Why wording matters: Just ask Instagram

the conversation about instagram's policy change trended wildly on Twitter

It pays to think beyond the PR blurb and think a little like a Survivor contestant—play out the scenarios in your head before taking action.

If you’ve ever put your foot in your mouth, you would know that horrible feeling where you just want to rewind the clock and take back whatever you said.

It’s one of the reasons I love to write. The fact that you can edit prevents a lot of wording faux pas. However, they still happen.

Just the other day I found a glaring mistake on my Copywriting and Editing service page. I had edited that puppy a thousand times, but when I found a “your” that should have been a “you’re” (on my copywriting page of all things!!!), I wanted to crawl into a big, dark pit.

What Happened on Instagram?

Anyway, all that aside, I wanted to talk for a moment about what happened this week on Instagram.

If you’re on Instagram, you’ll know about the furore around their changed privacy policy. Users were in an uproar. People deleted their accounts, or threatened to, and bloggers speculated that this change would spell the end of Instagram’s reign.

Just to get you up to speed, here’s what people were saying:


On Twitter, the level of outrage went from disappointment and shock to outright threats. Upon reading the responses, I wondered if people had gotten it very wrong. I couldn’t imagine that such a large social platform would risk losing its very loyal following by blatantly allowing advertisers to use their photos. It just didn’t make sense.

And lo and behold, this was the response from a battle-weary Instagram: http://blog.instagram.com/post/38252135408/thank-you-and-were-listening

instagram tries to explain its new terms and policies

When I read the changes to their terms of service, I immediately thought, “Oh, so this is going to be like Facebook where you see the people you’re connected to that “like” a business.” This was what caused all the controversy:

instagram's contraversial new terms of service

But some bloggers, in true tabloid style, pounced on the part of the policy that was likely to a) cause the most controversy and b) make their blog posts go viral. In so doing, they ignored the bit in the privacy policy that clearly said “you control who sees your photos.”

So, yes, wording matters. And it seems that Instagram learned something very important this week, that it pays to think beyond the PR blurb and think a little like a Survivor contestant—play out the scenarios in your head before taking action.

The bottom line is: If something you say can be misinterpreted, it will be.

Instead of trying to cushion your policies and wording with a PR blurb, understand that users want to play an active role in the platforms they care about.

One of the ways companies can prevent disasters like this, is to open the floor for questions BEFORE saying, “this is what we’re doing and here’s when it’s happening.”

It’s interesting to note that Instagram’s blog does not allow comments or questions. Instead the conversation trended wildly on Twitter, leaving Instagram to battle it out on someone else’s turf.

Wording is important. If you are charged with managing your company’s reputation online, it would pay to file this cautionary tale away for future reference.

What could Instagram have done to better manage their reputation in this instance? If you have some ideas, post them below.


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    Great post, thank you so much!