Instagram quickly became a darling of the social media world when it launched for use on the iPhone in October 2010. The concept was –and is –relatively simple:
- Users can take photos with, or upload photos to, the Instagram app (now available for Android, as well);
- These images can be tweaked with a series of “filters” that adjust the color, contrast, sharpness, etc. , and “frames” can be added; and then
- Photos can then be shared with other Instagram users, posted on social networks or sent via mobile email.
As you undoubtedly know, it didn’t take long for the platform to draw an enthused corps of active users who have now uploaded 1 billion+ photos (including a mighty 10 million images this Thanksgiving alone and others commemorating New Year’s Eve around the world).
Sensing an empire-growing opportunity, Facebook made the move to purchase Instagram in April 2012 for the mind-bending sum of $1 billion in cash and stock.
The sale created a bit of a backlash from users who feared their favorite platform would end up a victim of Facebook’s unpopular tendency to ignore users’ privacy concerns—a tendency that, according to some industry analysts, may have soured Facebook’s much-heralded IPO last year.
Fortunately for both Instagram and Facebook, the platform appeared to survive that intial storm of user opinion.
Fast forward a few months, though, and now the picture is not as clear. Instagram’s recent terms of service (TOS) update seemed to confirm fans’ worst fears, resulting in an almost instantaneous backtrack and revision (not to mention a class action lawsuit).
What will happen to Instagram when all the (most recent) dust settles? Will users forgive and forget, or will competitors like Flickr seize the chance to eat Instagram’s lunch?
I suppose only time will tell. But even so, smart marketers can learn a few important lessons from the way Instagram bungled communication with its community. Here’s how I believe you can avoid a similarly negative fate:
Avoid changing the rules partway through the game. Any changes to your TOS, the way you do business or the features you offer need to be undertaken with serious care and caution, so you avoid alienating your user community. Taking something away? You need to add in something more valuable to replace it. Changing how you use information? That should only happen if it is to your users’ benefit.
Don’t make changes to your TOS or product the “default option” for users. If you are going to go ahead and change something, you need to ensure the changes are something your viewers can choose . . . or not. An “opt-in” policy may not result in the rapid-paced adoption you seek, but it will prevent users from revolting in the face of heavy-handed policies.
Make the trust of your community your first priority. People invest more —more time, money, attention —when they feel they can trust a platform or product. Sure, earning and maintaining that trust might put a hitch in your capacity to make a quick buck; however, an invested, engaged community is worth much more to you in the long term, from both a marketing and a financial perspective.
Instagram drew the ire of the internet by putting its bottom line ahead of its user experience, but as I see it, those two considerations don’t need to be at odds with one another.
If you keep your community informed, give them power over their experience and make your business moves with transparency, you stand a better chance of building a loyal group of passionate customers –and ultimately, that’s what drives revenue and long-term business success.