Instagram’s New Filter: Hashtags are Out for Third-Party Tools

By now we’re all well aware of the upheaval at Facebook. Between private data breaches, stolen elections and congressional hearings, the social media giant is under an immense amount of pressure to change its ways in favour of the user over big business. Amid the fallout, Facebook’s second biggest product, Instagram, has quietly changed the way it, too, interacts with businesses that use it.

Very quietly. In that there was little to no warning before Instagram shut down a crucial part of its API that allows third-party tools to cull data from the platform. Data that serves as social marketing “intelligence” to inform strategy around building and nurturing a follower base. A big part of this strategy has been tracking hashtag use using third-party tools, whether that’s to monitor a brand’s engagement, compare performance with competitors, or run a contest.

Now, all that’s gone – pretty much. You can still use hashtags on Instagram, and follow hashtags in your feed thanks to its new Follow feature. And, as a business, we should stress, it’s still good practice to include them — to join a conversation, or pave the way for users to find you.

And yes, technically, you could still go in and count uses and impressions, and cross-reference them with demographic info, and create reports and... But unless you have a room full of unpaid interns and loads and loads of time, it’s just not feasible. The efficiency that third-party tools provided in gathering metrics is what has been compromised. But fear not. With just a few tweaks, change might actually be a good thing.

First, you’ll need to create an Instagram Business Account if you haven’t done so already. It’s easy enough to do, just link your existing profile to your Facebook business page. Once you do, you’ll be granted access to data similar to what’s available through Facebook’s Graph API. And that data, in some ways, may be more beneficial to you than hashtags.  

You can’t track hashtags using third-party tools anymore, but you’ll soon be able to track mentions — something you couldn’t do before now. In fact, one of the reasons hashtag tracking was originally implemented was because mention monitoring wasn’t possible. In a way, we’re coming back to the way we wanted it in the first place.

Sure, we’ve since become accustomed to hashtags, but let’s be honest, they can be a pain. Asking followers to use a hashtag, making sure they use it properly, coming up with a hashtag in the first place and justifying its existence in your brand world — you don’t have to bother with this anymore on Instagram.

Asking followers to mention you “by name” is just easier. Your fans already know your handle and are automatically more engaged with you when they use it in their posts, rather than some arbitrary hashtag. Plus, seeing a handle in a post caption is much more likely to lead to a new user clicking to explore your profile – and hopefully becoming a new follower.

And mentions go further than hashtags. It’s not just posts where you can track mentions, but in comments as well, which wasn’t at all possible with hashtags. Still too intrusive for your brand? Ask folks to simply tag you in a photo, and you’ll be able to track those numbers, too.

For those businesses that use hashtags to collect user-generated content (UGC), not much will change. You’ll have to go into Instagram’s hashtag search feature (not going anywhere) and manually scroll for photos you can use, but you’re most likely doing that already. An upside to this more hands-on approach is that it will give you more opportunity to engage directly with an audience, which is always a good thing. And if, after all, you remain hardcore-for-hashtags, you might consider a test campaign on Twitter instead, where hashtag tracking remains alive and well.

For now.

Because like all things social media, constant change is the only thing that doesn’t change. Consider this latest shakeup a chance to experiment with new strategies on Instagram. Get creative, be patient, and most importantly: don’t panic. One silver lining in all this is that the ripples are being felt industry-wide; everyone is affected in the same way, and we’re all in it together to make the new formula work.

And if this article makes you feel a little better about all the changes at Instagram, let us know in a post — and be sure to mention @wearepatio.

See how easy that was?