Overview: Over the past year, the popular photo sharing app, Instagram, seemed like it could do no wrong. It’s easy-to-use interface turned millions of average into “professional” photographers (at least in their own minds) and attracted the attention of countless brands and media headlines. In April, it also caught the attention of Facebook which acquired Instagram for $1 billion. But as 2012 came to a close, Instagram started making headlines in a new, more negative way thanks to some controversial changes to its privacy policy. As CNET reported, “Under the new policy, Facebook claims the perpetual right to license all public Instagram photos to companies or any other organization, including for advertising purposes, which would effectively transform the website into the world’s largest stock photo agency.”

Impact on Consumers: The mid-December policy shift drew massive consumer outcry including account deletion (even Kim Kardashian, the site’s most followed user, considered leaving Instagram) and a recent class action lawsuit. Instagram has since altered the language and clarified in a pair of blog posts, “To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos” and “Because of the feedback we have heard from you, we are reverting this advertising section to the original version that has been in effect since we launched the service in October 2010.” Still, user confusion and concern continues and, as Reuters reported, Instagram has seen notable user churn.

Opportunity for Brands: Though it’s clear Instagram took a bit of a hit over the past few weeks, the platform is still very much a viable one for brands to leverage. Millions of consumers continue to use the platform for photo sharing, creating opportunities for brands to engage with them. At the same time, the recent Instagram controversy is a good reminder of the importance for brands to continue monitoring privacy and sharing policies not only of Instagram but other web-based platforms on an ongoing basis. This ensures the brand is both protected and compliant to rules and regulations in this quickly evolving industry.

Title 2:  + Launches 18 New Features

Overview: Google has recently launched 18 new features for Google+, focusing on mobile, photos, events and Hangouts. The features, according to Dave Besbris, VP of Engineering for Google+, are aimed at making “sharing and communication easier and more fun than ever.” Highlights of these updates are as follows:

Impact on Consumers: Google+ still falls sixth on the list of social global usage, behind Facebook, LinkedIn, , Tumblr and Myspace, according the Q4 2012 comScore report. Although their usage is up 61 percent from the previous year (65.3MM in 2011 compared with 105MM in 2012), the network is still attracting only 13 percent of Facebook’s total uniques (822 MM). From a mobile perspective, Google+ ranks seventh overall, and sees only 8 percent of Facebook’s unique visitors. Google released stats last June claiming that users spent an average of 12 minutes a month on the network, as compared with 7.5 hours a month on Facebook. It is important to note that while those numbers are far behind Facebook, Google+’s numbers do in fact continue to climb. It’s clear with this latest round of updates that Google is building its support and push behind the network, and is continuing to find more ways to make the platform more user-friendly – particularly on mobile.

Opportunities for Brands: Right now, the biggest opportunity for brands within these updates is within the Communities feature. Unlike past feature updates, Communities were open to brand Pages from day one. Any Google+ brand Page can create (and “own”) a Community and can also join and participate in any other Communities (ex: Ford Photo Community). This is potentially a huge opportunity for brands to expand its reach and influence on Google+. Until recently, Pages were prohibited from following, link-mentioning, or commenting on the posts of users unless that user had first added the Page to one of their Circles. But now, not only can Pages interact on Google+ like “real people,” they can do so with Communities as well, which opens the door to increasing brand awareness, building a following, and developing brand authority and trust.

Title 3: and Twitter Establish Social TV Rating

Overview: As the nature of the TV viewing experience has evolved due to expanding smartphone penetration, Nielsen and Twitter recently announced an exclusive multi-year agreement to create the “Nielsen Twitter TV Rating.” The Rating will measure the total audience for real-time social TV activity on Twitter, including both people who comment and people who are exposed to those comments. Under this new agreement, Nielsen and Twitter will deliver a syndicated-standard metrics around the reach of the TV conversation on Twitter. These new ratings will be made available commercially in the fall of 2013.

Impact on Consumers: For many consumers, Twitter has become an integral part of the television-watching experience. According to Variety, the Twitter conversation about TV increased 800 percent from 2011 to 2012. With the integration of these rating metrics, networks and brands may be more inclined to integrate social platforms within the viewing experience, creating a more interactive experience for viewers. The ratings could also help viewers navigate the overwhelming sea of channels and programs, using conversations levels and sentiment to determine what to watch.

Opportunities for Brands: The proliferation of smartphones and tablets has generated a substantial “connected” TV audience that is engaging with a second screen while watching TV. In fact, Nielsen and NM Incite’s recent Social Media Report found that some 44 percent of U.S. tablet owners and 38 percent of U.S. smartphone owners participate in this activity. The new social TV metrics could allow brands to better evaluate integrated marketing and advertising efforts against real-time metrics like potential total reach and influence. This would provide a new dimension to further understand audiences, what they’re thinking about, and where and when to connect with them. A metric to judge how TV shows resonate with consumers socially can help brands better justify advertising purchases (on network TV and platforms like Twitter) and other second screen activations.