Following the week we’ve had, I can hardly think of a headline that’s more needlessly overblown than this one. Or is my reaction like this because I’m not one of Kim Kardashian’s 5.7 million Instagram followers? Or because my life is, as documented in this column, so dull that the best picture I shared anywhere all week was a photo of a rainbow -- arching over the big water tower in Yonkers that has “yonkersgov.com” painted on it? When your big outing of the week is to the Yonkers Cablevision office to pick up a new cable box – well, it’s not the kind of action-packed life that you want to communicate via photo documentary.
Or is it that I’ve seen this movie before -- the one where the social media darling, which is changing the face of the communications business, doesn’t listen to its customers and isn’t, well, very good at communicating.
While there may be elements of all of the above, I’m going to pick the latter. Why? Because when I read about Instagram’s clumsily worded new terms of service, the one that seems to say that your photos might start showing up in ads, with no compensation to you – and apparently, also, without a heads-up before it happens -- I found myself marveling at the fact that Instagram founder Kevin Systrom had so perfectly channeled his inner Zuck, a task that must have been easier now that Facebook actually owns Instagram.
Call it the two-step- forward, one-giant-step-back theory of customer relations. We’ve seen it from social networks -- primarily Facebook -- so many times that I’ve lost count, but it maps out something like this: 1) Change key terms or features without consumer input. 2) Watch firestorm grow throughout the social media-o-sphere as people wrestle with cancelling their accounts. 3) Humbly back down part way so that users are (relatively) happy -- or at least not so pissed off that they’ll contemplate pulling a Kardashian.
Only as of this writing, it’s hard to say exactly where Instagram is in its Kübler-Rossian “Three Steps Toward Sowing Seeds of Doubt in Your User Base.”
The wording on the terms of service – even slightly rewritten -- still make the whole thing sound kind of creepy: “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.”
But the weird thing is that, as this post on The Verge points out, that’s basically what Sponsored Stories is, and we’ve been living with that for what seems like forever. And I certainly don’t see Kim Kardashian vowing to break her ties with Facebook any time soon.
So what we may have here is a simple failure to communicate. And if that’s the case, what Instagram needs isn’t a bunch of good photographers, but one really good writer, who can explain what the company is doing without resorting to words like metadata, which make it sound as though an Instagram exec just might be stopping by the house this afternoon to swab your cheek and share your DNA.
UPDATE: Instagram reverted to its old terms of service late yesterday. Click here to read more about this.