Those who’ve been on Instagram long enough know of its related third-party apps. You know the kind; the ones that automate your marketing tasks, analyze competitors, and keep track of user activity. Each of these share one thing in common: using Instagram’s API.
They seem innocent enough on the outset. Businesses benefit from their ability to not only manage profile content – but perform analytical research on community members and potential customers.
Until the changes in early 2018, that is.
Turns out – these third-party platforms weren’t all that pristine; with Instagram forced to crack down on their API capabilities, announcing an eventual “deprecation” of its old system. The change was a heavy blow to developers, user experiences, and content strategies across the board.
Below, we dive into what the Instagram API is, its current state, and what its changes mean for your business.
What is the Instagram API?
API is short for “application program interface”. Put simply, the interface allows for seamless communication between third-party software and the Instagram platform.
For those new to the term, it isn’t exclusive to Instagram. APIs are used all over the internet as information is passed from one platform to the next. For example; when purchasing items off an e-commerce site, your credit card information is delivered through an API to another application to confirm your details.
What Happened to the Old Instagram API?
As mentioned, the old Instagram API was a lot more flexible. Developers were coming up with apps that performed plenty of basic tasks on behalf of the user. These included the ability to automate follows and comment on public content.
Some software even enabled “subscriptions” – where users were notified of new posts uploaded by other members of the community. Other apps provided a platform of for analyzing competitor accounts; helping them keep track of their “follow” activity and allowing them to search through their content.
These added functionalities improved efficiency in content management and marketing. Thus, it was no surprise that Instagram’s eventual restrictions on the API platform left many upset and confused.
Their issued statement read as follows:
The following will be deprecated according to the timeline we shared previously:
- Public Content – all remaining capabilities to read public media on a user’s behalf on December 11, 2018
- Basic – to read a user’s own profile info and media in early 2020
Companies unprepared for these impending changes (or were simply unaware) found their apps broken and unusable come the deadline.
Though some apps stayed safe, they required approval from the new Instagram API. Many still had their functions impacted by these changes, performing at a more restricted capacity.
Why the Changes to Instagram’s API?
So, what caused these sudden changes?
According to Instagram, these developments were made to improve on the privacy and security of users. Their new approval process now effectively filters out apps with malicious intent, keeping sensitive data safe from prying, criminal hands.
TechCrunch speculated that Instagram may also have seen these third-party apps as “parasitic“. Plenty were charging their services at high prices, offering functions that unofficially altered the Instagram experience. Many resulted in audience “growth hacking” or spam activity – both frowned upon by the platform.
This harkens back to the death of Instagress in late 2017. Popular among users for its automating likes, comments, and follows on their behalf; the app became a household name for increasing user exposure – and thus, growth – on the platform.
Its triumphs were short-lived, however. Mysteriously shut down at its prime of success; users can only guess that Instagram disapproved of its “spam-like” behaviour.
To be fair, “foster[ing] meaningful and genuine interactions” are a part of the Instagram Community Guidelines. But “spammy behaviour” wasn’t the worst of these apps. Others provided users with fake likes or follows, with some even promoting cyber-stalking.
As such, Instagram’s API crackdown seemed to have better long-term effects – despite its impact on user experience.
What is the Instagram Graph API?
In replacement of their old API platform, Instagram developed the Graph API.
This new version did away with plenty of functions, one of which was the authorization of shady “bot” apps. Those that followed in Instagress’ foosteps (engaging in spammy, ingenuine behavior) were prohibited; clearing much of the empty, automated comments and mass-follows that were once allowed on the platform.
Of course, those that offered fake likes or followers were banned too.
User “likes” were privatized, and companies were no longer able to view the posts in your “liked” archive.
Unauthorized apps that researched competitor accounts were also taken down. These services typically looked into your follower demographics and activity. They also notified you of any user unfollows.
Additionally, apps that let you look through posts were limited to hashtag searches.
With Instagram’s new Graph API, apps can still:
- publish content on the user’s behalf
- moderate user comments and replies
- collect basic data on other businesses or creators
- manage published (public) content
- discover user @mentions
- measure content and profile interaction
How to Connect to the New Instagram API
If you’re a developer looking to use the new API, the following steps apply.
You’ll firstly need a Facebook Developer Account, and link it to your Instagram Business Account. This allows users to access Facebook Login when using your app.
Then, visit the Instagram Developer page. Click on “Register Your Application”, then “Register a New Client”.
Fill out the form presented and go to the Clients manager. Click “Manage” to save your information.
Next, you’ll need to create an access token. There are different methods to do this, one of which is to use your Client ID and Client Secret to call the Instagram.getAccessToken. The other is to use a generator, such as this one by RapidAPI. Save this token for future use.
Now you can start requesting data from Instagram! The following URL, for example, can retrieve your basic profile information, with “access_token” being a placeholder for your access token:
Third-Party Apps That Are API-Safe
If you’re more on the user end of things – there are still plenty of third-party, API- approved apps available. We’ve outlined some of the most popular and trustworthy ones below.
Sprinklr offers businesses with social media management products, with research, marketing, and advertising solutions.
They offer a marketing platform that allows users to manage and track and their ad campaigns. This includes automation and collaboration features, helping businesses align their teams to the right briefs and delegated tasks.
Additionally, there are options to “listen in” on competitors. With their AI-driven, social listening insights, users can keep track of what people are saying in certain locations, events, and stores.
Finally, their services take pride in “intelligent content management”. They not only provide advanced content scheduling; but tools of analysing engagement and audience profiling. Users further have the benefit content generation features – tools that identify popular, appealing, or trending subjects for your profile.
These features all come together in forming an enterprise-grade Instagram management system; one that invests in and enhances the customer experience.
When discussing the best of Instagram schedulers – it’s impossible not to mention Later.
Their platform is primarily known for their content calendar, a visual tool that helps users plan and schedule their Instagram posts in advance. Its interface sports intuitive drag-and-drop functions; all you’ve got to do is upload your media and place it onto the calendar.
Once scheduled, you can preview the look of your overall feed, and how well your posts tie together.
In addition to their planning features, Later offers Instagram analytics for tracking your engagement rate and optimizing your posting times. Their “Best Time to Post” feature reveals your seven top posting times to ensure you upload on the best days and times possible.
These tools also apply to Stories, where users can track engagement data for up to three months.
Agorapulse calls itself an “all-in-one-tool” for Instagram. You’re not only provided with analytical tools, but also automated scheduling and publishing; as well as a platform for replying to user comments.
Unlike other similar platforms, Agorapulse includes Stories and Carousel posts in its advanced scheduling. Sadly, direct publishing isn’t available (yet) for these posts; but users are offered with “push notifications” to remind them of their scheduled content.
Users can also track the growth of their Instagram account – audience, engagement, and profile discovery metrics – from their Agorapulse dashboard.
Like Sprinklr, “social listening” benefits are also included on the platform. Marketers can keep track of discussions surrounding their brand and tracked hashtags. Such data can help profiles stay current, relevant, and on top of trends.
For brands collaborating with influencers, Agorapulse also offers management tools for keeping track of all interactions and promotions. You even have the option of ranking these connections, helping you find your biggest fans and most active influencers.
Though initially a top content manager for Pinterest users, Tailwind has since expanded its services to include those on Instagram.
They offer an Instagram calendar that automatically schedules user posts, stories and videos; while identifying a user’s most active audience times. They also provide a “9-grid” preview of your feed with all your pre-scheduled content.
Users also have the convenience of saving their most-used hashtags in separate lists for future use. Their additional “Hashtag Finder” also automatically recommends the best tags for each of your posts.
Tailwind’s features are available across devices – whether you’re on your desktop, tablet, or mobile phone. They also have a browser extension for those who regularly content from external websites; simply save content as you browse the Internet and schedule them onto your profile!
And last, but certainly not least – we have Socialfollow.
What sets this platform apart from the others on this list is its total protection of user information. There are no surveys or shady logins requesting for your password; all you need is a first name and e-mail. Oh, and did we mention that it’s completely free?
The premise of Socialfollow is simple: follow people, and you’ll get followers back. It’s not exactly a “Follow4Follow” exchange program, however – though they can’t guarantee its impact on your engagement.
Still, the platform serves as a quick boost of social proof to get new influencers and businesses going – with real, organic followers.
All you need to do is sign up, fill out some basic information (no Instagram credentials needed), and select a few interests that describe your niche.
You’ll then be asked to follow a few people from the same community. Once you follow 10 users, you gain at least 50 followers – for free. It’s important, however, to not unfollow these new people; or they’ll be alerted to unfollow you back!
And that’s it! Everybody wins, your information is safe, and it won’t cost you a dime. There are no spammy comments or fake numbers involved; just a boost in followers to benefit your overall business.
Be Wary of Authorizing Apps!
The above list is but a miniscule look into the available third-party apps for Instagram. There are hundreds more out there – each one claiming to offer some sort of marketing, growth, or content service.
It’s tempting to hook up with the next, shiny new app that comes your way; but keep your wits about you. Be sure to do your research before authorizing its access to your account. Shady, lesser-known apps can steal your private information for personal use, or perform incriminating activity on your profile’s behalf.
If you’ve noticed suspicious activity on your account, visit your list of “Apps and Websites” under your Instagram settings. This can only be accessed via their desktop website.
You’ll be given list of all your connected third-party apps. It’s best to revoke access to those you’re unsure of or are a likely cause of problematic behaviour.
Instagram’s API Changes Help Keep Your Data Secure
As upsetting as its initial changes were, Instagram’s API changes were all for the better. They haven’t done away with app development altogether; with plenty still available on the market. Users are still able to manage and analyze their Instagram activity in more innovative, productive ways; but this time, with the knowledge that their data, reputation, and content are ultimately kept safe.