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For Brands, Instagram’s @ Mention Takes On Greater Importance

In recent months, issues of transparency, authenticity, and consumer privacy have been thrust into the spotlight. In Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) took effect on May 25th of this year, enhancing rights for data subjects and implementing stricter penalties for organizational noncompliance. And in the United States, public discourse on the use of consumer data for ad targeting has persisted for marketers, brands, and even at the Congressional level.

Facebook and Instagram have been at the center of these conversations, as primary platforms where consumers share information about themselves and where brands are able to leverage this data to more accurately reach their audiences and to build a meaningful dialogue with them. To its credit, Facebook has leaned into its share of ownership in the conversation surrounding transparency and authenticity, even releasing a powerful consumer-facing advertisement addressing updates to its platform to realign toward the company’s original mission:

In service of this effort, Facebook also announced a series of updates to the Instagram API, changing how brands and their partners (like Olapic!) are able to utilize the platform to engage with consumers. While many of these updates had already been scheduled for later this year, the company moved for an immediate deprecation of its old API, including a major feature: the capability to post comments on public media that simply includes a hashtag. This ultimately impacts the way brands request rights to utilize the authentic content that their fans and consumers share.

Aside from a broader desire to enhance trust and transparency for users, the updates are designed to deliver a better experience for all parties engaging on the platform. Previously, with such broad access to the API, organizations were able to more openly comment and engage with posts. While this was often a positive capability, for instance, allowing our clients to aggregate user-generated images and videos from their loyal audiences and ask for rights at scale, there were also many drawbacks. Namely, an increasing amount of spam that led to a degraded user experience.

Welcome to the new normal. While brands can still collect content by hashtag, with the API updates, Instagram is facilitating/pushing brands towards a dialogue with a consumer only when that content includes “@ mentions” and “tags” as opposed to hashtags. Certainly, this is a shift in direction that brands will need to adjust to, however in our opinion the long term benefits of a more transparent content strategy will far outweigh any short-term challenges. Direct mentions of a brand within an Instagram post offer a stronger indication that a user is attempting to initiate a conversation, for instance. To aid in this effort, Instagram has even made an @ mention part of the default input when a user replies to a comment on a post.

As the brand-consumer relationship has moved further onto social platforms, the traditional rules of engaging with one another have had to adjust as well. We believe this update is a step toward creating a safer environment for users and brands alike, helping to send clearer signals about the intention to start and build a meaningful dialogue.

It will be interesting to see how Instagram continues to evolve as the global call toward transparent communication grows even louder. While some brands and marketing teams may view these updates as obstacles to overcome, those that embrace more authentic relationships with their customers will be best prepared to succeed now and into the future.

Stay tuned for more articles to help navigate this shift in the industry, including tips for leveraging @ mentions and hashtags together for a modern, successful visual marketing strategy.

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