Apr 10, 2018 / by Russ Somers

If you work in communications or social media, you've probably heard about the changes to the Instagram API that Facebook announced last week. There's been a lot going on with Facebook and Instagram recently, and it's been hard to keep up.


We sat down with Jenn Deering Davis from our social intelligence partner Union Metrics to shed some light on what's going on with Instagram and Facebook. She shared some thoughts on how the changes do - and don’t - impact PR and marketing professionals.



Russ Somers (RS): Before we dive into the changes, can you give us a quick primer on how marketers and PR professionals have historically used Instagram?


Jenn Deering Davis (JDD): Sure thing. At the most basic level, there are three major kinds of Instagram analysis:

  1. Owned media analysis: Understanding the performance and impact of content you put out on your own social profiles - your Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, Twitter accounts and the like. Who are your audiences? How do they engage? What content resonates? Who amplifies your message (and how)?
  2. Public account analysis: Understanding the themes and trends of other public social profiles, like influencers and competitors. What kinds of content do they post? What do their engagement rates look like? What intel can you gain from their audiences? How do your metrics compare to theirs?
  3. Listening: What does the world think about a particular topic? What is the size and scope of the conversation around that topic? What trends are emerging? Are there particular hashtags, media or articles that are spreading?


RS: Makes sense. So what’s changed, and how is it affecting brands and agencies who use Instagram?


JDD: Last week, Instagram made changes that impact each of these areas in different ways. These changes primarily impact the older Instagram API, and were a sudden and expected acceleration of a previously planned deprecation of this API originally set for later this year. That means that many people were preparing for these changes, but just not ready for them right now. With these changes, Facebook has made the old Instagram API essentially unusable (and it will be fully eliminated soon). Facebook is encouraging developers and marketers to use the new Graph API in its place.


On one hand, that's great, because the Graph API is more robust and includes a lot more data than the old Instagram API. On the other hand, that data is limited to Instagram business profiles you have admin access to. And of course you need access to the Graph API to get to it.


Here's how the changes impact the three types of Instagram analysis:


  1. Owned media: Better data on your owned Instagram profiles, but they need to be Instagram business profiles and you have to authenticate to access this data.
  2. Public accounts: This use case no longer exists for Instagram - there is no longer any data available for public Instagram accounts you don't own.
  3. Listening: Public hashtag listening on Instagram is no longer supported. Brands will need to move to brand mentions, photo tags and related hashtags.


RS: So for your owned Instagram profiles, you need to ensure you’re using a business profile. But the changes are much bigger for public account analysis and listening - what should brands and agencies do there? When you say “the use case no longer exists” and “hashtag listening is no longer supported”, that sounds world-changing.


JDD: Not world-changing, just a change in what’s possible and how best to accomplish your objectives. It's time to rethink social listening, especially as it pertains to Instagram and Facebook. The days of being able to monitor public Instagram posts using any hashtag or run a quick analysis of a public user's account are over. If your brand encourages use of Instagram hashtags for campaigns and contests, start thinking about how you can use mentions or phototags instead of hashtags.



While we don't love this new accelerated timeline, we're extremely excited about the evolution of social listening on Instagram from manual hashtag hacks to true brand monitoring of mentions and tags. The new Graph API includes mentions and phototags; as brands, it'll be easier to see who's talking about us and how. This change will have a few bumps, but in the end, it's going to be better for brands and businesses using Instagram.


RS: Quick clarification - how do mentions and phototags work on Instagram?


JDD: If you have a public Instagram profile - and all business profiles are public - other Instagram users can tag your username in another post's caption or comment, or in a photo. For the first time in Instagram's history, data on those actions is now available for reporting. That means we can monitor the mentions (uses of a brand's username in a post caption or comment) and phototags (tagging a brand in a user's photo) of your brand and you can keep track of what your customers are saying about your brand across Instagram.


RS: Do these changes affect Instagram’s position in social media ecosystem?


JDD: Not in the short term, but these changes do further cement Twitter's position as the best social network for social listening and brand monitoring. No matter who your customers are, if something happens in the world, it shows up on Twitter, making it perfect for customer research, campaign planning and media monitoring.


RS: What else should PR professionals and marketers do in response to the change to the Graph API?


JDD: Business profiles are the future of Instagram. If you're responsible for social media management for your brand or client, be sure your Instagram accounts are converted to business profiles. It's quick and easy to do if you haven't yet.


RS: Anything else that people need to know?


JDD: These changes are global and apply to all Instagram-connected applications. That includes any products built for Instagram analytics, management or listening. If you use any of these kinds of products, check with your provider to find out how they're impacted and what's coming next. If they aren't already incorporating the Graph API, ask about their plan to incorporate it. Facebook is not taking any new applications for Graph API access right now, so if they don't already have access, it's hard to say when that may be granted.


It's clear that Facebook is taking privacy very seriously. These may not be the last data changes we see, so prepare yourself for more. While that's the daily reality of working with social media, these changes were bigger and more sudden than what we typically have to deal with. But don't worry, because you're not alone! Everyone is impacted by these changes, and we're all learning how to cope in this new world together.


If you'd like any other information, we held an emergency webinar last week to discuss what's next and how communicators can deal with these changes. Have a listen here.


Looking to fuel your PR strategy with social media? Join us Thursday April 19th for More than a Retweet. A webinar featuring Jenn Deering Davis, Co-Founder and VP of Customer Experience at Union Metrics and Russ Somers, VP of Marketing at TrendKite as they discuss how using social media intelligence is vital to boosting earned media's reach and impact.

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