December 27, 2018. A day that will live on in Instagram infamy. At least for some irate users of the popular photo-sharing social media platform who woke up to find an update altering their Instagram news feed from a vertical scrolling, to a horizontal swiping layout. The horror!
Although the update only lasted for a couple of hours at most, the reaction from the internet was swift and unrelenting. The horizontal experiment created a tidal wave of tech, traditional, and online news coverage. Headline after headline appeared on Google’s news feed.
Initially, Instagram took to Twitter (ironically) to clear the air. However, the social media giant’s response really bugged Twitter users.
— enzitu ૐ (@enzofava) December 27, 2018
Did the bug create this too then? What a lie Instagram pic.twitter.com/vu1GZG5c1u
— z e e n a. (@ZeenaXena) December 27, 2018
Instagram head Adam Mosseri cleared up the confusion with tweets explaining that the update was simply a test gone awry.
That was supposed to be a very small test that went broad by accident. Should be fixed now. If you’re still seeing it simply restart the app. Happy holidays! 😬
— Adam Mosseri (@mosseri) December 27, 2018
The hours of horizontal horror that Instagram users had to endure illustrates the volatility of the digital society we call the internet. But Instagram’s faux pas did provide public relations professionals some insightful, real-world crisis messaging lessons we should all take to heart.
Internet justice is swift.
Instagram’s update only lasted for a couple of hours, but that didn’t lessen the impact or derail users from exacting their own form of internet justice. The memes came one after the other and there would be no stopping them.
There are no take-backs in social media. Even if you are the social media.
Once the mistake has been made and the crisis-inducing event has occurred, there is no going back or wishing it hadn’t happened. Which is why PR pros are advised to get out in front of the crisis with facts, empathy for your audience, and a solution to solve the problem.
Even detailed plans go awry. Always be prepared for crisis.
You can’t predict all crisis events, but you can prepare your response with a detailed crisis messaging plan. Assign roles and responsibilities to those who are approved to speak on behalf of your company. Develop a crisis reporting system to ensure those responsible for crisis response within your organization are immediately made aware of developing situations. And be sure all employees and staff members are well aware of your crisis response policies.
Honesty is the best policy.
Trying to dodge or subvert blame doesn’t often end well. Especially in today’s connected world. The true cause of most crisis events will eventually be discovered. That may take an hour, a week, or a year, but in most cases it will happen. Get in front of the crisis, demonstrate empathy, and offer a solution.
Instagram will be just fine.
The final lesson from Instagram’s unwanted update is that the social media giant, estimated to be worth upward of $100 billion, will be just fine. There wasn’t a mass exodus, developers fixed the issue in a very short amount of time, the company explained and apologized for the inconvenience, and people are once again scrolling vertically. The natural balance has been restored. All is right with the world.