Instagram Angers Consumers, What Should Brands Do?

Instagram changed its terms of service earlier this week, unleashing a vocal and fast-emerging online protest. In fact, at least one brand is reconsidering its use of the popular photo-sharing service. The scenario already has some comparing Instagram’s misstep and fast fall from grace to Netflix.

Right vs. Intent
The issue centers around the following update to Instagram’s terms of service.

“To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, 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.”

This means Instagram has the right to share user photos for advertising purposes without compensating the user (or altering their work). Few media outlets took the time to report on this issue rationally, instead stoking the heated conversation around these new terms. Instagram quickly reissued a follow up statement assuring users that, while it has the right to use your photos for advertising, it has no intent of doing this.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?
As Instagram monetizes its platform through advertising, it remains to be seen how it will impact users. Just keep in mind Facebook owns Instagram. And both companies have more to lose than it has to gain by ailenating users.

For brands, the “Instadrama” raises a more important question. As brands and their loyal consumers become invested in free online platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, what should brands do as these platforms evolve into a business? How brands react to things like a “controversial” terms of service change can have broader implications, including how consumers perceive the brand.

Rules of Disengagement?
Much like the “rules of engagement” many social media teams craft when it comes to responding to negative comments online, perhaps brands should consider “rules of platform disengagement.” At a minimum it should prevent any rash decisions and, more importantly, it can help ensure a brand’s investment in a platform is not lost.

  • Talk to Legal: If you don’t read the terms of service, they’re certain to only benefit the site issuing them. While the internet was gnashing its teeth, and jumping to conclusions, about Instagram’s new terms of service, many brands were hopefully forwarding the terms of service to their legal team to determine the true threat level of the situation.
  • Talk to the Platform: Are you already working with the platform on paid media or other projects? If not, you should establish a relationship with the appropriate connnection (from a customer service or account representative to a community manager or amember of the platform’s marketing team). This will allow you to go straight to the source at times like this.
  • Talk to Fans: There are 30 million users on Instagram. Are 30 leaving over the new terms of service or are 3 million? Regardless, brands should only focus on the social platforms where their audiences are spending time. Are your fans leaving a platform en masse? Why? Are they moving to a new platform? Which one?
  • Talk to Yourself: As yor brand evolves its overall marketing efforts, it should be measuring and evaluating its paid, owned and earned investments? If the brand isn’t communicating how its investment is paying off, situations like this are more likely to force a premature reaction.

Hopefully no brands backed up their Instagram accounts and deleted them before heading to their social media panic room. While engagement platforms can erupt with negative sentiment quickly in reaction to news, a deep breath and a dose of pragmatism should ensure brands can navigate the storms.

Kevin Dugan – has written 53 posts on this site.
My content creation habits were formed as a kid -- filling notebooks with writing and taking stacks of pictures. These habits have evolved through my 20 years in marketing, as I’ve been immersed in all forms of content, social media and online technology. As Editor-In-Chief of Media is Power, I guide editorial strategy and ensure your needs are met. This is one way I help tell The Empower Group’s story as the director of marketing.

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2 Responses to “Instagram Angers Consumers, What Should Brands Do?”

  1. c
    January 31, 2013 at 10:51 pm #

    Don’t put images and content out in digi-space you don’t control if you value those thoughts and images as your own. After all you wouldn’t leave Mona Lisa just laying around, so why toss your creative efforts onto places that are telling you they intend to abuse you?

  2. Kevin Dugan
    February 1, 2013 at 7:28 am #

    Clif: Great point. And I agree. My point is that I think that aside from the one draft of their TOC, Instagram hasn’t made themselves out to be abusive or having the intent to exploit users. Obviously, they have to monetize. And that means the advertisers, not users, are their primary concern.

    But we have to remember that if Instagram does start to abuse its users, the users will leave. And if the users leave, it doesn’t matter what they do for advertisers. Advertisers won’t buy ads on a site with no users/traffic.

    It’s a balance. But sites like Flickr and Instagram rely on their users as much as we rely on them.

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