Instagram and the growing power of photography in social media


Into the valley of Death

Into the valley of Death

The Crimean War of the 1850s was a revolution in communication. For the first time reports from the battlefield were returned in what felt like near-real-time thanks to the electric telegraph transmitting messages in just hours rather than them having to be sent by horse across Europe. Many people complained about the impact of this real-time news, and the harm that it did reporting on the events tragedies of the war as they happened.

Perhaps more contentious, however, than this written word reporting was the use, for the first time, of war photography with photographs from Roger Fenton showing the real detail of what was happening. Whereas once newspapers had to rely on words, etchings and drawings to report what was happening, they could now show actual photos of war, of people and of suffering. Photos proved to be more powerful than even the real-time written word back in the 1850s.

If 2011 was the year Twitter and citizen journalism came of age, 2012 is set to be the year that social photography comes of age. And it could be even more powerful.

Whilst we have been used to Facebook focusing on photography for some time, that platform is more often about sharing photos with a (relatively) close group of friends. Family events, babies, parties, special holidays. These kind of events are very personal and reflect the nature of Facebook - where you (broadly speaking) network with people that you know or that you have chosen to share personal connections with. The growth of photography in more public social networks and online communities is more nascent, but is one of the most interesting and powerful areas where social is developing.

Photography is different. It allows you to share a moment and allows you to give people a real insider view of what you are doing or what is happening. It also travels across linguistic boundaries with ease. For individuals, photography is a simple way of sharing what you are doing, capturing the essence of your life at a particular moment and sharing that with others. It often has more social currency than the written word (especially than the written Tweet) - imagine trying to describe what is happening in any photograph in a single tweet and you will see it conveys so much more ‘information-per-instance’. It can also be appreciated on a number of different levels - the content of the photograph, the moment it is capturing, the framing, the use of colour - increasing its value and shareability to different people and different communities.

Brands and celebrities can also benefit from photographs. There is still a huge amount of social currency in going ‘behind the scenes’ - allowing people to see things that they cannot normally see. Because of the high rate of ‘information-per-instance’, a photograph can often give people much more than endless status updates or Tweets. For celebrities, it is a way of letting people into your lives (and controlling this) - imagine the power of you sharing your own holiday photos or photos of your weekend. People will consume this content avidly as it provides what feels like real access to their lives (just look at Justin Bieber or Barack Obama on Instagram). Brands can also benefit from using photographs in the same way to show behind the scenes and to control the access people get into events, decisions and the brand itself from Starbucks sharing photos from stores worldwide, to Tiffany & Co showing people what happens behind the scenes to their jewellery and diamonds.

Photography offers real power to individuals, celebrities and brands to capture and share much more information that can easily be shared in a written Tweet. It allows you a window into what they are doing and seeing right now and can be shared easily between communities and across borders. 2011 saw the rise of camera phones and more importantly of social photo sharing apps - notably Instagram - which lower the barriers to social photography. As these continue to rise in popularity and usage in 2012, we should expect to see more photography shared by more people.

Whereas 2011 saw people getting used to messages from Twitter being used in traditional media (from newspapers and TV reports) we should expect 2012 to be the year of social photography. Bringing insights into events around the world through photographs and showing, as Roger Fenton did in the Crimean war, the power of photography alongside the written word.

What are your social media photo rights? Image T&Cs examined


What are your social media photo rights?It’s always an area that has little transparency, who actually owns the rights to our images once we upload them to social networks? Could I end up seeing one of my photos all over the web, in the papers or on TV? It’s a common question that’s asked when we run our social media strategy sessions with clients.

Steps to retaining the copyright of your content

First, determine whether sharing an image is a bad thing. Sometimes, an image being viewed many times can be good for your personal and professional brand image. However, if you want to protect yourself:

  1. Understand the rules of the site you use (they change often)
  2. Avoid posting pictures that you’re particularly ‘protective’ over
  3. Delete or export any content that you don’t want shared if it’s on a network that could distribute it (see a great post by The Next Web for more information on this)
  4. Be selective with your privacy settings and licensing selections
  5. Use sites like TinEye to see if your images are being shared where they shouldn’t be.

Kathy E Gill from Media Shift compiled a great list of the terms and conditions relating to photo usage on most social media sites. It’s a great resource for seeing the relevant information side by side and identifying which platforms could take credit for the photos that you create. (She also wrote a great blog post covering this in more detail)

So who are the good, the bad and the ugly in the world of photography rights?

Retain most rights:

“You retain full copyright of any original content that you send us. By posting to Posterous, you’re granting us a license to distribute your content on this site.”

Your images are licensed for use on Posterous but you retain how they are distributed.

flickr (by Yahoo!)
“Photos and/or images found on Yahoo! Images or Flickr are the property of the users that posted them. Yahoo! cannot grant permission to use third party content. Please contact the user directly.”

As long as you control your licensing settings you can limit use to Yahoo! properties.

yFrog (by ImageShack)

“The content that you distribute through the ImageShack Network is owned by you, and you give ImageShack permission to display and distribute said content exclusively on the ImageShack Network.”

After the Twitpic cotroversy, ImageShack have reversed their policy to give you more rights and limit the use to the ImageShack network.

Publicity / partner sharing:

Picasa (by Google)

“You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.”

This distribution of your content is also extended to the Google Partners, of which there are many!


“Instagram does NOT claim ANY ownership rights in the text, files, images, photos, video, sounds, musical works, works of authorship, applications, or any other materials.”

However any content that is shared publicly can be used by Instagram for their promotion across any media.

Limited rights / sublicensing:

All of the following services have some form of ‘sub-licensable’ rights:


“You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings.”


“However, by submitting Content to Twitpic, you hereby grant Twitpic a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and Twitpic’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service.”


“Subscriber shall own all Subscriber Content that Subscriber contributes to the Site, but hereby grants and agrees to grant Tumblr a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, transferable right and license (with the right to sublicense), to use, copy, cache, publish, display, distribute, modify, create derivative works and store such Subscriber Content and to allow others to do so (“Content License”) in order to provide the Services.”


“By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed)”

All the statements about terms and conditions of the various photo sharing sites in this post are my own interpretation. Please visit the terms and conditions of the relevant site to view the official statements.

Social media week - instagram photo wall #smw


It’s social media week and as there’s so much going on all around the world we’ve decided to create  a lasting visual tribute to all the individuals, brands and agencies that are involved.

We thought it would be fun to experiment with photo sharing tool Instagram, and so over the weekend we created a live photo wall which pulls in images, in real-time, from social media week events all across the globe. Check it out at

Now it’s up and running we need you to help us capture social media week.

Think about what makes Social Media Week for you. The people you meet? The places you go to? The speakers that inspire you? Whatever it is, we want you to get your iPhone out,  snap it, tag it with #smw and then share it with Instagram.

Why Instagram?

It’s social, it’s simple and it makes even the worst photo look fantastic. (If you’re not already on it, you can download it for  FREE  from the Apple App Store).

How to get involved:

  • Take your Social Media week 2011 photo with Instagram.
  • Tag it with #smw.
  • That’s it. We’ll do the rest.

Look out for your photos at

Don’t have an iphone? Just upload your images to twitter with the #smw hashtag and we’ll pick them up from there.