Instagram, like most social platforms, regularly releases new product features, tweaks its algorithms and updates its APIs. No matter how big or small these changes may be — particularly when it comes to Instagram’s algorithm and APIs — they can have significant and lasting effects for brands.
You probably recall the massive changes Facebook made to their Instagram APIs last December, when they deprecated and limited a number of API endpoints that were previously available to third-party applications — impacting how brands could aggregate Instagram content.
This and many subsequent moves from Facebook have been made in an effort to improve data privacy and security. However, they also point to where Facebook, Instagram and the broader industry are moving, which is away from hashtags and towards @mentions and photo tags.
Why Instagram @mentions are increasingly important
Hashtags used to be the way brands promoted, tracked and aggregated content on Instagram, but it seems those days are nearing their end.
Like Facebook, Instagram wants to connect its users with the people, brands and organizations they seek to engage with, but Instagram has been gradually putting greater emphasis on how brands identify and interact with users on their platform — placing user privacy and intent at the heart of these changes. Instagram is increasing looking for more direct indicators from users that they indeed want to interact with specific brands before granting those brands easy access to users’ content. Bottomline, hashtags no longer cut it.
In Instagram’s eyes, @mentions and photo tags are a very clear indication from users that they want and are expecting to interact with a brand. For this reason, Instagram offers brands more information and access to content they’re @mentioned or tagged in than they do for content that just includes one of their branded hashtags. This also helps to reduce the potential ambiguity or hijacking of hashtags.
Your Instagram business handle is unique to your brand, so if someone is @mentioning or tagging you in a post, you can be assured that content is relevant to your brand — making this strategy a win, win.
So, while you don’t need to abandon hashtags altogether, you should be encouraging your fans and customers to @menion or tag your brand in their posts just as much as, if not more than, you encourage them to share your branded hashtags.
How to ask for @mentions and photo tags
As with any ask you make to your customers or target audiences, you need to know what you’re asking for, be as clear and concise as possible and let people know what will happen if they deliver on that call-to-action.
Kmart Australia does a great job of this. In their Instagram bio, they 1) confirm that this is the official Instagram account for Kmart Australia, 2) clearly ask their followers to ‘Tag @kmartaus’, 3) direct users to share their ‘favourite Kmart finds’ and 4) reinforce that this is the best way for people to have ‘a chance to be featured’ on Kmart’s official channel with over one million followers. Kmart even takes the extra step — that we encourage all Stackla customers to do — to provide users with their UGC terms and conditions, removing any ambiguity around how Kmart may use people’s photos if shared with them.
One of my favorite lunch spots also makes an explicit ‘Tag us’ call to customers at its checkout counter, but provides the added incentive of a contest to boost the volume and creativity of @mentioned posts they receive.
Social contests or competitions are another great way to generate the types of UGC your brands wants, and also offers an important opportunity to share your terms and conditions with content creators and gain the legal rights to use that authentic content.
But you shouldn’t just stop there. You should be placing the “@mention or tag us on Instagram” CTA across all your main customer touchpoints.
Call it out in a prominent place on your website, highlight it in your customer emails, feature it on social screens throughout your physical locations, include it on print materials and in ads. Everywhere you’re communicating with customers, you should be promoting your branded handles for people to see and share. And combining calls for @mentions with campaign-specific hashtags can help you ensure you get the best, most relevant content from customers while also helping you organize it by specific initiatives.
By encouraging your customers to @mention and tag you in their posts, you not only get more information and access to relevant UGC, but you’ll also be able to develop deeper relationships with your customers.