Social Business Lessons to Learn from Instagram

January 3, 2013 Comments
Social Business Lessons to Learn from Instagram

When Instagram updated their terms of service this week it caused a storm of consternation, as people took to social media to complain about what they felt were fundamental changes to their relationship with the site.  Blogs sprung up informing people how to delete their accounts as rumours spread that the new ToS would allow Instagram to sell our photos to advertisers without our permission.

The social media world was abuzz.  Now it turns out that the bit about Instagram being able to sell your pics wasn’t quite right.  It has however seen Instagram issue a note to their blog saying that they’re listening to the feedback and will attempt to “answer your questions, fix any mistakes, and eliminate the confusion”.

Some commentators feel the damage has already been done though, calling it their Netflix moment. Whilst listening is all well and good, the real power of social media is that it allows you to solicit feedback before you act rather than after.

Lesson 1: Listening before you act is better than listening after you acted

Take Ford for instance.  They used social media to find their best customers, and will be giving these people prototypes of their cars to test out.  That way they get feedback from users at a time when it’s easier to change.  Prototypes by their very nature are small in number, so you’re not required to change a whole host of units that are already on the market.  You can also make the change before the support systems are in place for that product, and of course you’re making changes behind closed doors so avoid any public slip-ups like we’ve seen here with Instagram.

Lesson 2: Tap into your best customers

Now suffice to say I’m not advocating that the Instagram terms of service should be open for Wikipedia style editing, not at all.  What I am suggesting though is that every company will have a core userbase that through the love they have for your service, are very keen to make it better.  What’s more, by being asked for their feedback you will be deepening the relationship you have with them as they will be co-creating the service they know and love.  Lego do this particularly well, bringing their best customers on board to help design their latest products.

Lesson 3: Building an army of fire fighters

It should be noted here that Instagram didn’t really do that good a job of quelling the fires that sprung up across social media.  When the response is done centrally it’ll always be difficult to do.  Another nice side effect of bringing in your best, and by proxy most influential, customers, is that in both good and bad times, you have an army of people happy to fight your corner and explain the new thing for you.

We’ve seen how powerful user reviews are, so having this support coming from influential customers is much more powerful than you releasing official statements.

The moral of the story

So, the moral of the Instagram story is that rather than waiting for things to go wrong before you start listening, do the listening before you create something new and get your best people to co-create it with you.

  • http://clayfranklin.com/ Clay Franklin

    Adi, this is most excellent advice. Using super users as beta testers of sort is a great idea.
    When I was managing projects at Hewlett Packard Co. I made it a point to get input from all the impacted parties or team members. Even if you don’t use all the input, it creates a feeling of being part of the solution rather than having something shoved down your throat.
    I’m looking forward to looking up how Ford found their best customers on social media.

    • http://www.adigaskell.org/blog Adi

      Thanks Clay. As you say, if you involve people in the change then they can’t really complain that it’s something they don’t approve of, as they’ve had a hand in crafting it.

  • http://twitter.com/ThibautDavoult Thibaut Davoult

    Then again, Instagram proposed changes that would take effect 1 month later, so it’s not exactly as if they shoved them down their users’ throat. That would have been the case if they hadn’t done anything and kept the ToS the way they were, but they didn’t.

    It was perceived this way because their communication just wasn’t clear enough, so people felt forced into accepting these changes, but I don’t think they were.

    Anyways, the huge backlash make Instagram add modifications to their new ToS and clarify the whole thing, which seems to have solved the situation for now. I’m curious to see if they’ll modify them again before they go live on January 19, what do you think Adi?

    • http://www.adigaskell.org/blog Adi

      Yes, for sure, it’s a good thing that they have listened to the feedback and modified their T&C, I just think they could have saved themselves a lot of bad publicity by doing this consultation in private rather than having to do it in the public domain.

      What would be interesting to see is the long-term impact of these things. As we often see with Facebook, there is much gnashing of teeth when changes are announced, but that angst is typically short lived, before people go back to behaving just as they were.

      Making an emotive outraged tweet is very simple, but actually voting with your feet/mouse somewhat less so.

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