Instagram and the Culture of Free

Every year sees its share of PR debacles. As this one draws to an end, we were lucky enough to get at least one last doozy. No, not the Mayans blowing another doomsday prediction (does anyone know when the next one is supposed to be?). I’m speaking of course, of Instagram.  

In case you’ve missed out, Instagram is an online photo-sharing/social networking service. It lets users take pictures, apply cool filters, then share them with the world. Some took to the service as a way to share their photography and build a name for themselves. Most used it to take pictures of their breakfast. 

(I, of course, used it for REAL art. It’s taken through the blinds. That’s pretty deep and meaningful, right?)

It quickly became the most popular thing in the world. 

This video sums it up

Then, last week Instagram (which is now owned by Facebook) announced its new terms of use agreement that seemed to state their intent to sell user photos to advertisers. 

The internet collectively exploded as people suddenly became very protective of that picture they took of their scrambled eggs last week. 

Instagram has since apologized and reverted back to its original terms of use. 

But here’s the unpopular opinion. They will need to start making money soon. It will either be through advertising or by becoming a paid service. 

I love free things as much as the next guy. I mean, paying for stuff is the worst. Right?

When it comes to the future of a “free” service like Instagram though, I only see three possible outcomes:

1) It dies because it fails to make any money (turns out it costs money to run things)

2) It becomes a pay-to-use service (is it worth $5 per month to you?)

3) When I take a picture of my Starbucks coffee and tag it #ilovestarbucks, Instagram and Starbucks can tell all of my friends how much I just said I love that Starbucks

Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic sums it up much better than I could ever hope to: If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.

— Chris

Tragedy Shapes New and Old Media

Newtown is a horrible tragedy. Nothing can convey the grief and outrage people feel.

The international media frenzy is both repulsive and predictable, supported by us, the general population, and our morbid curiosity.

As a communicator, part of me is fascinated watching the evolution of media practices and social media. Watching the pushback from the population and how they communicate their anger through social media. 

(image via Buzzfeed)

Through all of this, we slowly begin to establish or shift social norms and expectations. What is allowable in reporting on a tragedy? What crosses the line? These questions are being wrestled with now.

Reporting in a crisis is fraught with dangers: the pressure to report quickly, balanced against the danger of errors, or of pushing beyond all reasonable behaviour.

In Newtown, there was the reporter who said a suspect’s name on camera, causing thousands to search and view his Facebook page and his angry denials that he was not the shooter. He was not.

Today there is online disgust with the media frenzy around the children’s’ funerals and aggressive media tactics to get interviews and reactions, all captured, collated and played back through Buzzfeed.

What is somewhat new here is the public’s ability to lash back at the media. Through all of this back and forth, we are establishing the customs and boundaries of media old and new. 

This is small stuff against the scale of this tragedy, but it is how we all play a part in determining how the media, social media and the public will act in times of great personal loss.


Let Me Google That For You

This post comes courtesy of my co-worker Iris Dias’ favourite, somewhat snarky, response to questions. Is there someone in your life who takes to Facebook to ask questions like, “Does anyone know how long to bake a chicken breast?” Well, here’s the appropriate response

We live in an amazing time where practically all of human knowledge and experience can be accessed with a few quick clicks. 

It’s certainly fun to use this power to snark your friends and family when they do something snark-worthy. 

However, we shouldn’t forget that this power can be applied to ourselves, particularly at work. Communications professionals are expected to be able to competently perform a number of different tasks. Occasionally a task will be put on our table that we have little-to-no experience with. One response to this less than ideal situation is to say, “I don’t know how to do that.” My preferred response is, “I don’t know how to do that, but give me some time and I’ll figure it out.”

Comprehensive tutorials exist for almost anything you could possibly be asked to do. With a simple search you can find out how to build a website, use Photoshop or even do a backflip

So when you find yourself at a loss for what to do, either at work or at home, don’t forget your old friend Google is always there to offer some advice.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite search queries this time of year.


Best PR “Pickup” of the Week

In the middle of a brutal pro hockey strike, a wonderful moment.

Vancouver Canucks star Ryan Kesler sends out a tweet that he and teammate Kevin Bieksa will be under the Cambie Bridge for a pickup game of street hockey. An hour later the small court under the bridge is packed with over 200 people ranging in age from toddlers to… well everyone.

(Image via The Province)

The media gets wind of it and I hear an interview on CBC radio. A 23 year old who has just come off the… pavement is stoked and talking about how great these guys are and how they just want to play hockey.

It can be difficult to garner public support when you’re deeply entrenched in a seemingly endless argument that is taking away something so many people love.

When Kesler and Bieksa executed on the social media/celebrity equivalent of calling up the other kids in the neighbourhood for a game of street hockey, we forgot for a moment they are a couple of millionaires arguing with a bunch of billionaires over money.

Instead, they became a couple of guys who just want to play the game. In the process, they gave a few hundred hockey starved fans in this city a day they’ll never forget. What hockey fan wouldn’t want to someday tell their kids they played alongside, and maybe beat up, an NHL star?

It doesn’t hurt that media outlets across the country picked up the story either.

In the battle for public support in the lockout, score another one for the players.


Budget Photo Editing Experience

Communications jobs these days require you to be something of a jack-of-all-trades. Take a look at any of the job postings out there and you’ll quickly see companies don’t just want someone who can write. They absolutely want someone who can write. But, they also want someone who is comfortable operating a camera, can edit a video, build a website and knows there way around photo editing software.

That last one, photo editing, is the one I hear people express the most concern about. “I don’t have the roughly $8 billion needed to purchase Photoshop” they say, “how am I to learn how to use it if I can’t afford it?” This is a valid concern. Adobe suite software has established itself as the standard and it does not come cheap.

First and foremost, if you are studying communications make every effort to take at least one course in graphic design. There is almost certainly a course somewhere at your institution that will offer you a rundown of some of Adobe’s programs and give you some hands on time with the software. 

If that’s not an option for you, then I recommend taking a look at Pixlr. Pixlr is an online photo editing program. It has powerful features, does not require anything to be downloaded or installed, and best of all, is absolutely free. It’s not quite on the level of Photoshop. But, it will allow you to learn the basics and let you put “experience with photo editing software” on you resume.