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With Privacy Changes, Instagram Upsets Influencer Economy(BoF)

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The article first appeared on Business of Fashion.

SAN FRANCISCO, United States — Less than a week before Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg donned a suit to testify before the United States Congress, influencer monetisation platform sent an email to users: “As of today, you will be able to shop Instagram content exclusively with a screenshot, as like-based shopping will no longer be supported due to changes in Facebook/Instagram’s third-party access to likes.”

It was a short message with big meaning.

The Instagram shopping service could no longer use the “likes” on influencer posts to send registered users emails with associated product information and buy buttons. It was one of the unexpected repercussions from Instagram parent company Facebook’s tightened privacy policy amid a cascade of criticism in the wake of the platform’s Cambridge Analytica data privacy debacle. An April 4 announcement from Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer entitled “An Update on Our Plans to Restrict Data Access on Facebook” mostly focused on changes to Facebook — including changes to how outside apps can access events, groups and pages — with just one sentence announcing a decision to

The move means that, for example, third-parties can no longer access follower lists, relationships information, see which posts users have “liked” or receive notifications when media is posted. Analytics companies that provide follower demographics will no longer have access to Instagram data and people can no longer use “bots” to follow accounts or “like” Instagram posts.

To put it plainly, many businesses that aggregate data about influencers are dead in the water, said founder Amber Venz Box. She added that while (and parent company RewardStyle) had leveraged Facebook’s developer tools, she always knew it was possible they might change or disappear, so the company began removing its reliance on these tools in 2015 (one year after the venture was founded). A year ago, introduced a way to shop influencer content using a screenshot or directly within its app, rather than through Instagram likes. (The company reports that, last year, users purchased more than $270 million in products using this technology.)

But many influencers who have eschewed traditional blogs in favour of Instagram are still left in the lurch, says Texas-based influencer Ashley Robertson, who blogs as The Teacher Diva. “It definitely has shaken up the influencer industry, especially the people who rely on solely. They don’t have another platform to provide affiliate links or generate sales, so they are just scrambling,” she says.

In building her brand, Robertson says that she tries to prioritise her own site rather than other platforms, in an effort to insulate herself from situations like this. Still, she adds, represented about 30 percent of her business. “We don’t want to neglect that. Do we put our trust in this app? How do we get users who aren’t normal blog readers? We are still trying to navigate that — but I know people from groups that I’m in, girls who are honestly just freaking out.”

Robertson is still able to pull her Instagram content into her blog, reflecting what to many is a confusing set of changes combined with a reticence on the part of the company to address what to expect and how to adjust.

Rent The Runway, which lets users log into its app using Facebook, reported that they had seen no effects from the changes. Rocks Box, a jewellery rental subscription service, has a feature that lets users comment on the brand’s Instagram posts with “#wishlist” to have the items added to their queue. This feature also appeared to still be intact.

An Instagram spokesperson said that in place of the old API, the company is expanding the new Instagram Graph API, which is designed for business profiles, including metrics on content performance and comment moderation. Still, the changes to the old API still apply — to both personal and business accounts.

“My guess is that influencers are likely racing to convert their accounts to business profiles,” says Toni Box, who is group director of social and content at digital marketing agency PMX. “Less data to work with is always going to create a challenge. When you’re a business that’s focused on finding an influencer based on metrics like reach and impressions, the waters might become a little cloudy.”

She sees potential on Instagram as an opportunity for other platforms, like Pinterest, to “up the game on organic reporting capabilities, either natively or through third-party tools.”

Read more on Business of Fashion.

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