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Instagram: Better to Tell Your Story Than Let Angry Users Tell It

Instagram: Better to Tell Your Story Than Let Angry Users Tell It

There are issues of privacy with all social media sites. The big difference here is that Instagram, a social media company, failed to be social about the change to its TOS. In other words, it just stuck the language out there without comment and allowed the users to interpret it. As is often the case, the customers quickly initiated a conversation about it.

The social media era doesn't mean that more people can communicate than in the past. It means that more customers can communicate faster than ever before -- and customers always communicate more and faster when they're angry.

You'd think that this message would have been internalized by the nice people over at Facebook, which owns Instagram. Sadly, that's not the case.

Instagram, a photo sharing service Facebook acquired eight months ago, Monday posted changes to its privacy policy and terms of service (due to go into effect on Jan. 16, 2013) which included the following:

"You agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata) and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you."

Stock Art

Catch that? Instagram wants to start capturing and reselling your content. Your pictures can be used like stock art and you get nothing from it.

Well, not exactly. Basically, it's a replay of what Facebook has been doing: using your photos in an unmodified form in promoted posts paid for by advertisers. That itself is kind of unseemly, but since Facebook is more than photos this practice has been largely overlooked. But Instagram is all photos -- and the idea that your family snapshots can be used to sell things, with or without your permission, is much more front and center here.

This post isn't about how tremendously insulting and idiotic this change seems to be. It's about how fast the backlash has spread across social media. A short 24 hours later, social media was on fire with angry Instagram users spreading the news and reporting on their efforts to cancel their accounts. Ford Motors' social media chief Scott Monty does a great job of putting Instagram's self-induced injuries in context on his personal blog.

Passive Approach

There are issues of privacy with all social media sites. The big difference here is that Instagram, a social media company, failed to be social about the change to its TOS. In other words, it just stuck the language out there without comment and allowed the users to interpret it. As is often the case, the customers quickly initiated a conversation about it. And, as is so often the case, the business being discussed was absent from that conversation and seemed shocked that it spiraled out of control.

We've seen this in other cases. Witness FedEx's tardy response to the infamous video of a delivery man lobbing a computer monitor over a six-foot fence; by the time the company had a response, 40 hours had elapsed and hundreds of thousands of people had viewed the video. Getting in front of these issues is enormously important if you don't want them to go viral.

Damage Done

FedEx is a delivery company. Instagram is a company working in the social media space. You'd assume that it would understand the dynamics of customer behavior in the social context and that it would be self-aware enough to identify changes to its business that would raise hackles and have responses in place before making those changes public. However, just because it lives in the world of social doesn't mean it has adjusted the way it does business to deal with the new realities.

Meanwhile, competitors like Flickr, Hipstamatic and Camera Awesome are licking their chops, looking to recover the market share they lost when Instagram was on the ascent.

Here's the lesson to take from this: transparency equates to trust in the new social world, regardless of the kind of business you run. If you make changes that affect customers -- especially changes that alter the details of how customers interact with you -- you need to explain what those changes mean and why you're making them. If you don't explain things, your customers will explain them to each other -- and the result will probably be less than picture-perfect.


CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at the CRM Outsiders. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.


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