Instagram Upset: Are marketers taking user-generated content for granted?


Image from: self portrait / Shutterstock

Instagram lit a fire among its users with its new Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, announced in December in a short blog post  (the changes were retracted two days later). The news spread fast and furiously on social media as users expressed their anger at the popular application for claiming ownership of personal photos. Celebrities and media outlets vowed to stop using Instagram. One user I followed posted a black photo on the app in protest of the changes.

Instagram blacked out square

The same user has failed to leave Instagram and uploaded several photos since. The overall reaction was just an exacerbated bunch of hysteria as users did not understand the changes. Instagram was never going to sell the photos–just use them in advertisements without any notification or compensation to the owners of the photos. What the company wanted to do is actually quite common. Regardless, users were upset.

At the end of the month, the New York Post ran a dramatic story claiming Instagram active daily users dropped 25% from December 19-26th in response to the changes. Facebook, who acquired Instagram for $1 billion dollars last April, quickly refuted the statistics. Compete’s data also argues that the story is false.

In December, had nearly 16 million unique visitors, an increase of 21% over the prior month of November. Users stayed on the site 8.4% longer than the previous month, for an average of three minutes and thirty seconds.

Instagram UVs and Average Stay Dec 2011 - Dec 2012

The site did see a drop in traffic immediately following the announcement. When Instagram released the changes on December 17th, the site’s daily reach and daily attention decreased 14% and 12% respectively. This was minor considering all the hype around the changes, and traffic to the site returned to an increasing trend the following day.

On Christmas day, experienced a spike in daily reach and daily attention as users shared photos of their holiday dinners and celebrations. The site achieved higher daily reach and attention than on Thanksgiving, which Instagram previously claimed as its busiest day ever.

Instagram Daily Reach and Attention Dec-Jan 2013

The graph above does show a downward trend in traffic to since the start of 2013. Only time will tell if this decline continues. Luckily for Instagram, the negative attention online has not translated to a serious reduction in traffic. Its users were all talk when faced with the reality of not filtering pictures of their new Christmas presents and New Year’s kisses for all to see.

The site changed its Terms of Service as the company was pressured to answer the ever-pressing question: how to generate revenue. Instagram wanted to move forward with user-generated content in its marketing campaigns, especially since they have a lot of material to work with.

Marketing campaigns utilizing user-generated content have gone viral in the last several years, such as the iconic Diet Coke + Mentos video, which has over 16 million views on Youtube. In the age of digital media, a growing trend can be seen with brands purposely engaging with consumers online in order to generate content for marketing campaigns.

User-generated content is important, especially when marketing to the millennial generation. They rely on the opinions of others to make spending decisions every day utilizing online tools such as Amazon reviews, Yelp, and Foursquare tips. According to Hubspot, 8 in 10 Gen Y’s said user-generated content from people they don’t know influences what they buy and indicates brand quality. Fifty-one percent said it is actually more important than the opinions of their friends and family.

The importance of user-generated content is clear. But, as it gets more difficult to win consumers’ time and attention, what ways can marketers motivate users to share content about the brand?

The backlash at Instagram may be a sign that users feel unappreciated for their contributions. Should Instagram users be compensated for their work if it is used? If so, how?

About Carro Halpin:
Carro is excited to join the Compete team as the Digital Marketing Co-op for, with a focus on all things social media. A third-year student at Northeastern University, Carro is pursuing a major in Communication Studies and a minor in Political Science. She has a passion for digital media. Follow her on Twitter @carrohalpin or connect on Google+