instagram

Instagram rolled out its first ad today and surprise! Everyone hates it. Or at least, that’s the early reaction from the peanut gallery. Comments on the first ad for a Michael Kors watch, posted four hours ago, are almost entirely negative.

“Fuck this shit.”

“Ugh”

“Stupid”

“Um fuck no take this shit off my instagram.”

Perhaps more important to note is the reaction from people who didn’t comment. The ad has more than 98,000 “likes.” It’s not clear how many total users have seen it, but that is a lot of positive impressions.

No matter — the loudest Instagram users are going to hate the ads. Why? Because no one likes ads. They’re always annoying, no matter how “native” you make them.

I’ll only say this: Instagram is lucky it never had to monetize as an independent company. Under the wing of Facebook, the company will be better able to weather the backlash and maybe even actually become a viable business.

Founders, particularly ones built using Lean Startup methodology, are taught to love their precious users and obsess over everything they say and do, A/B testing and tweaking until the product is exactly what users want.

But monetizing, especially with ads, goes directly against that.

systrom_gifFacebook, more than any other Web 2.0 company, has approached the problem of monetization with the general response of, “deal with it.” Every time Facebook introduces anything new — the Wall, the News Feed, Timeline — users react negatively. How dare this free service I use change something? What Facebook is good at — sometimes to its own detriment — is ignoring the cries of outrage and continuing on its way. In the long term, none of these uprisings have hurt Facebook’s growth in users or revenue. (What hurt the company more was its crappy mobile app, which has gotten much better over the last two years.)

Some companies might panic whenever this happens and change things back at their users’ behest. That’s what Digg did, and many have argued that’s why the company lost its chance at mainstream adoption — it catered too much to its core users, doing whatever it took to happy each time they expressed anger.

Instagram has experienced two user backlashes. One was when the app launched on Android. People actually got angry about this, arguing that Android users would taint their pristine service with their bad photos and etiquette. (Sidenote: Really?)

The real backlash, though, happened last December. The company announced its plans for monetization via some very vague wording in terms of service. The New York Times took them to their extreme and sent Instagram’s users into a spiral of confusion that Instagram would use their photos in ads. Panic ensued. Otherwise rational, intelligent humans posted black images to Instagram proclaiming they were deleting their accounts. It was almost as bad as the moronic “legal notice” that periodically springs up on Facebook.

Instagram quickly clarified the terms, and, with zero surprise, few of those people have left Instagram. The company’s users are still growing — it recently topped 150 million. Now, having survived one backlash, and with the backing of Facebook executives who can say “don’t worry, it’ll blow over,” Instagram may actually have the guts to make itself into a real business.

I’m not looking forward to having ads in my Instagram feed, but I’ll get over it. Just like everyone else.

  1. Instagram is a fast, beautiful and fun way to share your life with friends through a series of pictures.

    Snap a photo with your iPhone, choose a filter to transform the look and feel, send to Facebook, Twitter or Flickr – it’s all as easy as pie. It’s photo sharing, reinvented.

    Oh yeah, did we mention it’s free?