Talk to your customers – the real lesson from Instagram’s woes

One of the big lessons from Tuesday’s outrage over changes to the photo sharing app Instagram is that businesses have to be upfront with users over alterations that will affect them.

Like most social media services, Instagram assumes a license to use anything you upload to their service – any picture, music clip or writing you publish on Facebook, Instagram or any other platform can be redistributed by the site’s owner.

Those clauses in Instagram’s terms and conditions are pretty well boilerplate in the online world and almost every web service has a similar stipulation that they have the right to do pretty well anything with things you upload to their servers.

Having been bought out by Facebook for a billion dollars earlier in the year, it was inevitable that Instagram would start using the same advertising features to justify the high valuation.

In some ways it’s hard not to feel sorry for Instagram’s management as they aren’t doing anything most other online services are doing – which makes the hysterical outrage towards the photo sharing app somewhat odd.

While the ears of Instagram’s management are still ringing, for the rest of us there’s a valuable lesson in Instagram’s woes this week – we need to be open and honest with our customers.

Instagram’s management has learned that lesson, having released a clarification describing exactly what these changed terms mean for users.

At the end of their mea culpa, Instagram says, “One of the main reasons these documents don’t take effect immediately, but instead 30 days from now, is that we wanted to make sure you had an opportunity to raise any concerns.”

While Instagram haven’t backed down on their changes as some of the more hysterical publications have reported, at least they are now appearing to listen to their community of users.

That’s what the rest of us should take away from this debacle; that customers and users have more power than ever and are demanding that they get fair notice and explanation of changes to the services we provide for them.

Paul Wallbank is one of Australia’s leading experts on how industries and societies are changing in this connected, globalised era. When he isn’t explaining technology issues, he helps businesses and community organisations find opportunities in the new economy.


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