Why Instagram Should Not Have Added Video

On the perils of changing an existing, highly engaging product.

Summer Raspberries
Instagram makes taking beautiful pictures simple.

This is a response to this week’s Startup Edition question: “How do you build engaging products?”

Facebook has a history of experimentation – changing things wholesale for large groups of users – and of changing the service so that it stays novel and rewards customer usage. So when Facebook bought Instagram and didn’t outwardly change it, I breathed a sigh of relief: perhaps they would keep a nearly perfect product as it was. I think there’s another reason driving the feature addition for video. Facebook needs additional revenue (eventually) to justify the $1b acquisition cost for Instagram, and customers are used to video ads on their TV. They might get used to video ads in their social streams as well.

Many customers really hated this move, because Instagram was already an incredibly engaging product. The uproar uncovers some interesting lessons about the process of creating engaging products.

What was great about Instagram?

Instagram succeeded by doing just one simple thing (capture instant memories using a square photo format on your phone) and making it fun – but not too fun. Instagram also succeeded by building a community of people who love pictures and who wanted to share those photos and ideas with each other. And Instagram borrowed some social metaphors from other successful products (notably, the hashtag from Twitter).

You might argue that Instagram succeeded by having a tight focus and a small, dedicated team that worked wonders and encouraged a community to do great stuff. (You’d be right.)

4 Things That Will Make Your Product Engaging (And Great)

The Instagram team did several things right on its journey to create an engaging product:

1) Collected the “I wants” and “I needs” – I want to share photos, and I need it to be easy, and I want it to have fun filters

2) Separated customer pain from general issues – There are many ways to take pictures, but when Instagram was created there weren’t many ways to share them quickly with friends

3) Identified a crisp problem statement – Why can’t I quickly share a beautiful still moment with friends and discover other great moments?

4) Focused on the everyday experience and made it great – they didn’t try to build all the features, just the ones they found people might use to capture moments in just a few steps, every day

What made the single purpose app 10x better?

The Wow Factor – the way that Instagram exceeded the expectations of customers – is the ability to jump into a social stream of moments that all look professionally produced. Standardizing the aspect ratio and using filters to tune the images to look great makes your photo stream on Instagram easy to review even if the photos are taken by many different photographers of many different subjects.

Adding video changed all of that. Instead of presenting information that you could consume at the same rate, adding video forces the customer to decide: video or audio? This seems like a small change but simply adding more, mandatory choices is a recipe to discourage engagement.

What could Facebook have done?

Facebook could have launched a separate app called Facebook Video – they have a track record of doing the same with Messages. A separate app could have created a vibrant video community without diluting the brand promise of Instagram.

Does anyone care about maintaining a single purpose app?

Looking back, I’m not sure if product managers care about maintaining a single purpose app – it’s too seductive to think about adding a habit to the habit that already exists as a means of building the brand. Is it damaging to do that? Maybe, though it will take time to tell if current or long-time Instagram users will change their behavior. I’ve turned off video auto-play for now.

Meeting of the Agile Marketing Minds

John Cass, Brian Hsi, and Scott Brinker sharing Agile thoughts (photo by @grmeyer)

What do you get when you combine 10 marketers, a telepresence system, and some great food? You get the most recent meeting of the Agile Marketing meetup in Seattle – joined by some colleagues from Boston who stayed up after their meeting and shared their insights with us.

On August 29th, the crew at Ant’s Eye View were kind enough to share their space with us and host the latest meeting of the Seattle Agile Marketing interest group. Scott Brinker, Brian Hsi, and John Cass joined us from Boston, and we shared a lively discussion both for newbies (what is Agile Marketing and why would I consider using it?) and more experienced marketers (what does Agile Marketing look like when implemented in a pilot project at a Fortune 500 company?)

Scott shared his principles of Agile Marketing management, and the key takeaways I gleaned from this meeting are that Agile Marketing is still fluid and interesting; that there are amazingly talented people in the field who are pushing it forward, and that there’s still a lot to figure out. Change is at Agile Marketing’s core – one of the tenets of the idea is that you should try (like in Agile Development) to determine whether your idea is good or bad about as fast as possible – which means the challenge of sharing Agile Marketing outside of your core team is a change management task.

Good change management requires an understanding of the people, the processes, and the tools involved. The people are paramount: they are the actors who actually have to change (and who don’t always want to do something different.) The processes can enable or actually hinder change in a change management process – and likewise with the tools. So a good portion of the discussion during our meeting hinged around the idea of lining up the people with new processes and tools that guided them towards the principles of Agile Marketing but didn’t necessarily hew to the orthodoxy of the exact terms.

In other words, successful Agile Marketing deployments aren’t really deployments – the successful individual, team, or project moves a project forward in an Agile way by spreading an ideavirus. If the idea spreads beyond the silo of the team/project/department, then it has the chance to transform the business processes of the organization and help that organization be more nimble and understanding to the change that’s already happening.

But that’s the rub – to spread the idea beyond a small team, you need buy-in (enough space to try the idea), transparency (an experiment where everyone understands the actors involved, the goals and intent, the mechanism for change, and the measurement for tallying results), and the goods: results. If you start with the end in mind in Agile Marketing, you need to deliver a form of results in the language of the organization. And once you get one experiment going, running a hundred others serially or in parallel will get much much easier.

(and thanks to Joann Jen and Steve Alter for being gracious hosts)

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