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Web 2.0 Authors: Kevin Benedict

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Instagram Direct: Brand Uses & The NSFW Problem

Instagram Direct

On December 12, 2013, Instagram introduced Instagram Direct. The basic premise of Instagram Direct is simple – users now have the ability to send direct photo messages to the person or persons (up to 15) of their choosing. The Instagram direct messenger allows for users to add comments to photos and to view the direct messages as archived content, never to disappear.

From the individual consumers point of view, Instagram Direct supplies consumers with the ability to privatley reach out to friends, family and groups without their entire Instagram follower list seeing the image. Instagram Direct is the social equivalent of a private joke which only you and your friends know about.

This said, what are the corporate benefits to Instagram Direct? Can companies utilize Instagram Direct to interact with their clients in a more personal fashion or is Instagram Direct designed more for person to person communication?

Brand Direct Communication

The question in play here is simple: can brands effectively harness Instagram Direct for brand – - > consumer communication. The answer is both yes and no. Like Twitter Direct Messages wherein a company can communicate with a client in via a private channel, Instagram Direct offers the same possibility. By using a direct visual medium with a quick captions, brands can reach out to customers directly to alert them to sales, updates concerning ongoing customer service issues, branded messaging or cool updates. The possibility exists for companies to use Instagram Direct to more intimately communicate with high level clients or groups of clients however the possibility also exists for the platform to become a tool for direct social sales. As we all know, direct sales via social media platforms always fall flat on their faces.

The other major possibility for branded use of Instagram Direct is high level one-on-one personal touches. Maybe it could be used to send a visual message alerting your high level clients to a sale which only they have access to, or maybe the direct photo messenger service could be used to keep groups of clients in the loop concerning the shipping location of an order. Whatever the message, there is a clear use for Instagram Direct for brands.

This said, we need to mention the one easy to predict issue Instagram Direct will bring to the forefront of Instagram. NSFW images.

Instagram Direct Takes a Sultry Turn

Not Safe for Work

Unlike Vine, Instagram has made it a point to ban any NSFW (Not Safe For Work) images from its visual social sharing platform. While Vine is rife with sultry videos, Instagram and by extension, Facebook, has made it an active goal to eliminate hashtags which might lead to more provocative posts. Point in case, try conducting a controlled Instagram hashtag search for “Sexy” or “Sex” or “Lust”. No results. This isn’t to say that users don’t upload photos and videos with those hashtags. They do and Instagram moderates/deletes them. They do this to keep their public social network, accessible by all age ranges, clean of NSFW posts. Yet, with Instagram Direct, posts are hidden.

The question now becomes, does Instagram sensor private messages due to NSFW content or, because the posts are direct, does Instagram let NSFW direct posts thrive? While we can’t answer the question at the moment, two issues are being brought into play with the potential of censoring private content.


  1. The censoring of privately sent content will be viewed, by the sender, as a step too far. A breach of privacy. Without question, this will piss users off who choose to send sultry direct messages and might cause them to either leave the visual social network or complain about it openly across other social media channels. This leads to a perception problem.

  2. Perception is everything. Any PR suit will tell you that. What matters is perception, optics and messaging. Reality takes a backseat. The question at hand is, does Instagram want to have a public perception of being a private NSFW (what will, without question, be called smut) peddler? Sure, the network already took their billion dollar Facebook buyout however the network still needs to think about money created by potential Instagram advertisers. Will Instagram run the risk of losing out on ad dollars in favor of user privacy?

We can’t see it. Instagram, in the pursuit of Facebook regaining its public stock footing, will not run the risk of losing out on corporate America in favor of private sultry messages.

Bottom line: Don’t be surprised when Instagram updates its terms of service to allow for the monitoring and deletion of private Instagram Direct messages.

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