Instagram Direct. What it is, and Why it Could be Huge for Brands

Last week Instagram announced a new feature to its mobile application called Direct. The feature itself is more or less a way to send direct private messages to individuals or groups along with photos and videos that you take/edit with the app. While initially it may seem like this would have minimal impact for brands using Instagram to promote their business, I think once you dig a little deeper you’ll realize that this has huge potential as a customer service tool. In this article we’ll discuss Instagram Direct and why it’s (potentially) huge for brands.

What is Instagram Direct?

As I said in the intro, Instagram Direct is a way of sending private photo and video messages to other people on Instagram. Previously, the only way to interact with someone directly on Instagram was to tag them with an @ reply in the comments of a photo or video that you posted. While that feature was nice, it really didn’t provide a way for you take the conversation offline, whereas Direct will allow you to have a private two-way conversation with someone.

How Does it Work?

The process of using Direct is just like creating a normal Instagram post. You start out by either taking or choosing a photo from your mobile device, adjusting the crop, adding desired filters just like you would normally do. From there you’ll be able to add comments (essentially a text message) to the photo and then select from a list of people to send it to. You have the option to send it to just one person or a group of (up to 15) people simultaneously, but the most interesting part about this feature is that you can actually send photo/video messages to anyone on Instagram regardless of whether or not they follow you or vice versa.


If the person you’ve sent the message to is following you on Instagram, they will receive a notification indicating that you’ve sent them a Direct message. Upon opening Instagram they’ll be able to click the inbox icon in the top right of the app and access your message. If the person you’ve sent the message to isn’t following you, your message will be placed in a request queue, where the user will have the option of accepting or ignoring it. If they accept the message then all of the messages you send them afterwards will automatically skip the request queue. If they ignore the message, it may expire after an unspecified period of time according to Instagram’s Help Page.


When you receive a Direct message, you will also have the ability to accept or reject it if you’re not following them. You’ll also receive instant notifications from those people you do follow and have direct access to those photos/videos in your inbox.

Things You Need to Know

There are a few quirks with Instagram Direct that you need to be aware of. Here are a few of them (in random order)

  • Messages cannot be shared to other networks like Facebook or Twitter
  • You cannot tag people in Direct messages
  • You cannot use hashtags in Direct messages
  • You can report inappropriate Direct messages
  • When you delete a Direct message it’s deleted from Instagram

Why This Matters for Brands

By now you’re probably wondering what the hell this has to do with brands. Well, I think the answer is pretty simple. Not only does this give you a method of communicating directly with your customers via the Instagram network, but it also gives you a way to do so with attached photos and videos. This is a game changer in my opinion because it takes the idea of messaging to a whole other level. These days you can’t even send a link in a Twitter Direct Message, but you can send photos and videos with this? Seriously? That’s awesome.

Think of this as a way of having a more in-depth conversation with you customers and being able to provide them with more visual feedback and customer service. Let’s say you’re selling some sort of consumer electronic device. One of your customers sends you a Direct message indicating they’re having trouble with a certain feature and shows you a photo of whatever it is. You, having seen this now, are able to diagnose the problem easier, and you respond with a quick 15 second video (currently the maximum allotted time on Instagram) and you show them how to remedy whatever it is that’s giving them trouble. You’ve just done, in just a few minutes, what would’ve taken them hours to accomplish via traditional methods like phone and email.

Another thing to think about here is contests. Brands are constantly using Instagram to host contests and run giveaways. Now you have the ability to notify winners directly and maybe even give them a congratulatory photo or video to commemorate the occasion. This just makes the experience that much more intimate and further humanizes your brand.


At its core, this new feature may seem like just a knockoff of SnapChat, but in the right hands I think it can become a very powerful marketing tool. You just have to be willing to look past the surface and break down the norms that surround platforms like these. Twitter, for instance, was started as a way for geeks to communicate their location to one another, and it’s now one of the most popular customer service tools in existence. At the end of the day it comes down to where your users are and how you can best serve them with the tools available on that platform. Take my advice and jump on this early, because the cool/wow factor of something like this is only going to be there for a short period of time. Thanks for reading!