I like Instagram for promotions. It’s got reach and it tends to be very responsive. It’s particularly good for producing user-generated content. In fact, Prizeology has run a lot of promotions in which entrants were asked to submit photos or videos using a promotion-specific hashtag. I’m simplifying here, but what we basically did to collate the entries was to search for the hashtag.
I don’t want to get too technical on you, but what enabled us to do that was Instagram’s application programming interface or API – and that’s what changed at the end of last year. What we used to be able to do via the old API was use an app that worked in conjunction with Instagram to search on any hashtag.
Instagram also provided information such as usernames and locations, which, as I’m sure you appreciate, are essential if you’re running a competition. Without them it’s hard to verify that an entrant lives in the UK rather than, say, Papua New Guinea, which would make them ineligible for a UK prize draw. Furthermore, if you don’t know who the winner is it’s also quite tricky to contact them to let them know that they’ve won your promotion.
So why has Instagram introduced the new API? It’s done it to address data protection and data security issues, and that’s obviously a positive. The old API allowed multiple hashtags to be searched and – if you were unscrupulous or indeed a bot – you could harvest the names and locations you came across.
This gave you quite a valuable resource containing personal information about potentially thousands and thousands of Instagrammers. Crucially, though, you had gathered this data without their consent. So the new API prioritises consent and is bad for bots, because it doesn’t permit many of the tasks which bots could formerly undertake, like following and making automated comments on posts.
However, the good news is that hashtag searches are still possible, but to use the new API, which is called the Instagram Graph API and is based on the Facebook Graph API introduced earlier in 2018, you must have an Instagram business account and it must be linked to a Facebook page.
There are also some new limitations on what you can do, for instance you can search on no more than 30 hashtags each week, so if you’re monitoring hashtags connected to your brand you may need to be selective in order to include a promotion-specific one.
Also, if you’re collating content related to a hashtag you can only access photos and videos posted in the previous 24 hours, so you’ll need an automated monitoring system that can collate new content as and when it’s posted.
Fortunately, although the new API doesn’t provide you with the username of whoever uploaded a post, all is not lost because there’s the capacity to click on a link to the original content, which, as long as the prize draw participant has given their consent, will provide you with the information you need.
There are various ways in which an entrant can give their consent and permit you to access their data, and perhaps that should be the subject of another post, but again this is positive, because if you ask for active consent you know that someone has made an active decision to enter and it improves the quality of the engagement with your brand, which is ultimately what Instagram promotions are all about.
In the past, Instagram prize draws and competitions could be pretty, well, instant. If you want to run a large-scale promotion on Instagram it now needs a little more planning and a slightly longer lead-up time, but, you know, that’s OK. We got this…
Sarah Burns is Prizeology’s Chief Prizeologist.