December 16, 2013

Recently, Instagram carried through on their promise to release direct messaging to users. One of the great aspects of Instagram is the ability to publicly share posts with others (even if only to your private followers). But one thing this aspect lacks, is the ability to maintain a private conversation with any one person or small group on Instagram. Now, with the introduction of Instagram Direct, we can have conversations on a more private level.

Many are speculating and stating that this was Facebook’s stab at SnapChat. Whether or not Facebook was bitter that SnapChat refused their exorbitant offer, this messaging feature has been in production for a while. And, even if it is a response to SnapChat, I’m grateful that it’s here and that we have another means to connect with Instagram users and develop more interpersonal relationships with our audiences.

In order to receive access to Instagram Direct, you will need to update your Instagram app to the latest 5.0 version. Upon updating your app, you should receive a notification much like this one:

You will now notice the little inbox icon in the top right corner of your home screen – this is the only place to access the inbox. Notifications will appear here when you receive new messages.

You can send direct messages to one person or a group of up to 15 people. There are two ways to generate a new message: through the inbox directly or through the regular upload process.

When you’re in the Instagram Direct inbox, you can click on the + symbol to generate a new message. Take a new photo or video or upload one from your gallery. Edit your post with filters as you normally would.

If you don’t use the Instagram Direct inbox, you can upload a photo or video from the in-app camera or your gallery. Edit your post with filters as you normally would.

You’ll notice that when you get to the caption stage, there are two tabs at the top of your screen: One for Followers and one for Direct. If you are going to send a post via Instagram Direct, you’ll want to make sure that the Direct tab is highlighted. If you decided you didn’t want to send this post privately, just click on the Followers tab, and the post will proceed as a normal post upload.

Add a caption and select the people to send the message to. Instagram will suggest users or you can begin typing a name in the search bar. When the name of the person appears in the list, click on their name and a green check mark will appear in their circle. Their image will also appear in the “To” field. You can select up to 15 people. Once complete, click the check mark in the top corner or “Send to (#)” button.

You cannot send text only messages. You must initiate a direct message via a photo or video post. Comments can continue on the post as text based conversation after the message is initiated.

But, if you wanted to respond to an original conversation with another photo or video, you cannot add a these to the conversation stream. You would have to start another message with your photo or video. This is one thing that I expect Instagram to improve upon and update in the future.

When you are in your inbox, you can see the messages in which you’ve participated. Any message with your name is a message that you initiated. If the message has someone else’s name, they initiated the message.

When viewing messages, the person who started the message will appear on the left. Everyone who was sent the message will have their image appear in the “To” field. Anyone who has not seen the message will remain faded. Anyone who has viewed the message will appear with a green check mark. And anyone who has viewed and commented on the message will appear with a blue chat icon.

Comments will appear beneath the post and profile pics of those in the conversation. Any comments left on the post are visible to everyone invited to the message. But only those in the message can view the comments and the post.

Technically, anyone can send you a direct message. Or, you can send a message to anyone.

If you want to send a message to someone you don’t follow, you need to know their username and type that into the search field. Their username and profile photo will appear and you can add them to the list of recipients.

However, if someone sends a message to someone they do not follow, the recipient will receive a message that this person is trying to send them a message. The sender’s name and profile photo will appear with the option to approve or decline the message. If you accept to receive this message from this sender, they will be able to send you messages again without your approval.

This is a good method for Instagram to control spam and messages from unknown users. However, be careful who you accept messages from. You don’t see a preview of the post prior to accepting and if you allow them in once, you automatically allow them in again. You can choose to block this user, however, if their messages become unwelcome in the future.

You can delete messages you have sent or delete certain comments from the thread of the conversation on a message you started. Clicking on the triple dot button or edit button will open a pop-up menu with options. Likewise, you can delete comments you made on another person’s message or hide their post using this menu.

I see a lot of potential for this feature and as I’ve been playing around with the functionality of it, I’m still pretty excited. There is, of course, concern about spam-a-lots like we see on Twitter where new followers receive automated messages that drive us all crazy. At this point, there is no automation available and Instagram users are purists who don’t like to see a lot of aggressive marketing tactics that we see on other platforms. I don’t expect us to see many brands spamming direct messaging in the near future, although everything is fair game at some point.

For Brands and Businesses

As brands or businesses, this new feature does offer some added benefits.

If you wanted to send exclusive discount codes or promotions to select users, you could take good advantage of this feature. But be careful not to overdo this and look spammy to your audience. If you run contests on Instagram, you could also communicate directly with winners via direct messaging.

This messaging system could also be used to resolve customer service issues that need to go beyond a public conversation. Or you can invite your customers to send you customer service or support requests via the messaging feature. If customers can send a short video showing how your product is not working, it could quickly be diagnosed and troubleshooted to repair the issue favorably for the customer.

There are other creative ways in which you can take advantage of this new feature. Be innovative and experiment with your business. And if you have questions about other ways you can use this, feel free to contact me!


There are definitely a few things that can be improved upon for this new feature. However, as an initial release and as an upgrade to my favorite platform, I love Instagram Direct!

Did you find this helpful? Please share:
  1. Great article Jen! Saw this feature and thought it was good but you did a great job highlighting some great business ways to use this new feature like sending out promocodes. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Marie! I’m glad you found some useful tips here. I hope you enjoy experimenting with the new feature!

  2. I had noticed this feature this last weekend. Thanks for the details; I’m going to have to play with this function.

  3. My direct message hasn’t been up since it waa updated. .it keeps shutting down. .I’ve reported n still no fix plz fix it. .ive even un installed n re installed plz fix

    1. I’m sorry to hear that Erica. I’m not aware of any issues or troubleshooting that would help resolve this for you. Keep trying to contact Instagram support and try uninstalling/re-installing until you can find a resolution. Sorry.

  4. If I send a direct message to someone on instagram, and then “hide” the message before they read it, will they still see it?

    1. Hi Ali. As the sender of the image, you hold the capacity to delete it. Once you have deleted an image, the recipient(s) will no longer be able to see it. Upon trying to view the message/image, they will receive an error message that states the image has been deleted. If they haven’t yet viewed the image, they will never see it. If they had viewed it but then you deleted, when they return to it, it won’t be there.

  5. What if I use someones name in a comment beneath a private picture without them being in the list of people who the message was sent to, will the person get a notification that I used there name? Will they be able to see the private picture and comments?

    1. I haven’t tried this Katherine, so I can’t be sure, but I do believe that, yes, if you mention someone in the conversation, they should receive a notification and see the conversation. If I find out otherwise, I will let you know.

  6. Question? When will Instagram show for a notification that somebody “saw” a photo vs. Liked a photo. Is this a feature that is only used for Direct? Just trying to clarify. Is there any other way it would notify that a photo has been seen other than in a Direct message?

    1. That is not a part of Instagram’s process, nor will it ever likely be. Only when you send someone a photo directly through the messaging can you confirm they saw it. Everything else is public (or available to all those approved to view your profile) and there is no way to track who sees what.

  7. HI ! I accidentally hit the “hide all from this user” and no I can’t see any of the dm’s that are being sent to me by this user. Can I undo this? I don’t see an option for that

    1. I’m not 100% sure about unhiding, Angelina, but if you go to that person’s profile, you should have the option to unblock (or unhide) the person. Find the three-dot-button (or maybe the gear button) on their profile to find this option.

  8. Would if I’m the one who started the DM, but hid it. Is there anyway I can go back to that same DM? Or once its hidden by the person who started it can never see it again?

    1. James, I believe that once you’ve hidden/deleted it, that it can not be retrieved.

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