Technology

These Changes Could Redefine Your Instagram Experience

By / Jun 7, 2016 (Instagram press photo)

The Facebook-owned social network was really busy last week, as Instagram made its feed more algorithmically driven. However, some other recent Instagram changes could leave businesses either delighted … or incredibly frustrated. Here’s why.

Here’s a fact of life that we just have to live with: Social networks that you don’t own will change. They just do, and you’re the one who has to adapt.

As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, Facebook has been the poster child of this sort of constant evolution. Now, its subsidiary Instagram is making a couple shifts of its own, most notably changing its main feed to something driven by an algorithm.

Two other big changes target business audiences and power users. One of those shifts is good for organizations. The other? It’s not so great.

Let’s break ’em down.

The Good Change

Last week, Instagram made a shift in the services it offers to businesses, which have mostly been in the dark about what its service can do for them.

Part of this is because of a handful of requirements that have traditionally been more restrictive on the photo-sharing service than on other networks. The big one? Each account can only share a single link, located on its profile page.

For brands looking to market to a broader audience, that’s awfully limiting. So Instagram announced it would begin offering official business pages on the service. The pages look pretty much exactly like you’d think they would: Facebook pages, but for Instagram. (In fact, your business needs a Facebook page to even sign up for the service.)

They allow for more details than traditional Instagram pages do, and even offer the kind of promoted post functionality Facebook is known for, along with analytics that describe the reach of each post shared, along with other useful things like demographics and location.

“The ability to promote lets you turn well-performing posts into ads right within the app—helping you connect with even more customers,” the company explains on its blog. “Simply pick a post you’ve already shared on Instagram and add a button encouraging people to take action. You can select a target audience or allow Instagram to suggest targeting for you. After that, your post will be promoted as an ad for any length of time you choose.”

Considering its owner, it makes sense that Instagram would follow the Facebook playbook so closely, but the additional marketing oomph that the platform is now offering will be welcomed, especially as the network completes its transition to the algorithmic display of posts that favors friends and family over everything else—with the goal of removing the noise from the platform. (Y’know, just like Facebook.)

The Not-So-Good Change

The new business-oriented features take some of the sting off of a change that’s likely to make the service less useful for power users like social media managers.

Instagram, despite (or perhaps because of) its popularity, has been known for taking actions meant to double down on control of its social platform—most infamously in 2013, when the network chose to take steps to ensure its photos didn’t show up in the Twitter interface.

Last week, however, the platform took a fresh shot at third-party apps, shutting out most access to the company’s application programming interfaces (API). This had a negative effect not just on widely used third-party clients and utilities like IFTTT and Flipboard but also on the event space in particular.

“Social wall” apps—which throw what’s happening on a certain hashtag onto a large monitor—were among those affected by the shift. As were third-party Instagram apps that focus on the iPad, a platform that does not have a native Instagram client. And so, too, were Instagram search tools that made it easier for users to track down messages posted on certain hashtags.

Already, a number of Instagram-focused apps have been forced to shut down their offerings or change them up:

This is a big philosophical shift, but fortunately one for which there was a decent amount of warning. However, the long gap between the initial November 2015 announcement and the June 1 cutoff date nonetheless ensured people were surprised last week.

So what should we make of this? Associations, which have to manage the social media of events at scale, are likely among the power users affected.

The decision to cut off API access helps to clear the air for the company. The API had been widely used, but not to the degree of Twitter’s broad app ecosystem, and it only made up a relatively small percentage of Instagram’s total use, according to TechCrunch, with the most popular app only making up .5 percent of the company’s total use base as of last November.

(There have been some bad actors in Instagram’s app ecosystem. Last year, a popular app called InstaAgent, which claimed to allow users to know who was viewing their profile, was found in reality to be stealing passwords from users.)

The company is instituting a stricter review process for applications that want to use Instagram’s API. Those that meet the company’s criteria will be given access once again.

In case you’re curious about what constitutes the company’s criteria, here’s the relevant part from the company’s Platform Policy:

We provide the Instagram APIs to support several types of apps and services. First, we provide them to help members of our community share their own content with apps or services. We also support apps and services that help brands and advertisers understand and manage their audience, develop their content strategy, and obtain digital rights. Finally, we provide the Instagram APIs to help broadcasters and publishers discover content, get digital rights to media, and share media using web embeds. The Instagram APIs are not intended for other types of apps or services.

This standard, as laid out here, appears to imply that the company is OK with companies and professionals using third-party apps—but not regular users. Social walls probably constitute the development of “content strategy” and “broadcasting” to end users, but the interpretation will ultimately be up to the social network to decide.

It’s likely, though, that this might cause some hiccups in your social strategy if you have a sizable Instagram presence. Since brand-management apps won’t be available to everyone, they may add an additional cost on your bottom line.

Where does this leave “social wall” services? It’s likely that such uses, which are clearly specialized and designed for business, will get through the approval process.

But then again, I’m not Instagram, and they may feel differently. It may be frustrating, but they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do.

And just like every other piece of social media you don’t own, you’ll have to work around the network’s ever-changing whims.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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