Instagram Direct Enables Private Messaging – Gap First to Launch Campaign Using New Capability

Instagram chief executive Kevin Systrom revealed the launch of the new private and direct messaging system, Instagram Direct, in a press conference held in New York City this morning.

Instagram Direct allows targeted picture sharing to a select person or group of people, and the exchange of messages with them. This new product is a challenge to Twitter’s direct messages (DMs) and Snapchat.

“Instagram Direct is a simple way to send photos and videos to your friends. We wanted to make this about moments you share with a specific group. Sometimes you just don’t want to share with everyone,” said Systrom, adding that he sees users of all ages utlizing the new capability.


How Instagram Direct Works

Take a picture, tweak it, localize, and add a caption… but before you send it out, you get to choose whether it’ll go public or remain a private conversation with up to 15 people you are following. This only works with people you follow who are following you.

On the top right hand of the screen, an inbox icon will tell users when they have a private Instagram. Press it and you get to your inbox, where you can see your photo, with your profile picture below underneath and all those of your designated recipients. Their profile bubbles will remain greyed until they actually see your photo, at which point, there will be a green tick next to it as the profile bubble regains normal colors.

Interaction Yes!

Instagram Direct allows users to take the interaction further. Once the photo has been viewed, you are notified, as explained above. Beyond that, recipients can like your photo, in which case, you see a heart on top of their profile bubble.

Below the line of profile bubbles, Instagram has opened a space for conversation. You can type messages to all the recipients, starting a one-to-one exchange or a group chat, all supported by the visual exchange.



User Experience/ Privacy

The user interface is very sleek and pure as usual, and the user experience is frictionless. If someone you’re not following is sending you a picture (they may do so), you will be alerted of a pending request, which you can accept or deny right there.

“We don’t show the image from someone who isn’t following you, so you won’t be able to see images that you don’t want to see. And honestly, our guidance is to not accept photos from people that you don’t know,” said Systrom.

Going back to the main screen is just a side swipe. The inbox sits on the top right hand corner of your screen so it’s always on and a no brainer.


During a Q&A session held after the event, Systrom said that Instagram Direct has not been designed as a marketing tool, and it is “far too early” to talk about advertising.

He did however suggest that brands could use the new feature to collect photos from their consumers in a competitive image contest manner.

Just Hours Later….

Apparel retailer Gap didn’t waste any time in taking Systrom’s advice and within just two hours, had already posted a message to its Instagram account asking followers to take part in its “What I Wore Today” (#WIWT) competition. The first 15 respondents each won a denim Gap tablet case. Great move by Gap… very well played!


Advertisers, Snapchat, Twitter and the Ecosystem

Of course, one cannot avoid thinking about the dent Instagram Direct might cause in Snapchat’s own world. With Snapchat denying Facebook its ownership, this new move on the part of Instagram definitely challenges Snapchat’s expectations for higher valuation, as it undermines its very asset of messaging by adding way more options and flexibility to it. 

Instagram Direct might also become a cause of concern for Twitter, whose direct messaging system surely was an inspiration for this. Systrom’s team took it miles away in terms of experience and practicality. Users who tend to get frustrated with Twitter’s DMs as it doesn’t allow appending any photos might now turn to Instagram.

Finally, Instagram recently launched promoted photos. With Instagram Direct, the Silicon Valley startup puts on a nice balancing act by giving the possibility of increased privacy. Unless it’s a step towards providing brands with micro-targeted audiences at a later stage, who knows?

Instagram has already released a help resource including safety tips, as well as the following introductory video:


*Additional reporting done by Melanie White.

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