Instagram has become the most powerful social platform available for many brands. If you’re in the fashion, food, or lifestyle industries, no doubt you already rely heavily on Instagram to push products and find new customers.
The social network is now also the most active network for influencers. These glamorous power users show off products and experiences, and the rest of the world hurries to be just like them.
It’s a perfect marriage. Companies arrange endorsements from influencers they know that their buyers respect. And Instagram users have built careers on endorsements despite not being “celebrities.”
Both brands and influencers want this to continue. Which means that when Instagram changes its services, both need to understand what’s going on.
As of December 11, 2018, Instagram limited much of the information available to third party services. And that means that social listening capabilities have changed.
We’ll explain what this means for both brands and influencers shortly. But first, there’s an important distinction you’ll need to understand.
Instagram business accounts vs. other users
Compared with its parent company Facebook, Instagram doesn’t have a huge range of different profile types. On Facebook, you can create a personal profile, a “page” (for businesses or public figures), a fan page, a group, an event, a fundraiser, and plenty more.
On Instagram, there are just two main kinds of accounts: business and personal.
Regular (personal) Instagram accounts
If you have a personal Instagram account, this is what you’re used to. You can post photos, videos, and Stories, see your friends’ content, and follow others.
You can even set your account to private if you don’t want other people to see what you post. Which doesn’t make a lot of sense for a business, obviously.
Business accounts come with a lot more features that most everyday users don’t need. These include:
- Analytics on your posts, Stories, and promotions to see which perform the best.
- Insights into your followers and how they interact with your content.
- The ability to advertise on Instagram.
- Contact information like your physical address, website, and phone number.
This should all be very interesting for influencers if they want new clients to be able to get in touch. We’ll talk more about why influencers should switch to business accounts if they haven’t already. But for now, it’s enough to simply say they should.
Note: A lot of influencers or celebrities have a "verified account" (with a blue tick next to their usernames). When someone has a verified Instagram account, it means that Instagram has "confirmed that an account is the authentic presence of the public figure, celebrity or global brand it represents". It's important to know that verified accounts and business accounts aren't the same thing. You may have a verified account without it being a business account, and vice versa.
So, why is this distinction important? The API changes have notably reduced the amount of information available about everyday user accounts.
Instagram API: changes to social media data
In order to increase and protect users’ privacy, Instagram made a big change to its API. This is the data stream that lets third-party companies (including social listening tools) gather Instagram information.
Following this change, third-party tools can no longer gather personal data from personal users. They can’t see:
- What a user posts
- How many followers they have
- Who they follow
- Engagement rates on their posts
- Other people’s comments on their posts
To put it simply, if an Instagram post comes from a regular user, your social listening tool isn’t going to pick it up, unless you’re doing it with the Hashtag Search API.
What you can gather from Instagram with social listening
The good news is, there’s still a huge amount of value to be gained through social listening. For starters, social listening automates all the tedious manual work you’d have to do otherwise.
If you want to see what your competitors post, or what leading industry influencers share (more on them in a moment), social listening gives it all to you in one place.
You can get the following Instagram data points from business accounts:
- Post content
- Caption content
- Media content (what’s in the image or video)
- Content analysis through AI
- Estimated impressions
- Estimated reach
- Analytics on authors
- The exact date of a post
And then good social listening tools will take all this data and provide key insights to help you make smarter business decisions.
Anonymized Instagram data
On top of the detailed information from business accounts, the Instagram API also allows for some anonymous data. This means you can still track the volume of certain conversations, you just won’t know exactly who the users are.
Based on a particular topic or hashtag, you’ll be able to see:
- Post content
- Caption content
- Image or video content
- Volume of all of the above
For example, let’s say you’re a sneaker brand monitoring the “dad shoes” trend. You could track the term “dad shoes” on Instagram to see the number of posts (and whether this is growing), which brands are mentioned most often, which hashtags users prefer, and sentiment towards the trend.
You just won’t know as much about exactly who are having these conversations.
How the Instagram update affects brands & marketers
This may be a bit of a shock for marketers who’re hooked on social listening. You used be able to see not only what people said on Instagram about your favorite topics - you also had some insights into who these people were.
Now some of that is no longer possible.
But in truth, the most important data is still there. You can still track:
- What people say about your brand
- The images and videos they share, as well as captions and comments
- Whether they post about you or your competitors more often
- Other key topics associated with your brand name
That’s an incredible amount of insight to gain without you having to lift a finger.
How this affects your influencer campaigns
Global brands rely on Instagram influencer campaigns to build awareness and drive sales. Especially in key industries like luxury goods, fashion, and style.
So what’s changed?
If your influencers use business accounts, nothing much. You’ll still see what they post and how their followers react.
The biggest difference is that it’s now slightly harder to track micro-influencer campaigns. If you want to identify smaller, personal Instagram accounts to work with, the process will be more manual and you won’t be able to track their posts as easily.
This leaves marketers with a few options.
First, you can strictly work with professional influencers - those with business accounts. There are still plenty of smaller accounts that fit this bill.
Second, you could find influencers manually by searching through hashtags and topics. This takes a long time, but you’ll find some private users with good, engaged followers.
Then you can rely on the influencers themselves to report how their posts go. After a few weeks, have them share what they posted, the engagement rates, and any clicks on their links.
But since most marketers strive to be as data-driven as possible, it can be uncomfortable to leave the reporting in someone else’s hands.
So can you still work with micro-influencers?
The short answer is yes.
Let’s consider an example. Suppose you’re a sportswear brand, and you want to expand into a small, local market. You identify 50 personal trainers and sports coaches in this location to work with. These each has hundreds of clients and colleagues in the city who trust their advice and may buy your goods on their recommendation.
You create an Instagram campaign - each will share 3 posts promoting your clothing. But problem: they don’t have business accounts, and don’t want to switch.
You won’t be able to monitor what they post from your social listening dashboard. And you won’t see who reacts to these posts.
So what can you do? You still have good options:
- Create a unique hashtag for the campaign. You’ll be able to track the growth of this hashtag as your influencers share it, which will give you an idea of the success of the campaign.
- Use promo codes. Give each influencer a unique code for their followers to use on your website or in-store. Then you’ll know exactly where every purchase has come from.
- Follow the influencers from your own account. It’s a more manual approach, but you’ll get to see every post. Make sure they tag you to make tracking these easier.
The bigger your brand, and the more influencer campaigns you run, the less sustainable this approach will be in the long run.
Really, your best bet is to only work with business accounts for your influencer campaigns. In fact, you may want to convince some users to make the switch themselves.
If you need to convince your influencers to switch, just refer them to this the section below:
Why Instagram influencers should switch to a business account
It’s free, it’s easy, you get more analytics, and Instagram is also pushing hard for it. As an influencer, switching to a business account is a no-brainer. Here’s why.
1. Make your Instagram account discoverable for brands
As an influencer, you rely on brands being able to find you and suggest campaigns. Instagram’s API changes have made this more difficult.
In the past, a brand could use a social listening tool to monitor conversations around their industry. They’d quickly see who’s talking about a particular topic, and how people react to those conversations.
This was an easy way to find new Instagram power users to work with. But with the new API, all post content is anonymized. So brands can’t find you.
That is, unless you use a business account. If you know you have a passionate following, great content, and that your posts are engaging, you want your account show up to your favorite brands’ radar.
Likewise, brands want to find you themselves. They’re more likely to want to work with you when they’ve seen your influence with their own eyes.
2. Get better analytics with a business account
Engagement metrics are the heart and soul of influencer marketing. You can’t prove your influence if you can’t show it in numbers. That’s what you can get with a business profile.
On top of the usual likes and comments, you get analytics like shares, saves (two big indicators for relevant content) profile visits, reach, how people found your photo, and more.
So switching to a business account not only makes you more visible in front of brands, but also gives you more insights into your social performance, helping you track results and impress your clients.
Note: On top of social listening tools, there are also influencer discovery platforms that help brands find their next campaign partner. These too rely on the Instagram API. And that means that you’ll need a business account if you want to be discovered through one of these.
If you want to succeed as an influencer, you simply have to create an Instagram business account.
Choose influencers with an Instagram business account
As we’ve seen, the amount of Instagram information available to social listening tools is not what it used to be. Now, the deepest insights are only available for business accounts.
But that’s still great! There are more than 25 million business accounts on the platform - and that statistic is from 2017. The true number will be vastly higher.
Don’t forget that Instagram is the fastest-growing social network in the world.
For most major brands, there’s simply no choice but to pay close attention to Instagram. Your buyers are on it, your competitors are too, and it’s full of conversations that should fuel your product development and marketing.
You can still see what your competitors post, the biggest hashtags and topics in your industry, and you can still find an endless supply of influencers. That’s more than enough to keep your marketing team busy and inspired.
Need more inspiration for instagram marketing? Check out our on-demand webinar: