What Instagram Direct Means For Marketers

by , Dec 17, 2013, 8:46 AM
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Last week, Instagram announced a direct-messaging feature called Instagram Direct, enabling users to share photos and videos with selected friends directly versus everyone following their feed. This move has been widely expected for some time and, while it has limited repercussions for brands in the near term, there are four important large-scale implications that marketers should consider.

Instagram will get more screen-time

The Instagram community (especially millennials) has been hacking together messaging functionality around their Instagram social graph by placing their Kik/Snapchat/etc. usernames in their Instagram bio, often leaving comments on photos for another user to find them there. This behavior has now been streamlined within the app and will make Instagram a much more important part of a millennial’s visual messaging lifestyle.

Instagram Direct will also pull back some of the need (and time spent) for other messaging apps. More time with the app for more types of interaction will, at least for now, make Instagram all the more important to users.

Competitors will respond in one of two ways

This latest move leaves Vine and Snapchat in an interesting place. They need to decide whether they should begin to adapt and add new functionalities, or double down and focus on owning their particular niche. Thus far, Snapchat seems to be building new features with Snapchat Stories, but it’s too soon to tell what their next move will be. Vine is taking the other approach, with a focus on refining and improving its core features.

We should pay particular attention to how other messaging apps like Kik, WhatsApp, and Line respond as well — whether they will continue to focus on messaging or seek to build out more differentiated features as Instagram and others continue moving into their space.

Messaging will get even more competitive

The mobile messaging space has been hyper-competitive for years now, and, incredibly, it’s showing no signs of cooling down. Apps like Snapchat, WhatsApp and more have seen huge amounts of growth but there have been no king-making moves, even as the industry heavyweights are trying to weigh in, too. Just this week Twitter announced that images can be sent in direct messages, which might hint to a fully redesigned approach to private messaging in the near future. (That's something that marketers have been predicting for a little while now.).Instagram’s foray into this space is Facebook/Instagram’s best bet at tapping an emerging medium that is so important to young millennials.

Facebook/Instagram’s long-term strategy

Tech companies have long struggled with innovation as they grow. The classic approach is to acquire the new innovators, as Facebook did with Instagram itself, but this move also signals a pattern to Facebook’s approach to long-term relevancy: watch, learn, master — or, as Josh Constine put it, “follow with finesse.” When Snapchat came out Facebook launched Poke, a similar app.

When Vine gained prominence Facebook launched video features with Instagram. Now that apps like Snapchat, Kik, WhatsApp, and Line are getting even more popular with young millennials, Facebook has moved into that space, too. As Constine has observed, this is akin to Apple’s approach: don’t be the first mover, but learn from the first mover and then do it better.

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