"The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated."

Maybe the next Mark Twain is on Instagram, maybe not. But either way, his timeless quote felt like a fitting way to kick off a quick summary of Instagram's recent data policy changes and what it means for the future of Instagram promotions including user-generated content sweepstakes and contests.

Instagram and parent organization Facebook have had a tumultuous couple of months, primarily around privacy and data control. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal where personal data including interests, political preferences and private messages of up to 87 million Facebook members were made accessible through standard Facebook data permissions at the time. Adding the EU's new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR, for short) launching around the same time, it seemed inevitable many social network companies would have to change.

Instagram's Changes Protecting Public Access to Users' Data

And change they did. In April, Instagram accelerated the timeline for planned changes to their API, removing the ability to capture most public profile information and reducing API call frequency from 5,000 calls per hour to just 200. They also announced that all ability to read any public profile information will be disabled by December 11th. These changes, of course, proved a bit troubling to us and our clients. Next, Instagram is planning to shut down the same calls we presently rely on to pull hashtags from posts for users that participate in sweepstakes and contests.

Learning and Developing

To make things even more challenging, it's been difficult to find concrete information from Instagram about exactly what is changing. With the only official statement coming by way of API documentation update, we've had to rely on word of mouth and the blogosphere (is that still a thing?). Fortunately, following a ton of hard work from our team we've moved from fearing the end of user-generated content as we know it, to appreciating a whole new world of possibilities.

The Rise of @Mentions and Tagging for More Genuine Social Connections

Beginning in December 2018, Instagram will be changing to the new and improved Instagram Graph API, which was built on Facebook's Graph API, and retiring the current API. Although hashtags will still be available, the database structure will no longer separate them from post text, making it nearly impossible to search, parse, or pull hashtagged posts from all of Instagram.

However, this opens up an entirely new set of capabilities for brands to drive meaningful interactions with consumers and Followers.

Run Contests and Sweepstakes to Incentivize Social Engagement

The new API allows you to aggregate and display Instagram content for an account that has been @Mentioned in a Photo Tag, Caption or Comment, enabling their network to participate in sweepstakes and contests. Our platform will then listen for the mention of your account's handle and pull in this more focused set of Instagram interactions. We can then parse a hashtag out of that post or comment's text to ensure that their intent is to participate in the sweepstakes or contest you are running. This is an improvement over using just hashtags because you get to filter out any unwanted content that has hashtag spam. It's a form of "2 -step verification" if you will.

Prepare for the Instagram Graph API transition

Here's what you need to do to make sure your Instagram Account is ready for the API upgrade:

  1. Ensure your Instagram Account is a "Business Account"
  2. Any influencers that post as part of your social selling strategy should ensure they also have an Instagram "Business Account"
  3. Connect your Facebook Business Page with your Instagram Business Account, following the two steps shown below:

The future for user-generated content

It’s impossible to predict how platforms will change, though it's exciting to figure out new ways to create amazing promotions. While we were initially a bit concerned on what these API changes would mean, we are now incredibly excited for the potential. Moving engagement to incentivize the community to mention a brand directly will drive deeper engagement and lead to the meaningful relationships key for any successful business.