How Russian Small Businesses Survived Instagram Blocking

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Four months ago, the Russian authorities blocked Instagram access in Russia. What happened to the Russian small business that used this site regularly during this period?

Russian authorities closed down access to one of Ukraine’s most popular social networks two weeks after the invasion. Officials blamed Instagram’s internal rules for inciting violence against Russians.

Although the social network denied such regulations, it was banned, and Meta, the parent company, was deemed extremist. Blocking did affect not only ordinary users but also small businesses that lost customers and revenue. They had to deal with the material DW.

In Russia, Instagram lost 70% of its users.

Millions of Russians received an email from the Gosuslugi portal on March 13. It was signed by Roskomnadzor. The agency informed that Instagram’s hostility toward Russia had led to blocking the social network at 00:00 GMT on March 14. All its users were requested to switch to Russian resources in return.

The letter stated that Russia has its own Internet platforms, including VKontakte, Odnoklassniki, and other social networks. We hope your transition to these Internet environments is quick and that you will find new opportunities for communication and business in the future.

Instagram has significantly dropped Russian users over the last four months. Mediascope’s most recent estimates show that the average daily coverage for this social network in Russia has fallen from 39.5 million users before the war to 11.5 million by May. Business people and content creators interviewed by DW recalled their initial emotions after blocking Instagram with the confusion and horror of the word.

Unprecedented opportunities available to small businesses

Agami is a well-known Moscow handmade ceramics store. However, 35,000 people have already signed up for Instagram. The company has only eleven employees. Maria Gilmanova, the co-founder of Agami, told DW that the company has grown organically over six years. This is despite only having eleven employees. Many subscribers subscribed to interesting content after visiting Moscow offline fairs.

The brand’s account has attracted the most subscribers in the past three years since Agami moved from corporate clients to retailers. More than half of all company site visitors come from social media. With its easy-to-understand and inexpensive promotion tools, Instagram was the most important traffic source in this instance. Maria shares that it was a unique opportunity for small businesses to promote themselves without spending a lot of advertising dollars. “In this sense we were horrified.”

Subscribers and orders are lost by a business.

Natalia Krayukhina, the content producer, admitted to DW she was confused when she heard about Instagram’s blocking. She started working in the “Let’s Feed Mom” service, delivering food to nursing mothers shortly before the ban. Natalia and her team shot a lot of video and photo content for the company’s 14.5 million followers on Instagram over the past months. But now, she isn’t sure what to do with it. There’s no one to see posts on the social media network.

“Story coverage is the number of unique users that saw videos less than 15 seconds. Ed. Natalia complains that the audience is only one hundred people. “And the coverage of posts and stories is decreasing in general. It was around 20,000 four months ago, but now it’s just 10,000. This is a huge difference. The company had to reduce content production and faced problems with the outflow of customers. There were also fewer orders.

Clients have installed VPN.

It was not a catastrophe for “Agami” to block access to Instagram Russia. Gilmanova clarifies that “the activity under the posts may have decreased slightly, but overall, coverage has not fallen much.” “There is a feeling our audience has created a VPN.” However, the ceramics store also faced another problem: the impossibility of developing.

Agami co-founder says, “We have stopped growing Instagram.” It has slowed down a lot. Some organic growth is due to shares, which are the actions of users sharing content. Ed. It is, however, very minor. It didn’t have a massive impact on sales, however. Agami intends to open an offline shop with great customer opportunities and explore the potential for promotion on VKontakte, a Russian social network.

After blocking Instagram, the Russian leading social network began to change its advertising account and announce business support programs. However, target group businessmen and researchers complain that investment in promotion on the platform does not result in new customers in the professional community of the same VKontakte.

VKontakte has more customers with blocked Instagram than VKontakte.

“I listened to all the seminars that VKontakte organized (for business). – Ed. ) – Natalia Krayukhina, Let’s Feed Mom. VKontakte was great when Instagram was blocked. They created a lot of programs and events for businesses, but they didn’t work. Many people in Moscow had the same experience.

Even because Instagram was blocked and ads could not be placed there, Let’s Feed Mom now has more customers than VKontakte, where the company invests. Krayukhina adds that although we didn’t spend much money, we did invest 70 thousand rubles. Instagram was born due to Reels (short videos between 15 and 30 seconds long, with sound) and has overgrown. Ed. YouTube gives coverage for about 10 000 people, YouTube is about the same, and VKontakte – 200 impressions without conversion to purchase.

This background could mean that Russian small businesses will soon lose their last subscribers. State Duma Deputies presented to parliament on July 6 a bill prohibiting doing business with social networks that have been blocked for extremism. He explicitly forbids banks from providing services to customers through blocked Russian sites.

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