All I want for Christmas is…people to think about Comms!

Picture the scene, you’re an online photo sharing and social network service. You’ve recently been bought by the biggest social network on the planet and they’re keen to monetise you and prove why they spent $1 billion. They think a good way to do this, is to start advertising on your network, you agree…however, you want to do something different and not just plain old boring advertising, after all you’re an innovative company, you’re expected to think outside the box! To be able to do some innovative advertising, you need to change your T’s & C’s slightly…nothing huge and it shouldn’t cause anyone too much concern!

After working with your legal teams to agree on a change to the terms and conditions for the site you decide to announce the changes to all users. You realise the announcement and sit back thinking ‘job well done, let the money start rolling in’.

After a few minutes, one of the team knock on your door and say a few people have mentioned the company on Twitter complaining about you selling their pictures without permission. You lean back in your chair and laugh, you know that’s not what you’re doing and these people have clearly misread the announcement, and got the wrong end of the stick. After a few more minutes someone comes in and says that you’re trending on twitter, you think great…they then tell you that all the comments are negative!

You panic, what could possibly be causing this? You log onto Twitter and see comment after comment about you selling people’s photos without permission…you’re confused what is everyone talking about? Then the news articles start…Mashable, Huffington Post, BBC all of them releasing stories about you selling images without permission. Your Wikipedia entry is amended to say the same…safe to say this is turning into a bit of a disaster for you. Accounts are being deleted quickly, as people don’t want their pictures to be sold…fair enough!

You call an emergency meeting with all your execs…you explain the situation (although I’m sure they’re aware) and you ask what can be done! There’s a silence around the table and then your comms person says “well to be fair we haven’t actually explained what we’re doing in plain english!” You take a second to think about this, have you sent any communication out? Have you explained to people what you’re doing? Or have you just amended your policy and left it at that? Oops! Better write up an apology explaining what we’ve actually done and send that out!

Now I’m not saying this is exactly how it happened, I’m merely guessing. Maybe Instagram did talk to their comms people before releasing the change…if they did, then their comms team have some issues to look at. However, the fact that in the apology they say “it is our mistake that this language is confusing” indicates to me that no comms person has seen it! In reality they probably didn’t think anyone would be bothered about it/notice it so just made the change and published. This is wrong on so many levels from a comms perspective.

Without clear guidance, people will always assume the worst, and this is a clear example of that. Now Instagram will recover and I’m sure in the grand scheme of things the amount of people who have left won’t be keeping them awake at night…but it’s caused millions of people to stop trusting them. The next time they want to make a change they’re now going to have to do a huge PR effort before to make sure people are on-board with it. Instagram users are known for loving Instagram and they’ve managed to put doubt about that in their minds by simply not thinking about how to communicate properly.

This could have all been bypassed, if they’d simply thought about communicating while making the change. The apology they’ve sent out as a reaction, should have been a proactive email/note to all users letting them know what was happening in plain english…how many people actually every read T’s & C’s, legal babble isn’t easy to comprehend.

So if anyone out there is thinking of making a change to a policy/process/terms of service and you don’t think it will matter…think again, then speak to your comms team, get some advice on how to best engage affected users and make sure you don’t have to ‘do an Instagram’!

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About Steven Murgatroyd

Northern Social Media and Comms enthusiast.
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