Instragram's Policy Changes and Resulting Backlash

Erin Spencer

Who reads the entire privacy policy or terms of service before downloading an app? I admit; I would scroll to the bottom and click ‘accept’. That was before the Instagram Privacy Policy debacle this week.

Since launching in 2010, the application has registered more than 100 million active users. From an Average Joe to Kim Kardashian, people and organizations have been actively posting pictures. This week, Instagram forgot one of the golden rules of Public Relations: Always know your audience.

An update to the application’s privacy policy was posted on Tuesday, causing a backlash across the Twitter-Sphere. Users expressed frustration that one day their “selfie” could appear on a billboard, next to an unknown product. Celebrities and companies such as Anderson Cooper and National Geographic considered dropping Instagram.

Here is Instagram’s initial statement that caused the uproar:

“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…”

As an active user, I was #confused. So I logged on to my Instagram account. I scrolled to see their post attempting to respond to the irate users. Basically- Thanks, we are listening, now please read our blog.

On the blog: “Our intention in updating the terms was to communicate that we’d like to experiment with innovative advertising that feels appropriate on Instagram,” Kevin Systrom (co-founder) wrote.

The clarification made more sense, but many were left with a sour taste and Instagram still ended up with some bad publicity. As of this morning, Instagram completely reversed their decision, slipping back toward original terms of service.

All this back-peddling could have been avoided if the company simply thought about how their statement may affect the end user of their product. Instagram-ers are clearly expressive, so most will not be shy to tell you how they feel.

Two essential aspects of a good PR campaign include; know your audience, and build relationships based on trust. It appears that some trust of Instagram (and in turn, Facebook) has been lost this week. I can appreciate an organization that is up front with their innovations, but I would advise this was too much, too quick.

Here is an obvious statement that must be made in this entire discussion: everything you post is public. You are putting your photos out there whether on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. If this Instagram situation has left you uncomfortable, there are alternatives out there. One of PAN’s clients, PicsArt, for example is a fun and free photo app.

So go ahead and post your holiday photos! Who can resist sharing dogs dressed up as reindeer or cookies in the shape of trees? Instagram doesn’t own your photos- yet.

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