Social Media

Using ‘Instagram Direct’ for Ecommerce Marketing

Instagram, the photo sharing application owned by Facebook, just launched direct messaging.

Called Instagram Direct, users who follow each other can now send private messages containing photos or 15-second videos in a manner similar to Twitter’s direct message functionality. Instagram’s messages can be sent to individuals or groups of up to 15 people.

Instagram Direct

Instagram launched a direct messaging feature called Instagram Direct.

How Instagram Direct Works

Using the feature is very straightforward.

  • Take a photo or record a video and add optional effects, filters and a caption.
  • Tap “Direct,” which is an option on the screen.
  • Tap the names of followers you want to send the photo or video.
  • Tap “Send.”

A notification will appear in the upper right-hand corner of recipient’s screens letting them know they have received a private message.

9 Ideas for Ecommerce Merchants

Though primarily intended for individual use, retailers are not far behind in their efforts to leverage Instagram Direct for marketing purposes.

According to fashion blog Fashionista, clothing retailer Gap initiated a contest within two hours of the official announcement.

Gap Instagram Direct contest

Gap held a photo contest within two hours of the Instagram Direct announcement.

Use of the new feature is not limited to large retailers. Smaller commerce merchants that already use Instagram can promote their brand and products just as easily.

With that in mind, here are nine ideas to get you started.

  1. Hold a contest. Follow Gap’s lead and hold a contest among your followers. One popular contest already in use by retailers is to ask followers to take a photo of themselves using the product and submit it to the group. For example, Om Nom Nom Cookies, a boutique vegan cookie company, ran a contest where followers submitted a photo of themselves eating an omnomnom cookie. Winners were awarded a prize of a branded t-shirt.
  2. Announce a new product. What better way to let select groups of followers know about a new product than sending a private message containing a photo of the item. Though content sent via Instagram Direct cannot be shared to social networks like Facebook or Twitter, it is still a way to encourage further investigation and spark word of mouth. Include a link to your ecommerce store to make this easier.
  3. Feature a sale or special promotion. Introduce sale items or special promotions to select followers. Along with the photo, include an exclusive promo code. Time-limit the sale to incite immediate action.
  4. Launch an “insiders” program. Social commerce thrives on exclusivity. Some of your followers would presumably want to know about things taking place in your business — such as sales, special events, or new product announcements. You could also mine the collective intelligence of this group to get feedback on prospective new products, desired new features, shipping-related issues or customer service.
  5. Host a group chat or Q&A. Instagram Direct supports a chat function, which enables merchants to interact with followers in a threaded conversation. Alternatively, you could use chat to host a question and answer session.
  6. Manage customer service issues. Use the new feature to offer a more personal form of customer service where issues that need to be addressed “offline” can be dealt with in a more private, secure manner.
  7. Deepen relationships with your best customers. Identify your best customers who also follow you on Instagram and encourage them to send photos and videos to you. This could include images of the customer using your products, or something as simple as a happy moment in their lives. Since smaller businesses already have a close relationship with customers, this can be a way to further strengthen the relationship and make it more personal.
  8. Show behind the scenes photos. From time to time, send “behind the scenes” photos and videos to select followers. This serves as a way to humanize your business and build an even stronger bond.
  9. Reach a new demographic. Although Instagram is popular with people of all ages, it is especially appealing to a younger demographic such as teens and millennials. They are more active mobile device users and more likely to share their lives online. Instagram can be an attractive channel to reach this group.


The shift toward the use of visuals on the web and the continued growth of mobile devices are trends ecommerce merchants should pay attention to. With its 150 million users, Instagram has become a primary photo- and video-sharing destination.

Even though Instagram is already popular among retailers, with its focus on exclusivity and privacy, Instagram Direct is a new path for merchants to get closer to their customers and grow their businesses.

Paul Chaney
Paul Chaney
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