Your Policies are Features, Too

terms of useby Henry Hwong The huge uproar over the attempt by Instagram to update its Terms of Service is a sometimes painful reminder for product managers and marketers out there that when you have an Internet-based service, your product is more than just the features the engineers are creating.

This is not news for enterprise SaaS vendors that deal with Fortune 500 companies (and their lawyers) when negotiating contracts. That being said, the Instagram event has, yet again, raised awareness that will increase scrutiny on every company's data and privacy policies.

Product managers should own policies and terms of service (ToS), not leave them to the legal team alone. Effective product managers manage these along with other features, with implications for business model, customer acceptance and, as Instagram found out, change management during a release cycle. Remember, you're offering a service, and services come with a lot of non-engineering facets.

What should Instagram should have done differently? Clearly they did not spend enough time with the change management aspect of their rollout. Had they spend sufficient time and resources clearly articulating the improvements through their channels (e.g., app, website, marketing communications), with the understanding that Facebook has its own set of baggage, this could have been a complete non-event.

Furthermore, these improvements could have been implemented incrementally and done on a regular basis to get users to used to the idea that the ToS changes over time (i.e. put it on the roadmap!). Apple does a good job with this on iTunes and App Store, where they have gotten most everyone to accept changes to ToS on a periodic basis.