Instagram has become a key pillar of most influencer marketing strategies, but what happens when that pillar starts to crumble without warning because of privacy controversies at its parent company, Facebook?
On March 30, Instagram slashed the rate limit on its platform API (application-programming interface) from 5,000 calls per hour to 200 with no advance notice for developers.
The lower rate limit provides access to far less data than developers were able to pull prior to the change, forcing some to make tough choices about where to allocate their calls.
Ryan Detert, CEO of Influential, an influencer marketing platform backed by IBM’s Watson, said some of his company’s third-party partners have resorted to rationing the number of hashtags they track, while others have found tools such as sentiment-tracking APIs to be unavailable or limited.
Detert pointed out that verified business accounts on Instagram have access to more than 200 calls per hour. However, Mavrck co-founder and CEO Lyle Stevens countered, “Several influencer platforms instructed creators to switch over to Instagram business profiles immediately to continue using their services, which we feel is impulsive and self-serving.”
Instagram abruptly announced last Wednesday that the depreciation of the Instagram API Platform in favor of the Instagram Graph API—which was originally scheduled to occur in two phases, July 31 and Dec. 11—was happening “effective immediately,” again leaving developers no time to prepare.
Joseph Varghese, co-founder and head of technology at social media analytics provider Unmetric, described his company’s reaction to last week’s developments: “Fortunately, some parts have already been converted to use the Graph API and the rest are being explored right now. It’s an inconvenience for our clients who expect to see uninterrupted competitive data for Instagram, but we hope and expect to have things up and running again once Instagram starts reopening access.”
Some influencer marketing platforms escaped relatively unscathed, as they rely on first-party opt-ins from creators to directly access their data, using API tokens only for that purpose and relying on fewer calls per hour than other platforms.
Why did everything occur so abruptly? Pierre-Loic Assayag, co-founder and CEO of influencer marketing platform Traackr, echoed the surprise of many in his industry, saying, “Facebook has always had a true developer culture. Even when it is changing its terms, it has always allowed for a bit of lead time and provided an explanation.”
Detert agreed, saying, “I get why they did it. I would have loved a better heads up.”
Instagram is far too embedded in most influencer marketing strategies for companies to declare that they will drastically cut back their emphasis on the platform or leave it altogether, and common themes among those we spoke with were being “platform-agnostic” and finding ways to make their platforms work in the new environment.
Detert did not foresee a mass influencer exodus, saying, “Consumers are still on Instagram and love the product. Despite there being less data because people weren’t prepared for this, influencers still have deals.”
Assayag did not seem to be on the verge of immediate moves, either, saying, “There’s no freak-out factor for us. In the short term, we’ll figure out ways to keep the lights on with some of the Instagram data that is still available.”
However, he did not rule out a shift in the near future, adding, “More of a question for us and our clients is: How is it going to affect the behavior of influencers? Many of them were betting on Instagram, and there is probably going to be a reallocation of time and resources. I’m not suggesting that Instagram is going down the tubes because of this, but it will hinder its momentum, particularly with millennials and Gen Z.”
Meanwhile, Mavrck had already begun prioritizing Pinterest before the changes last week, with Stevens pointing to its commerce focus, the longer half-life of content on that platform (“several months versus several days”) and its “search-first nature,” which he said “allows creator content to be exposed to more people than it is via Instagram’s ‘follow a creator.’”
“I’m not saying this is the wrong move for Facebook and Instagram, but it’s going to hurt them more than they know,” Assayag said.