Brand reputation failure

If you have missed the news, 24 hours ago Instagram just updated it’s terms and conditions for using the App. Since then there has been an uproar both in the blogosphere and on every social network I’m on. You may think, so what? What does that have to do with charities, non-profits, churches and communications? Well there are in fact many lessons here for all of us.

1. Word of mouth reputation works both ways

Your people are just as passionate about your brand as you are and it’s the same for Instagram. In fact their users see themselves as guardians of keeping the product pure. Sound familiar? Every brand has people like these. They are called brand advocates. They love the brand, live the brand, cheer the brand on when new innovations are released. Instagram’s success has been in some part due to the fact that its users like myself have been so passionate about it that they have shared their love of the product with others. I know that I’ve done it on many occasions. Like with all word of mouth sharing it works both ways, positively and negatively.

In the church world we also have brand advocates, many in our congregations are passionate about retelling their faith experience to their friends and family which will naturally include their experience at church. For the average person in the pew the church obviously isn’t a product or service, but they will share what they like or dislike about the decisions church leaders make with those they trust.

Good news travels fast, but bad news travels even faster. Chances are you may not even be on Instagram, but I bet you had heard the news about what had happened. A colleague just walked into my office and proved my point.

Lesson: It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation and only a moment to lose it. What are you doing to ensure you don’t lose it?

2. Don’t let one department drive perceptions of the brand

I can imagine the picture. A highly paid corporate legal counsel is working very hard on covering Instagram’s corporate backside for the upcoming launch of the integration of advertising into the app. They are doing their usual thoughtful and through job on the legal side of any possible legal blow back. It’s what legal does. For 99 percent of the time, no one cares. But when a customer facing decision is made which has major implications for how the brand is perceived it should have been an ‘all-in’ team effort to ensure the change is communicated in the way it was meant to be.

There are many good reasons that you will get legal advice for major policy changes, but don’t let the policy and the legalese drive the communication. Back office decisions can have massive customer facing ramifications. If not communicated clearly and simply it has the potential for serious negative push-back.

David Packard said that “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.” In the same way, legal and policy changes are also too important to be left solely to the legal and admin department especially when communicating the changes.

Lesson: Back office legal policy changes can damage your brand if not communicated well. Policy change is a leadership team effort. Include everyone.

3. Explain the ‘why’

Instagram thought their announcement was an innocuous and minor update to their terms of service. They were probably thinking like many services people just click okay when confronted by legal mumbo-jumbo.


Not when they are changing the very heart of their existence. Going from an advertising free service to a monetised business model. Like all social media platforms before them, they could have seen the train coming through the tunnel on the response to the introduction of advertising. But without any explanation of how they were simply going to advertise they put complicated legalese out their to do the talking for them. A simple blog post could have settled down most of the brouhaha (I’ve always wanted to use that word) that has happened since.

We all know that free isn’t a sustainable business model and would grudgingly accept some kind of support.

Lesson: Think about how your audience will receive the change via your communication and plan ahead to communicate the ‘why’ behind change simply and clearly.

4. Everything communicates something

Every interaction with your audience communicates something. In this case for Instagram, the poor way the communication was done communicated that its users are just advertising revenue waiting to be mined. The reality is that you can’t get anything for free all of the time, but the way Instagram communicated the change really mattered. They had the chance to lead the conversation around the changes instead of letting the conversation be driven by the consumer.

Lesson: Before sending it. Ask yourself what message are we sending to our audience with this communication?

5. Say sorry

By the time I finished writing this post Instagram had written a clarification post on their blog. Imagine if they had written that ahead of time and lead with that post rather than the legalese?

You don’t say sorry because you want to limit the damage. You say sorry because you mean it. People will see straight through you if it is done badly. Have you seen how Blackberry apologised for their server outage? This is how you don’t do it. Autocue = Insincerity

Lesson: When you know you’ve managed an issue badly apologise and re-tell the real story well so that you can get the right message out there. 

Your turn

I expect Instagram to survive this brouhaha despite the damage to it’s reputation. Once people see the changes they will probably be underwhelmed but resigned to them, just like we were when Facebook first introduced advertising.

The update on their blog will to some extent put out the online firestorm and backlash to their product. A good move, but the damage to the brand for many has been done.

Every church, charity or non-profit has a reputation, we can all respond to fix reputations when they are damaged but it is much better to anticipate potential issues to avoid damage where possible.

How about you? What do you think? Comment below.