Instagram and the Importance of Communication

“Everybody look what’s going down
There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
–Buffalo Springfield, ‘For What It’s Worth’

A disturbance in the force was felt when Instagram proposed an updated set of legal policies that govern the company. What resulted was a lot of hysteria, panic and fear about how the company would handle their user’s images, creativity and memories. Instagram made an all too common misstep where they could have learned from the mistakes from any number of media related companies when it comes to governance and perception. If they even look at their current business owner, Facebook, they don’t need to look too far to find that people have become hyper-sensitive to policy changes, user rights and the rights of corporations. VX9TMDVU8R73

It almost always comes down to communication. And communication is exercised in more ways than a one-way, half-duplex statement. It means a brand must also solicit feedback from users and genuinely listen to their concerns so they can better serve them.

The policies Instagram proposed expanded to include specific use cases of the syndication of images and aimed to pave the way for additional methods to monetize that content. I’m no lawyer, but I’m sure that any intellectual property attorney would agree that it gets messy between Fair Use, copyright and trademark legal protections. The reason why a company decides to update their legal policies is not to function as a road map for the company, but to insulate themselves AND their users from potential legal risks. The most obvious lesson here is that they failed to message the intent and the purpose of the legal policy changes.

I don’t doubt for one moment that if Instagram explained a few of the new challenges they are set out to overcome and suggest new possibilities for the network, users would respect that. Additionally, they would be able to field questions, concerns and accurately frame the intent around their new policies. They initially half-assed their message by saying that the legal documents are dry, yet important, and didn’t give context where it was much needed.

The redeeming value in all this is that the company has learned for themselves that their users are incredibly protective of their content. The company’s response was honest, warm, assuring and made me feel that they actually care about the interests of users.

When you think about it … if Instagram breaks this social contract between their users, it will yield much more damage than any kind of policy change.

Finally, this makes the case that if a brand responds quickly, they can address criticism, lead the conversation and can effectively serve the needs of users/customers. Ideally, you don’t want this in the first place, but seeing how this all went down, I can’t help but appreciate the outcome.