Instagram has a new feature as of this week, and it is one with interesting potential for internet marketers. Instagram Direct provides a new option for quickly sending out images. Rather than sending them to all followers, users will be able to send them to a discrete list of up to 15 people –either people they follow or people who follow them. It works with both still images and videos, and short written messages can be sent alongside the images.
The speed and ease of use of this new system is ideal for contexts where images need to be sent out without much preparation, such as when records of live events are being made. It is convenient for running images past a group of colleagues to get their approval before disseminating them more widely; as it is designed for easy use on mobile devices, it can be done without the need for everybody to be in the office or focused on work. In other circumstances it can be useful for sending a special image to a select group of customers, such as prizewinners.
Another advantage of the new system is that it keeps track of the recipient list and lets the sender know straight away when an image is seen by each person on the list, with an icon that changes if the recipient likes it. This provides a convenient feedback system to check team approval of images. Comments also appear in real time.
The politics behind this new move are interesting. Instagram is owned by Facebook, which recently had an offer for Snapchat rejected. Instagram Direct has the potential to compete directly on Snapchat’s territory, though it has one key difference – images sent using it will not disappear afterwards. When Snapchat was designed, the fading of images was an advantage because it stopped devices becoming overloaded. Now that most devices have far more memory, and its availability is growing exponentially, the situation has changed. Most people store a lot more material and are in the habit of going back to look at favorite images again. This means it is now likely that Instagram will have the advantage.
This leads to one final cautionary point. As users can send images to anyone they follow, the new system might easily lend itself to the equivalent of mailbombing and could be a serious problem for businesses that have attracted malicious attention in the past. It remains to be seen if Instagram will provide help in countering this problem.