Last month Instagram unveiled “Instagram Direct” a new tool that, as the name implies, allows users to send pictures directly to individual followers. The feature also lets users comment privately once an image is shared. The release of Instagram Direct closed out a big year for the Facebook-owned app, one that brought several new features including promoted posts and a video option.

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Public reaction to the tool was mixed. Most  hesitancies revolved around user’s questions of why they would use it over other direct messaging tools such as iMessage. Others wasted no time in taking advantage of the possibilities it created. Among them were companies such as Gap and Hyatt.

Since Instagram was first released, many companies have viewed it as one of the more challenging venues for promoting products. It’s clean and simple interface prevents the type of advertising capabilities of something like Facebook Ads or promoted tweets. With recent changes such as promoted posts and Instagram Direct, however, businesses are finding it a more productive marketing tool.

The following are ways Instagram Direct could help companies connect with followers:

  1. Competitions:  This is exactly what Gap had in mind only hours after the tool was announced. They posted a picture and told the first 15 commenters to send a direct picture of themselves to Gap wearing brand outfits. Only Gap’s account could access the pictures, and those who sent the best ones were rewarded with a prize from the store.
  2. Reward loyal customers: For especially loyal customers, companies can send direct messages with promotional codes or discounts. They can also send pictures of unreleased products and ask specific followers to share them with their friends. This helps customers feel special and at the same time allows companies to reach an untapped audience.
  3. Customer service: Twitter has long been the main platform for customer complaints. It has obvious limitations, however. Explaining the problem with a product in 140 characters can be a frustrating task for customers. Likewise, companies may find it difficult to give an adequate response. On Instagram Direct, customers can send a private picture of a faulty product, along with questions or comments. Companies can respond in a private and personal matter, without character limitations.

It is still unclear exactly how popular Instagram Direct will be for personal use. However, it clearly presents several unique benefits for companies. Instagram may still not be the most alluring platform for companies wanting to promote on a mass scale. With a little creativity, however, it may be able to give them a much needed edge over competitors.

Jamie Bates