Instagram’s PR Fiasco & Why It Wont Happen to SMB Marketers


The past 24 hours have been rough for Instagram.

Just eight months after their record-setting acquisition by Facebook, Instagram is following in their new parent company’s footsteps and ruffling feathers with a change to their terms of service.

As word began to spread that Instagram would soon be able to sell its users’ pictures to third party advertisers without having to compensate or even notify the user, the internet responded with its requisite outrage and indignation.

After a day of putting out PR fires and scrambling to address user concerns, Instagram took to the internet with a blog post from CEO Kevin Systrom, who attempted to clarify the situation by stating, “To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos.” It is unclear how this PR stumble will affect the photo-sharing service moving forward, but it is certainly the first major misstep Instagram has made in its short tenure.

Although there is no way to know for sure, I would venture a guess that this incident would have never occurred if Instagram was still a small, scrappy startup. Why? Because small business marketers know things that their enterprise counterparts don’t, or have long since forgotten.

Business is About Relationships

Whether you are a mobile app with millions of users or a B2B software firm, your business is about relationships. SMB marketers know that these relationships are built on trust and openness. We adhere to the ideas in Seth Godin’s seminal Permission Marketing: that marketing is not about forcing or spamming products and messages onto customers, it is about turning control over to the customer and building a relationship before the transaction.

Larger companies like Facebook and now Instagram are pushing away from this opt-in economy and establishing an opt-out one, to the detriment of businesses and customers alike.

Trying to Be Facebook is a Bad Thing

As larger companies try to force their opt-out marketing on the world, consumers are looking for alternatives. This means that SMBs already have a tremendous advantage over their larger counterparts. SMBs have the authenticity that consumers are craving and that they can form a real connection with.

This authenticity develops the relationships and loyalty that large companies are spending billions to achieve. Although billion dollar valuations and high-profile IPOs can seem glamorous, focusing on telling your story and building your relationships will yield a far more stable and prosperous business in the long term.

Service is Everything

In a competitive industry where customer experience is everything, having great service is THE thing. Keeping your existing customers is far more important than developing new ones and you should be doing everything in your power to keep them.

Instagram seems to have forgotten that, which could spell danger in the long term as competitors like Flickr and allegedly Twitter are setting their sites on the service’s user base. Make your company the best place to be a customer, respect your customers’ desires and opinions, and you’ll never worry about losing them to the competition.

Although Instagram’s billion dollar acquisition seemed to be the biggest business win of the year, the photo-sharing service may be losing sight of what got them here in the first place. Instagram may recognize this, but it remains to be seen if policies will change in the best interest of their current users.