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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 rumors 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 user 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.


This post was first written for Social Business News in 2013 so some of the information and vendors may not be around anymore.