What the Social Media API Changes Mean For You

Last quarter we shared tips for decoding Facebook’s new algorithm, which now prioritizes posts from individuals that inspire comments over those from companies and organizations. We’re constantly working to glean insights from client campaigns so that we can share best practices for ‘beating’ the new Facebook algorithm, but now we’re also focusing our attention on recently announced changes to the Facebook and Twitter Application Programming Interfaces (API).

APIs let two applications talk to each other.  In this case, it allows third-party tools to pull information from your social media channels so that you can engage with users and view and report on social media activity from one interface. These third-party tools – think HootSuite, Buffer, Sprout Social and Meltwater – have been a godsend for digital marketers and other communications professionals, saving time and providing easy to understand insights about campaign performance and online audiences. That’s all changing.

Facebook Data Lockdown

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook has rolled out changes to its API. These changes, which also impact Facebook-owned Instagram, are designed to protect user privacy and limit third-party tools’ ability to monitor social media conversation, activity and engagement. Among the most notable changes:

● Facebook Events, Groups, and Pages will no longer be available to third-party tools. You’ll have to manage those components within Facebook.
● Facebook will now have to approve third-party tools’ access to user data, like checkins, likes, photos, posts, and videos. It remains to be seen how established software like Hootsuite and Meltwater will be affected, but the companies most established companies are confident this change won’t impact their product long-term.
● Access to the Facebook Search API has been shut down. Now, when you use a tool like Sprout Social to pre-schedule a post or comment, you can’t tag/mention other pages. Tagging other pages has always been a great way to get your content in front of more eyeballs…now you’ll have to do that manually while logged into Facebook.

In addition, third party tools will no longer allow you to:

● Reply to or like public content retrieved via hashtags and location searches.
● See the full profile info on such public content.
● See a user’s full list of followers.
● Automate the following or unfollowing of Instagram users.
● Search to see if a particular user follows you.

The major social media management tools have already started to remove these features from their offerings, with more changes expected to follow. If this weren’t enough, beginning December 2018, you will no longer be able to conduct hashtag or location searches using a third party tool.

Don’t Forget About Twitter

Not to be outdone, Twitter also announced changes to its API and its content posting rules, with a focus on controlling automated tools, or bots, that clutter the platform with ‘junk’ posts. Users are no longer able to:

● Post duplicate or ‘substantially similar’ content, replies, or mentions, with or without the use of third-party automation, over multiple accounts they control, or create duplicate or ‘substantially similar’ Twitter accounts.

● Share several updates – whether on a single account or across multiple accounts you control – by using a popular or trending hashtag to direct users to irrelevant content. In addition, sharing multiple tweets or retweets with similar content with the goal of ‘high jacking’ or inflating the prominence of a topic is also a big no-no.

What Does This Mean for YOUR Work?

Unless Facebook, Twitter and Instagram rethinks or rolls back the changes, you’re going to have to spend a lot more time each day on individual social media platforms, engaging in conversations and building relationships.

With change comes an opportunity to think differently and try new, creative approaches to engagement. As we spend more time with the new APIs, we’ll be able to provide additional insights and best practices. For now, we’ve listed four ways you can work with the new social media platform changes:

1. Go back to your (grass)roots. By limiting third party tools’ access to user data, Facebook and Twitter are forcing us to get back to the root of social media – personal engagement. Your online audience wants personal attention and one-on-one interaction. Getting back to your roots means spending time each day thanking people for their comments, clicking that ‘like’ or ‘follow’ button yourself (and posting a message when you do!), and having conversations vs. just pushing out repurposed information. This focus on grassroots engagement may mean expanding your team or bringing in help, but the investment in staff is key to maintaining and growing your social media channels.

2. Rethink social listening. The changes to what you can and cannot search on Facebook and Instagram have essentially made Twitter the default platform for social listening and issue monitoring…it is, afterall, the only remaining platform that will allow us to search users’ public content. While it is certainly possible to conduct manual searches on Facebook and Instagram during a crisis situation (though, that ability may go away as Facebook rolls out user comment privacy settings this summer), that approach will not be sustainable over the long term. Twitter conversations, or lack thereof, will become the social media measuring stick that determines whether or not a small issue has turned into a full-blown crisis.

3. Focus on Instagram phototags and mentions. The days of being able to monitor public Instagram posts using any hashtag are gone. If you’ve been encouraging Instagram followers to use a hashtag to promote your campaign or issue, switch gears and instead encourage them to mention/tag your company.

4. On Instagram, engage businesses not individuals. Instagram’s API changes impact individual user data, NOT data pulled from business pages. With this in mind, the best strategy for reporting on Instagram campaign ROI is to engage business with Instagram business profiles.