To Instagram, or not to Instagram

That was the question for a few tense weeks when they release their new terms of service. For some people, it’s still an unresolved question.

There were a lot of alarmist articles about how Instagram was going to sell your pictures in those first few days and weeks after the new terms were announced. These were slowly replaced by articles explaining that (a) we shouldn’t be surprised as it’s now owned by Facebook, (b) it’s not that different from what the terms said before, and (c) actually, you’re not going to see your Instagram pictures posted on billboards anytime soon, so relax. What it comes down to is this: if you take pictures and they are somehow associated with a product/place (example: if you tag them with a resort name), you may find them, along with a lot of others, associated with an ad. They’re not going to be blown up on a big billboard, because the resolution isn’t good enough (the pictures would look grainy and craptacular), but they might be part of a stream of pictures or mosaic showing how awesome and popular the product is.

On one hand, this has both privacy and (if you sell your pictures for a living) commercial implications. On the other hand, who cares?

  • Privacy implications: Pictures of you, your friends, your kids, etc. could end up in ads for products. If you aren’t comfortable with that idea and take pictures that you think might be easily used because they are great, popular or tagged appropriately, then you might want to reconsider how or if you use Instagram. I know of people who are quitting and people who are just going to be more careful about what they post on Instagram (ex: they may decide to stop taking pictures of their kids).
  • Commercial implications: If pictures you share on Instagram are pictures you want to make money off of or pictures of your products, again, you might want to reconsider how or if you use Instagram. This is a bit of a tricky situation, much like the question of using/supporting the use of Pinterest, because Instagram is a great way to stay in touch with customers and market your products. If you’re in this situation you need to consider what risks and loses you are faced with and how to mitigate them in a way that works for you and your customers. Two examples that I’ve seen since I started using Instagram are (a) photographers who take pictures, but not ones they sell or ones similar to the type of photography that they sell (ex: a portrait photographer might take personal pictures of everyday life, places they’ve been, their pets, etc.) and (b) people providing sneak peeks of their products or designs (ex: a lot of stitchers and quilters I follow will offer a close up of a section of their design/work and direct people to their website to see the pattern/piece). I both cases, there’s enough o keep customers or potential customers interested and engaged, but you’re not making content that you would have expected to make money off in the first place. (OK, it may be a little more complicated than that, but the point is that you need to find your balance or cut your losses and leave Instagram).

All that said, let’s face it, there are a lot of Instagramers who are probably better photographers, more popular and more apt to take pictures that are cool or popular than most of the “normal” population. I have no illusions about my Instagrams. I have few followers and I’m not a great photographer. My pictures only look cool because of the filters (and, even then, a lot of them are pretty boring). Also, you can hide them pretty easily by not adding them to your map or tagging them (it’s not fool proof, but I’ve noticed that I get more random hits the more tags I add). So, in the grand scheme of things, I say, who cares. If my picture makes it into an ad, fine. The likelihood that it was good enough for me to sell it individually is pretty minimal and I rarely take pictures

In the end, the biggest issue for me was that I have limited data on my cell phone plan. If I’m not careful to make sure I’m connected to wifi (and sometimes it doesn’t automatically connect, even if I’ve been at home for hours), I can rack up one hell of a cell phone bill. Given that I follow few people, that I have few followers, that I’m not trying to connect with customers, and that I’m forgetful and don’t always remember to double check that I’m connected to wifi, is it worth my time and the risk of occasional large bills?

In the end, I decided to keep Instagram. There are a handful of people whose pictures I adore and sometimes I just want to take a random, fun, quick picture of something – Instagram’s perfect for those kinds of pictures. It’s annoying that I can’t share in real time, but I’m pretty sure most people aren’t going to notice or care that I take pictures with my cell camera and wait until I get home to decide what, if anything, I’ll share on Instagram.

Wow, this is a long post just to say that I didn’t get scared off by the hype and will be keeping my Instagram account. :)

Note: I generally provide links, at least to the best resources, but I read so damned many articles about the implications of Instagram’s change to their terms of service and about people’s reasons why they were or were not going to leave Instagram, that I just stopped saving links. There’s plenty of info out there and all of the above is based on reading a tonne of it.