Who will win?

Who will win the private messaging war?

Over the last three days, we’ve finally had confirmation that the move toward private messaging is not fleeting – even if your Snapchat messages are. On Tuesday, Twitter announced it’s added images to Direct Messages and today Instagram launched Instagram Direct, a new way to send private photo and video messages to friends.


Mobile only DM photos on Twitter

For the first time in its 7 year history, Twitter has allowed for photos to be sent via direct message. For ease of use, it has also changed the navigation bar and added a new tab so it is easier to access DMs – a perfect way to facilitate a higher use of DMs. You can only use this functionality on the mobile, unfortunately, so no tweeting memes and Ryan Gosling photos to your friends from your desktop.


Isn’t this just what Path attempted to do?

Yes and no. It built its entire platform on the idea that we only want to share and communicate with 50 people. But sometimes we want to share something with the whole world, and other times just a select few – the ones you know will get the joke if no one else does. Instagram Direct is a great solution for a growing community who wants just that.


So what is Instagram Direct?

Instagram Direct is a whole other ballgame and elevates the photo sharing community to a communications platform. With 150 million people around the world using the app to share images and videos, it’s not surprising that they are jumping on the private messaging trend and allowing for its users to communicate to small groups of followers.

According to the Instagram blog, you’ll now see a new icon in the top right corner of your home feed which is your inbox. That’s where the direct photos and videos that people have sent to you will be stored.

To send a photo or video to specific people, you’d do the same as you would for any photo or video (filters included). At the top of the share screen, you’ll see the option to share with your followers (“Followers”) or to send to specific people (“Direct”).

To send using Direct, tap the names of the people you want to send your photo or video to, write your caption, tap “send” and you’re done. In addition to seeing likes and comments, you’ll also be able to see who has viewed your photo. If you receive an image or video from someone you don’t follow, it will be sent to your requests so you can choose whether you want to view it or not.

There are only alerts for when you receive photos at present, so you will have to check back to see if someone has added a comment or interacted with you. Hopefully something that will be addressed in the next update.


But how can brands take advantage of these new messaging features?

As the popularity of WhatsApp, WeChat and Snapchat has grown and the fear of teens leaving Facebook even more so, what will brands do now that they can’t take part in our private conversations? Listening aside, private messaging through photos and video may give a huge advantage to brands for those surprise and delight moments or, more importantly, for better customer service.

A quick video with a fan’s favorite celebrity sent directly to them or a photo of a surprise package on its way to them, can give that moment of delight especially as it’s just for them. Photos of customer service issues – or solutions – can be easily exchanged right where a customer likes to interact with a brand.


The value of consumer data

As consumers begin to understand the value of their data, will public feeds be the new home of the worst of the internet? Will it be riddled with listicles, chain letters, and those feel good cartoons shared by your aunt? It looks that way. As brands fight for space, quality and relevance are more important than ever.

Knowing that private messaging will only continue to grow over next year, brands need to allow for their content to be sharable in private ways. For instance, Dead Yourself, an app that allows you to turn yourself into your favorite Walking Dead Zombie, has found a huge percentage of the photos created being shared by SMS. So by including SMS and other private messaging platforms into your apps, you can ensure greater use of your content.

By using short codes (that may or may not be included by the user), you can track how the message comes back to the app and if that post brought in more users. But that brings us to a bigger issue. How do we measure?


Analytics! Measurement! Listening! What now?

Unfortunately, a walled garden is that way for a reason. You can’t look in. So instead of being able to analyze all conversations in the social space, the more we move to private messaging the more in the dark we’ll be.

This is not meant to put fear into the hearts of all brand managers everywhere. We talk to our friends over dinner, we text our siblings, we call our moms at least once a week (or should!). These conversations live outside the social space. People will still communicate openly, especially to brands, but they now have more opportunity to communicate in the way they are most comfortable with, in the places they love to be in.

For the platforms themselves, will they mirror websites and move to a “time on app” metric to show engagement? To show the value to brands, they will have to but for now, this is about user behavior rather than advertising opportunities.


What about SnapChat?

Snapchat is what it was a week ago. An app to allow for quick off the cuff messages you never want to be seen again. Brands like Doritos are having fun playing with disappearing messages but will they need to if they have a bigger following elsewhere? Will Snapchat be able to stand up to the other platforms? Or will it regret not taking the buyout from Facebook or Google.

If Snapchat can find an edge, then yes. Perhaps by allowing users to create groups for one tap group messaging they can stay ahead of the curve. Or maybe they will allow integration with other photo platforms (like the native phone itself) so people can share a wider range of photos and videos in private.


It will be interesting to see what the increase in private messages will do to our public ones. In the next six months, we’ll be able to see the greater effect of the increase of private messaging options. In the last hour, I’ve already received 4 direct messages on Instagram. Will it just be a novelty, or is this an indication of how we will continue to move back to one-to-one conversations in the future.