Hashtags on Instagram are changing: what you need to know

Posted in: Applications for InstagramLast update: 28/07/22

On 30th January of 2018, Facebook announced a change to the Instagram API, coming up on December 11th. The API is the tool which allows apps to collect photos or videos with a specific hashtag from public Instagram profiles. We use it, for example, in Instagram hashtag contests. But that tool is about to be disabled. Here’s what you need to know.

In May of 2018, Jonathan Wang, the product manager of the Facebook and Instagram APIs, announced a new product release. Facebook finally launched their new API on Halloween this year, and more changes are due on December 11th. The new API does enable public hashtag searches, just like in Instagram hashtag contests. But it also has some key limitations, designed to protect users’ data and public content on Instagram. Let’s take a look!


How the Instagram API is changing

The changes on December 11th will affect exactly how we can collect Instagram content with a specific hashtag. Until now, developers had access to the API in order to collect photos and videos with their chosen hashtag. You could choose any hashtag at all – and Instagram also provided valuable information such as usernames and geolocation related to each photo.

So it was easy to develop apps to track and analyze the content of promotional hashtags. For example, we used this API to collect Instagram users who posted with the hashtag, and organize giveaways or Instagram hashtag contests.

However, this API will be completely disabled after 11th December. Facebook plans to replace it with a new API – first released to the public in 31st October. And although the new API still permits hashtag searches, it brings new rules and controls for developers and businesses.

How the new API affects Instagram hashtag contests

First of all, you can no longer use unlimited hashtags in your market research or competitions. The new API only allows you to track up to 30 hashtags each week. So it’s not possible to mass-monitor different hashtags related to your brand; you’ll need to focus your strategy.

When you collect photos and videos from a specific hashtag, you will only be able to access content published in the last 24 hours. So if you want to collect all the content from your hashtag, you’ll need real-time, automated monitoring systems. You won’t be able to search retroactively.

The new API doesn’t tell you the user or username attached to each post. However, you can access a link to the original content, displayed on the Instagram website.

Why the new Instagram API is necessary

The aim of all these changes is to improve data protection and security for Instagram users. But why? Well, the old Instagram API contained some serious potential threats to information security.

With the old API, rogue developers could create automatic programmes to track dozens, thousands and even hundreds of thousands of hashtags. Let’s think through the numbers. For each one of those hashtags, the programme could extract usernames and geolocations, and store them in a database. After analyzing so many hashtags, the database would be vast – and full of high-quality tracking information.

For example, someone could search for a particular username, and find all the hashtags that person had ever used. They could track users’ tastes, and profile them based on their use of hashtags. This made it too easy to collect, classify, analyze and even sell Instagram users’ information, without consent.

So Facebook has introduced the new API to combat this threat. It minimizes the risk of data being misused, with 3 specific changes:

  • A single business, brand, or entity cannot track hundreds of thousands of hashtags
  • Search is limited to public posts within the last 24 hours
  • No access to geolocation or username data for individual public posts

Facebook has become more and more strict about users’ information. And we think that’s fantastic! Access to user data now always comes with clear, express consent. It’s good news for Instagram engagement, because it means that you have to create a genuine, first-person connection between your brand and followers.

This also solves an old problem with hashtag contests. Because some hashtags are public, popular and non-specific, sometimes users would post a certain hashtag and end up joining competitions by mistake. With the new API, you can be absolutely sure that everyone in your promotion wants to be there.

How to run Instagram hashtag contests with the new API

So with all that said, here’s the big question: can you still run Instagram hashtag contests?

Hashtag contests have been a highly effective tool for brands to collect relevant, original, user-generated content. UGC is very popular with followers: it increases trust in the brand, encourages word-of-mouth marketing, and represents brand values. And here’s the good news: yes, you can still run Instagram hashtag contests.

They’re just going to look a little different. Here’s how.


Option 1: Mention + Hashtag Contest

This is the best-practice option for contests within the Instagram app. Facebook has given developers access to tools so that they can track Instagram content with specific mentions. When you collect posts which mention your brand, you’ll also receive comprehensive information about the users.

So it’s simple: keep running contests just as before. Ask users to post with your hashtag and mention your brand’s profile in order to take part. You’ll need to monitor the contest in real time, to connect mention and hashtag data.

This new contest dynamic brings some extra benefits, too:

  • Get express consent. If users post with a mention as well as your hashtag, it’s clear that they haven’t taken part by accident. You know that they’ve read the contest instructions, and chosen to sign up.
  • Identify users. You’ll know the username of each person who posts with your mention and hashtag.
  • Reply to participants. When users mention your brand to take part, they create a direct connection between their profile and yours. You can set up automatic replies to contact everyone who posts in the contest.

Option 2: hashtag and registration form

If you want to collect explicit consent to terms & conditions, privacy policy and image permissions, then we recommend this style of Instagram contest.

Your users can post to Instagram with your chosen hashtag, just as before. Then they sign up with a registration form, via a link in bio or scannable QR code. The registration form asks them to connect to Instagram, confirm their choice of photo, and accept any legal requirements. It takes 2 minutes – try it for yourself!

As part of these changes, we’re removing the old hashtag contest app from our catalog. Instead, we offer the Mention + Hashtag app. And we’ve already released a new app for Instagram photo contests with a registration form.

If you’d like more advice or assistance with your Instagram contests and giveaways, contact our support team. We’re always happy to help!

Carles Bonfill

CEO and co-founder of Easypromos. He holds a degree in Computer Science, with a focus on network management, architecture and security. In 2009, he developed Easypromos, one of the first global platforms for promotions and since then he has been the technical and development director. He closely follows the evolution of digital marketing in order to adapt the promotions to it. Carles loves sports and his family.

Publication date: 2018-11-07