War rages between the world’s best-known brands and Instagram, as Facebook rolls out drastic changes to Instagram data. In April 2018 Chief Technology Officer for Facebook, Mike Schroepfer, described the changes we’re now experiencing as,

“Overall, we believe these changes will better protect people’s information while still enabling developers to create useful experiences.”

The reality for social listening tools, media companies, public relations practitioners, and brands is different. The next batch of industrywide changes is happening now, although officially come into effect from 11thDecember 2018. Conversations that I have had reveal a number of challenges.

What’s happening?

In April 2018, Facebook reacted quickly to the Cambridge Analytica scandal by making a drastic change overnight with how developers accessed Instagram data. Many developers saw their apps break as Instagram shrunk its API limit from 5,000 to 200 calls per user per hour. This meant developer’s apps stop working, as multiple requests for Instagram data (to analyze mentions, followers, etc) weren’t possible.

This news quickly resulted in Instagram completely shutting down its old platform API that allowed for searching across follower lists, relationships, and comments on public content. Previously this was scheduled for deprecation in July 2018.

Then the big upcoming change, from 11th December we’ll see the deprecation of public content reading APIs. This means collecting data based on hashtag searches won’t be possible.

What does this mean?

For normal people, this is arguably a good change. Previously Instagram data could be perceived as a free-for-all grab. Meaning the danger of another Cambridge Analytica style app designed to harvest data was a real possibility. By closing the public floodgates, now data has to be requested by Instagram business accounts.

Without going into the technicalities, if you want Instagram data now, then you can track up to 30 hashtags per authenticated Instagram business profile, which must be linked to a Facebook page. This data is only available for a max 30-day period. It’s no longer possible for data to be ‘pooled’ by social insights tools – meaning any broader searches have to be done across a specific list of Instagram accounts.

Who will be impacted?

Everyone. Whilst the Instagram data tap hasn’t been completely shut off, it has been metaphorically been reduced to a steady drip.

#1 The rise of dark social

This change encapsulates some of my growing concerns about the rise of dark social. Twitter is by far the most open social network to date, but nobody can deny the rise in popularity of Instagram. Its influence is clear from a consumer perspective, but even corporate reputation management projects largely rely on Instagram’s visual content. The changes restrict the scope of online searches on Instagram – meaning 99% coverage can’t be guaranteed.

#2 Instagram promotes brand performance

The requirement for Instagram businesses to link to an active Facebook page isn’t an accident. Facebook has geared Instagram data analysis more for improving brand performance online. Despite this, some of the biggest consumer brands around are outraged by the limitations in data access – especially after the millions that brands have spent advertising with Facebook.

#3 Death of innovation

The priority for Facebook now is to show its acting following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. This will negatively impact developers, causing them to rush making quick fixed to handle the aforementioned changes. It also restricts innovation, given the tight controls Instagram has put in place for data. For 10 years we’ve seen huge leaps by social insights tools to provide best-in-class analysis, 2019 might see a slowdown.

There are two sides to every story. People’s data is safer, which has to be the priority. But as I write this, many companies are in an uproar. Some are even in discussions to put pressure on Facebook by cutting brand advertising budgets.

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