What Brands and Agencies Need to Know About Instagram’s API Changes

The image-forward social platform is hoping to encourage more branded conversations

The rise of social listening has mirrored the growth of the social media networks themselves, especially Facebook and Twitter. As social media became an increasingly popular way for people to express themselves, brands knew they needed to be able to understand how their consumers were talking about them in the public domain. The growing business maturity of the social platforms that have thrived in the last 15 years has helped influence how the ecosystem interacts collectively. To continue to deliver relevance and value, social platforms have occasionally modified the ways they enable developers to access APIs in the context of how they want advertisers to “see” or “listen” to their users. Twitter has been the most consistent with their strategic offering overall as a data provider; whereas, Facebook has had the most changes in their strategy over time.

An important example of this movement in the ecosystem is with Instagram, which will institute changes to the way it allows developers to access its API in December. In fact, Instagram made the announcement back in January of this year, and we discussed the topic in an April 2018 post: Understanding Instagram’s API Changes. Of particular importance to brands and agencies, Instagram will no longer provide an API to specify a hashtag and analyze all public Instagram posts using that hashtag. By understanding the motivations behind these API changes, brands and agencies can adjust their strategies to align with this evolving ecosystem, and find ways to create new opportunities for consumer insight discovery and effective brand monitoring.

Social media is the world’s greatest focus group.

However, as is customary in traditional research methods that are focused on observations, there are certain ethics and structures to guide the interactions between the focus group, the brand and the researchers. What we’re seeing today is the continued evolution of social media platforms facing the challenges that are well known in traditional social research, such as the consent or lack thereof of the human subjects being observed. Even though users of these public social platforms implicitly understand that their expressions are public (unless set private), the responsibility of the social media company is coming under greater scrutiny.

In the case of Facebook, where an individual has always been the base unit of value (you are who you say you are on Facebook), there’s been an evolving desire to ensure that the individual’s identity is protected and not misused, either intentionally or unintentionally. In fact, all the tech giants are being asked or directed (for example, by GDPR) to protect the privacy of their users with more transparency and commitment.

Social media is big business and highly competitive.

To make things even more complicated, traditional mainstream media outlets compete directly with the new social media channels for the same advertising dollars from the same brand advertisers. So there’s an interesting dynamic at play. The spotlight that is being projected on new social media companies by the traditional media is not simply just another news story. It is also a way to show potential advertisers that they should “come back home” to what they know and avoid the shiny new object that is social media; after all, it seems to make consumers wary. We expect that this competitive tension will continue for some time, and it will influence the interactions between individuals, advertisers, and social media platforms.

As a big data analytics company with roots in social media listening, Crimson Hexagon is at the center of an evolving relationship between the brands who are looking to understand the social conversation, the individuals who want to protect their privacy — even as they express themselves in the public domain, and the social media platforms themselves who want to grow their businesses and show their value.

So what’s a marketer and a brand to do to make sense of all this?

The Instagram API changes encourage influencers and brands to prompt users to mention a brand explicitly and to tag the brand in photos. As an image-driven platform, Instagram wants brands, influencers, and users to focus on brand conversations as they relate to the plethora of pictures that are shared. In this way, the richness of the relationship between brands, influencers and users who want to engage will prevail over the gaming of the system created by hashtags.

It should be clear that these changes are meant to help Instagram as a social media platform flourish, by enabling advertising that brings value to the brand, influencers who amplify the brand, and users to put it all together.

Social media datasets are not all created equally.

Twitter remains the richest dataset for yielding consumer insights. Twitter, although no stranger to evolving with the market and continuing to take stock of congressional scrutiny and user privacy, like all the other social media platforms, still retains a rich set of signals — even benefitting from posts originated on other platforms that are shared through Twitter — that continue to flow through in real time.

We also believe that Reddit, as a growing platform, has great potential for consumer insights. With anonymous user discussions that create their own set of signals and insights, the Reddit platform can be used to help businesses make strategic decisions and to help users discuss and learn about subjects of interest to them.

Facebook remains a fairly closed system, but valuable for specific types of campaign effectiveness use cases. Instagram is a highly valuable influencer platform with rich insights from its wealth of image expressions that capture the general zeitgeist in terms of lifestyle, culture and social trends.

The bottom line is that not all social data should be treated as one. We will be continuing to dive into this subject in upcoming blog posts and case studies.

Keep your eye on this space.

These are dynamic times for social media. Crimson Hexagon is an active participant in this arena and will continue to provide the best-in-class platform for navigating through this ever-changing world.

We will publish a series of blog posts and host a series webinars to further explore the implications of and opportunities arising from the Instagram API changes in December.

For more information, download our webinar: Instagram API Changes and What You Need to Know

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