This blog is where we announce new videos & talk about the power of explanation & the change it can create. 

Instagram's Real Problem? Lack of Explanation

It’s not been a good week for Kevin Systrom and the Instagram team.  They recently updated their policies and caused the Internet to collectively freak out. Here are a couple of headlines:

Yikes.  But wait.  What if this is all a misunderstanding? For now, let’s give Instagram the benefit of the doubt and ignore the possibility that they’re willingly throwing users under the bus. Nilay Patel at The Verge has an informed and reasonable take on the whole thing. The bottom line: this is, in part, a result of poor communication.
 
But for Instagram, a lot of damage has been done. Perception is reality and CEO Kevin Systrom tried to stop the bleeding with a blog post clarifying the issue. 

Here’s my question -  What could have been done differently?  I have some ideas.

What if the new policies came with a blog post or website EXPLAINING the changes?  Instead of relying on legal language and assuming everyone would get it - what if they were proactive instead of reactive?
 
Here’s how that could have looked:
 
1.  State the Intent - Question to answer: Why should I read this?
 
Our policies are changing and we want to make sure they’re understandable for everyone.  These changes focus on a few big things...
 
2.  Come to agreement about a problem - Question: Why is this happening?
 
Instagram is a free service for users like you. Unfortunately the service is not free to operate. To make sure Instagram remains free and successful, we must find ways to make money and advertising is how we plan to do that...
 
3. Build Context - Question: What’s the big picture?
 
Up to this point, our policies have been X, Y and Z. We use the policies because...  These policies protect you in these ways... Here’s why some of those policies need to change...
 
4.  State the Changes -  Question: What’s really happening?
 
Below I’ve listed a few sentences from the policies followed by a plain English version that’s easier to understand.
 
5.  Tell a Story - Question: How does this apply to my life?
 
Sally is a lot like you. She’s worried about Instragram selling her photos and using them in advertising. After learning more, she now sees the policies from a different perspective.  When she posts a photo of her dog on Instagram, that photo can... But Instagram cannot... Sally is also worried about... The new policies say...  Sally now feels better.
 
6. Make a Connection - Question: Is this like something I already understand?
 
The chances are, you’ve seen the ads that appear on Google when you search for something, right?  What about “sponsored posts” on Facebook?   These are similar to Instagram because... Instagram’s version is different because... 
 
7. Use a visual or video - Question: Can I learn this another way?
 
Provide a hand-drawn sketch, a quick video or an infographic.  Make it sharable. 
 
8. Summary - Call to Action - Question: What’s next?
 
As you can see, the changes are... These policies will go into place on X. We want your feedback, send it here...  If you would like to stop using our service, you can do that by...
 
Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. Instagram just put up a bunch of policies with no explanation and had to deal with the consequences.  It could have been averted through a simple act of explanation.  

The lesson here is proactive communication. 

People need explanations more than you think. If you have an important change you need to communicate, remember that explanation is a kind of media, something you can create that’s different from bullet points and legalese. Provide people with a resource that gives them a way to feel confident that they see the “why?” and can react with grounded, accurate information.

Lee LeFever is the founder of Common Craft and author of The Art of Explanation - Making Your Ideas, Products and Services Easier to Understand. Follow his photos on Instagram and Flickr