Social Media Platform APIs – What, Why and How

Social Media Platform APIs have generated a lot of attention and excitement among professionals in social media and web analytics. However, the picture is still hazy for most of us. Majority of us have heard about a “Facebook API application” or a “Twitter API application” but we really don’t know what exactly they are and how they can be leveraged in our day to day work around these social media platforms. The voluminous API documentations and their technical parlance are not very easy to understand for Analytics professionals.

My objective of writing this post is twofold:

  •  To try and explain in layman’s language what Social Media APIs are, why we need them and how applications interacting with the APIs can be designed & customized to your requirement from an Analytics perspective.
  •  To gather valuable feedback, opinions and experiences from my readers who have or are planning to experiment with Social Media APIs.

I will start with the “what” aspect by defining APIs in general and Social Media APIs in particular and then I will try to answer the question of “why”, we as Analytics professionals should bother to know about them. I will delve into the details of platform specific APIs in my subsequent posts.

Application Programming Interface (API):

An Application Programming Interface is a window that applications provide to developers for accessing them in a programmatic manner. It is very similar to the way a Graphical User Interface(GUI) facilitates interaction between humans and computers; the basic difference being that the interaction happens through an API Script (Code). The API therefore is a level of abstraction between the user and the application and it acts as a translator and enables communication. You will find a more technical definition here.

Social Media APIs refer to an ever increasing list of APIs that are coming up for the different social media platforms or services such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. Using these APIs, one can programmatically access almost all of the features that the platform offers to a user. Along with that API programming enables one to customize the platform offerings to their own requirements.

Why APIs:

One of the most obvious problems that professionals in Social Media Reporting and Analytics have to face in their day to day job is the lack of a convenient mechanism of pulling out data and metrics for their social media assets like Twitter profiles and YouTube videos. While retrieving metrics through the GUI of individual platforms is possible, it is very manual in nature which makes it very time consuming and sometimes inaccurate as well. This is where APIs can help. Platform specific API applications can retrieve data and metrics related to these social media assets (profiles, videos etc.)  in an automated manner. What this essentially means to an end user is that one can retrieve data and metrics for multiple assets on a periodic basis by simply clicking a button.

Some other ways in which Social Media APIs can help are:

  • Integrating Social Media assets like video feeds and twitter feeds in your own web apps.
  • Administration and governance of assets (eg: uploading, editing, deleting etc.) in an automated manner.

As mentioned earlier, the focus here would be on Social Media Analytics and therefore I will restrict myself primarily on how data and metrics can be extracted from Social Media platforms using API applications.

Stay tuned for my next post if this excites you!

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2 Responses to Social Media Platform APIs – What, Why and How

  1. Sakshi Prakash says:

    Interesting read! Having had some experience with with social media analytics I agree that pulling metrics using GUI is very time consuming and cumbersome. Using APIs for automating this will be very useful and simplify things … looking forward to your subsequent posts on the subject!

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