Are New Terms Driving Instagram Users Away Before Marketers Can Reach Them?

If you go by my Facebook and Twitter feeds, you’d think Instagram is finished — users are packing their bags (downloading their photos using services like Instaport) and migrating to other services like Snapchat or even the venerable Flickr. This because the Facebook-owned photo-sharing service announced changes in its terms of service due to take […]

Chat with MarTechBot

If you go by my Facebook and Twitter feeds, you’d think Instagram is finished — users are packing their bags (downloading their photos using services like Instaport) and migrating to other services like Snapchat or even the venerable Flickr. This because the Facebook-owned photo-sharing service announced changes in its terms of service due to take effect in January, with some of those changes designed to allow advertisers access to the audience.

FacebookPoll Instagram

GoodbyeInstagram Dooce

Is everyone leaving Instagram before marketers get a chance to engage with them? Not likely. Since this latest Facebook-related-change panic (FRCP for short) is only a day old, it’s impossible to say whether it’s had a meaningful effect on usage of Instagram, or the other sites that people seem to be turning to.

What’s All The Fuss About?

The hubbub is over changes to rights to photos posted on Instagram. Below, a few choice sections:

  1. “…you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service….”
  2. “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. If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision (and the use of your name, likeness, username, and/or photos (along with any associated metadata)) on your behalf.”
  3. “You acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.”

What Does Sub-Licensable Mean?

The key word in item 1) is “sub-licensable.” Many, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s staff attorney Kurt Opsahl, believe this would give Instagram the right to become a giant stock photo service, with Instagram getting paid for use of photos, but the owner of those photos getting nothing. Not cool, from many users’ perspective.

I suspect this is just meant to give Instagram the right to “share” users’ content to other services like Tumblr and Flickr — both (in addition to Facebook) are options when you select “share” from the Instagram iPhone app. But Opsahl says it opens up far too many possibilities for abuse.

“Instagram should reconsider this policy,” wrote Opsahl in a blog post, “because it conflicts with the three key principles we [the EFF] developed for social networking services: informed decision making, control and the right to leave.”

Use Of Content, Including Photos Of Children And Kids’ Photos

Section 2) above has a couple of parts causing user concern. First, it says it can use your content in ads (without your being paid) and, if you’re not old enough to consent to this term yourself, Instagram is going to assume your legal guardian said it was OK. This doesn’t specifically address photos that include children, nor does it seem a particularly foolproof way to make sure parents are informed about use of their minor child’s content.

Oh, and 3) basically says “we’re not even going to tell you what’s commercial/paid/advertising and what’s not.” I think we’ve seen internet companies get in trouble for non-disclosure enough times to know the Federal Trade Commission frowns on things like this.

If you don’t like it, there’s no opt-out opportunity, just a “delete your account” opportunity, which many seem to be availing themselves of.

What Advertising Opportunities Does Instagram Plan?

The controversy comes just as Instagram integrated these advertising-related terms and set the stage for sharing data between itself and parent Facebook. Though we don’t yet have much information about what that advertising will look like, the terms sound quite familiar to those Facebook uses, enabling “Sponsored Stories” ads where a company shows off that your friends have “liked” them.

The controversy is leading to lots of mentions of services where users can download all their Instagram photos at once. Some even complained that these services weren’t available, due to high demand overloading their systems.

Instaport Arrow

It’s also led consumers to consider new services — like Snapchat or WhoSay — or even to return to the once-hot photo community Flickr. Renewed interest in Flickr is especially interesting in light of the Yahoo service’s recent release of an iPhone app that’s drawing raves — and leading many to hope that new CEO Marissa Mayer may be able to bring Flickr back to its former glory. While Yahoo folks couldn’t say whether traffic has spiked in the last couple of days, a spokesperson said it had seen “strong interest in our recently enhanced Flickr for iPhone app.”

Instagram Flickr

Many industry-watchers believe Instagram/Facebook will end up revising the revised terms of service in short order, to stem the tide of defections. But if that doesn’t happen, and all those who are raising a ruckus on social media really move somewhere else, the advertisers are sure to follow.

UPDATE: As we prepared to publish this piece, Instagram tweeted: “We’ve heard you that the updates to our Privacy Policy & Terms of Service are raising a lot of questions. We’ll have more to share very soon”

UPDATE 2: Instagram has published a blog post trying to dispel some of the user concerns, saying it never intended to become a stock photo service, but it does need to be a revenue-generating business — with ads. Co-Founder Kevin Systrom thanked users for feedback and said the company will revise the language in the terms of service to make its intentions more clear.

In the meantime, Systrom’s blog post also offers some insight into what advertising offerings may be planned. Indeed, the planned ad units seem similar to what’s already occurring on Facebook:

…we envision a future where both users and brands alike may promote their photos & accounts to increase engagement and to build a more meaningful following. Let’s say a business wanted to promote their account to gain more followers and Instagram was able to feature them in some way. In order to help make a more relevant and useful promotion, it would be helpful to see which of the people you follow also follow this business. In this way, some of the data you produce — like the actions you take (eg, following the account) and your profile photo — might show up if you are following this business.

Additionally, Systrom said the company did not have plans for any advertisements that incorporated user photos.

About the author

Pamela Parker
Pamela Parker is Research Director at Third Door Media's Content Studio, where she produces MarTech Intelligence Reports and other in-depth content for digital marketers in conjunction with Search Engine Land and MarTech. Prior to taking on this role at TDM, she served as Content Manager, Senior Editor and Executive Features Editor. Parker is a well-respected authority on digital marketing, having reported and written on the subject since its beginning. She's a former managing editor of ClickZ and has also worked on the business side helping independent publishers monetize their sites at Federated Media Publishing. Parker earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.

Get the must-read newsletter for marketers.