Ok! Today we’re gonna talk about the Instagram API! Yay!!! I know you’re at least a quarter excited as I am but before you hit unsubscribe, hear me on this. Understanding what the social network APIs are and why they’re critical to successful social media management is going to be valuable to you.
This isn’t just a geek out session for social media tools and startups.
Have you ever wondered why some tools can do things while others can’t?
Have you ever wished there was a tool that could do everything you needed it to do?
Have your clients ever struggled to understand why it takes so long to create reports, or why you need their login to manage their profiles?
Or how about this one… have you ever wanted to sound incredibly smart and well informed when speaking on a panel, chatting in a Clubhouse room, or perhaps to prospects?
We’re going to cover those questions and a lot more in today’s episode of Marketing Hyperdrive.
So, let’s dive right in.
If you’re just using Instagram for fun, you might post an image from your vacation once in a while, or you might follow friends or brands you like to get inspired or motivated. Perhaps you’ve discovered the short-form, vertical video content known as Reels and have learned some new recipes or killed time laughing at funny skits.
But if you’re trying to leverage Instagram for business, it is, as they say, a whole ‘nuther ball game.
Now you’re trying to create a strategy for what to post so that you aren’t scrambling every day to come up with something. You’re hoping to hit the perfect combination of hashtags to make a post go viral, all while struggling to decipher what the Insights are really telling you. And then there’s Stories and Reels and Guides and don’t forget, IGTV. Toss in DMs, advertising and profile optimization, including highlights, and you’ve got a platform now that, for business at least, has become quite complex over the years.
Instagram, which was launched
as a 640×640 image sharing app for iOS in October, 2010, then purchased by Facebook in 2012, has slowly rolled out those features and more over the past half-decade. And as new features were released, new ways for businesses to leverage the platform and manage their presence there emerged.
Which brings us to the API.
API is just an acronym that stands
for Application Programming Interface which is a fancy way of labeling a bit of coding that lets two different programs talk to each other.
Stop for a second and look at your phone. Maybe it’s an Apple iPhone, or perhaps you’re a card-carrying member of Club Android and have a Samsung or Google device. Regardless, if I know your telephone number I could call you right now from my phone, and it wouldn’t matter what make and model phone I have. Forget for a moment that me making your phone ring right now would freak the heck out of you, and think instead about how this actually works.
My phone doesn’t care what type of phone you have. Heck, you could technically be using a wall-mounted corded phone and it still wouldn’t matter. That’s because the phone company and telephone infrastructure spanning the globe acts as a go-between. The network’s system of servers, wires and other equipment translate and transport our signals back and forth and let us talk to each other. An electronic bridge, if you will.
That’s what the API does for two different programs. Originally designed for complex databases in the 60’s and 70’s, by the 2000’s the API saw commercial adoption on the web and was used frequently to allow completely different web applications to communicate with each other and pass information back and forth.
Just like the User Interface for an application makes it easy and possible for you to use it, like having a send button you can use to push an email out to someone, the API makes it easy and possible for a programmer to specify tasks and actions between applications.
The API also gives the originating application the ability to limit and control what can be done. Sometimes the limits are in place to restrict how much information can be shared, while other times the limits might be there to protect how the application is used.
Facebook personal profiles are a fun example. Facebook used to allow third-party apps to access your profile and use that access to read information about you or help you do things, like share posts. Now, third-party is the label for any application that is part of the conversation and relationship between you – the first party – and in this case, Facebook – the second party. But all too often, that access was used for malicious purpose such as pulling personal information and contacts that you wouldn’t have authorized, or to make it easy to spam Facebook feeds with scammy offers. After the Cambridge Analytica data scandal of 2018
, access to personal Facebook profiles via API was all but eliminated.
Which brings us to Instagram.
One of the first hurdles businesses face when they want to use Instagram is the push to convert their personal profile into a business profile. Choosing to operate as a business on Instagram unlocks access to advertising, audience insights, shopping & checkout, contact options, quick replies, and more. The key to that treasure-trove of social media gold is a simple push of an innocuously labeled button, Convert My Profile To Business. In exchange for upgraded strength and dexterity, you identify yourself to the dungeon master as a business to be sold to and, potentially arbitrated with differently if there is a dispute.
That business status is also a prerequisite for utilizing third party applications like Agorapulse
to help manage an Instagram account. The thought is, unless you’re a business, you don’t need access to tool to help you publish posts or monitor comments or report your past 30 days activity. You’d just open the app and use it personally like everyone else.
It’s the API that allows tools like Agorapulse to access Instagram business profiles, pull in comments on posts and direct messages, collect the analytics from that profile, and of course publish and schedule content to be shared.
It’s also the API that doesn’t allow third party tools to post content like Stories. Instagram has chosen to try to keep Story content as non-commercial as possible and one technique for maintaining that control is to force a business owner to use their mobile device to share to their Story. Third party tools like Agorapulse can be used to schedule Story content, but not post it. The content is sent to the business owner’s mobile device and they’re prompted via push notification that it’s time to share. They can then choose Story and seamlessly post their graphic or video. If that sounds overly complicated and annoying, that’s deliberate on Instagram’s part.
Because this my friends is the real battle that goes on within Instagram and every other social network. You and I have never personally given Facebook a dime of our money. We have never paid a setup fee or monthly subscription for the right to use Twitter or Pinterest or Clubhouse. When asked how these platforms make money, Mark Zuckerberg famously retorted, “We run ads, Senator.”
Instagram’s entire business model is to create a service that you love to use and spend time on and, in return, see ads that businesses pay Instagram to place on their behalf. It says so right in the Instagram Terms of Service. It states
, “Instead of paying to use Instagram, by using the Service covered by these Terms, you acknowledge that we can show you ads that businesses and organizations pay us to promote on and off the Facebook Company Products. We use your personal data, such as information about your activity and interests, to show you ads that are more relevant to you.”
But of course, if all you ever saw were ads when you logged into Instagram, you wouldn’t use the service. And if businesses were able to flood the feed with free posts and content that drove you to their products without having to pay for ads, businesses wouldn’t pay for the service. So Instagram and other social networks have a high wire act to put on. They can’t charge businesses just to be on the platform but they also cannot allow businesses free reign to post and do whatever they’d like.
There was a recent change and announcement regarding the Instagram API that had more than a few marketers puzzled. The update said, “Today, we are launching a new feature on the Instagram Graph API Platform to make it easier for businesses to publish content. With this feature, Instagram Business accounts can schedule and publish posts to their Instagram Feeds from third-party platforms.”
Couldn’t businesses already do that with third-party apps?
Honestly, yes. I really think a marketer wrote that line because the non-bullshit announcement would have read more like, “Today, we are expanding permissions within our API so that apps do not have to be registered Instagram partners to access publishing features. At the same time, to keep scammy apps at bay, we’re limiting the amount of content all businesses are able to publish.”
In other words, what was once a feature only official Instagram partners had access to, now any app developer can make use of the API. But to combat the inevitable abuses this is sure to bring, Instagram limited publishing for all third-party apps. The announcement states, “Each Instagram Business account will be limited to 25 API-published posts within a 24-hour moving period.”
The limit doesn’t apply to natively shared posts, and since most legitimate businesses aren’t posting anywhere near that much, the impact on you and your business is probably nil. Still, the announcement generated tremendous amounts of questions in the communities I’m involved in. This didn’t give existing apps like Agorapulse any additional capabilities, such as direct publishing of stories, so what was the point?
Balance. Always balance there must be.