference (both brands and general users). IG is a platform that our demo is prevalent on, so we just have to adjust to the changes as they come.

These changes aren't things that would make us consider leaving the platform. It just changes how often we post, times we post and alternating through different types of media (i.e. product promos, UGC, model shots, gen. lifestyle pics, etc.).

If you have a question you’d like Beauty Independent to ask beauty entrepreneurs, please send it to [email protected].