ISSUE: Instagram widget is returning an invalid or "unable to communicate" error, and/or not loading new images.

If your Instagram feed has stopped working, and is returning the errors  Instagram has returned invalid data OR Unable to communicate with Instagram, it's likely because you are using the WP Instagram Widget plugin. This plugin is no longer available via the WordPress plugins repository, nor able to reliably access Instagram data to display images (if you want the backstory on why this happened, please read our section near the bottom of this article!).


Use an alternate plugin

As of autumn 2019, all of our themes have been updated to work with the Smash Balloon Social Photo Feed plugin, which allows you to feature a continuously updating, edge-to-edge browser Instagram feed, in the same way that WP Instagram Widget did. Smash Balloon pulls data from Instagram differently and requires user authentication, so it has not been affected by the recent changes described below. Please ensure you are running the latest version of your theme in order to see a styled version of the Smash Balloon widget. Learn how to update your theme here.

How to use: If you opt to install the Smash Balloon plugin, please add the output code to a Custom HTML widget. The Custom HTML widget has added styling to ensure the Smash Balloon plugin looks good within our themes.

Use a hashtag

If you would like to continue using an older version of the WP Instagram Widget plugin, you can feature a hashtag instead of a username, and the Instagram feed should successfully update. We've been able to replicate this with the WP Instagram Widget plugin and other Instagram plugins as well, at least for now. If you have a hashtag you regularly use within your Instagram captions, you can use this in place of your username. You can also go back and edit old Instagram posts to include a hashtag, or comment on your own posts with a hashtag. As long as the hashtag is attached to your post either in the caption or in a comment, it should show up in your feed.

Be sure to type in the # symbol in front of the hashtag in the "username" field. Here's a video showing you how to do this:

Use an LTK ( widget

LTK users can replace the Instagram widget with a Text widget, then embed an LTK ( widget shortcode. Alternatively, you can embed a Custom HTML widget, and use LTK HTML code, too. 

Barton, Hayes and Pearl Theme users: use the Social Feed widget

Available as a widget native to your theme, the Social Feed widget allows you to upload your own images (Instagram or not!), and will look identical to how the WP Instagram Widget plugin previously formatted within our themes. This way, you can control which images are featured in an edge-to-edge photo feed, and no longer worry about Instagram changing the game again (story of our life, right?), and breaking your feed. We also love using Social Feed to creatively feature the images of your choice alongside products thumbnails.

Background: Why the change?

From 2017 through the fall of 2019, our themes were packaged and programmed to work with the WP Instagram Widget plugin, previously one of the most popular WordPress Instagram plugins around. In the summer of 2019, users began reporting issues with widgets not updating with their latest Instagram posts, and seeing the error Instagram has returned invalid data. 

This error was caused by two things: 

1. Inability to authenticate profiles, and therefore access your Instagram media (i.e., your feed photos!)

Any app or plugin featuring Instagram images require that app/plugin access Instagram data in order to read your media and profile. Increasingly, Instagram has begun to limit the data accessible by third-party apps. Beginning in early 2020, they will limit this data almost entirely, and with a preference for Instagram business profiles. In keeping track of recent updates from plugin developers as well, we noticed Instagram has been changing their internal code to make it difficult for plugins to pull public data from their site, which is needed in order to display your Instagram media on a separate website. So, not only are they making it more difficult for app/plugin authors to access data to create new plugins, they're changing code so previously popular plugins — like WP Instagram Widget — no longer work. We've seen this impact not just WP Instagram Widget users (like you!), but other popular Instagram plugins hosted on custom sites, including those not built by us.

While some customers may still see an active, updating Instagram feed on their site, as far as we can tell, eventually the feed will stop updating and potentially disappear with the "invalid data" error.

2. Litigation drama!

The second reason this happened is Instagram filed a trademark complaint against the plugin author, because the name of the plugin included the word "Instagram." This is why many other plugins—like Smash Balloon's—have since updated their names to no longer include the word "Instagram." Filing a complaint of this nature resulted in removing the plugin from the public plugins repository.

Regardless of all the changes, we hope the above article has outlined some easy steps you can take to keep an Instagram feed active and working on your blog! The industry is always changing, and we'll ensure our products change right along with it.