Instagram Direct Hasn’t Caught On Because That’s Not What Instagram Is For
Six weeks since this feature launched I haven’t received one direct message, and I’ve sent only one merely as a test. I also haven’t heard or read anyone talking about it. Well, except Bieber appears to be using it. This got me wondering why.
The company hailed this feature as a way to share intimate moments with friends or family. Strategically this makes sense, especially considering the fervor over Snapchat. But this isn’t what we’ve been taught Instagram is for, thanks to a number of product decisions the company has made.
Product Design & Internal Triggers: Instagram’s tagline since early on has been “Fast, beautiful photo sharing”. For millions of us, it has become the product we turn to when we’ve taken a photo we want to show off. As Nir Eyal described back in April 2012, Instagram successfully attached their product to this internal trigger:
Users no longer require an external stimulus to use Instagram because the internal trigger happens on its own. As Yin said, “I just use it whenever I see something cool.”
This association is formed with our repeated usage, and is the result of a number of conscious product decisions:
- Prominence of filters to help you perfect your image before sharing
- Likes & comments as rewards for sharing a beautiful image
- Primarily public accounts rather than private
- A follower model, as opposed to friend, making the accumulation of followers another reward for great photos
- Ability to upload a photo from your camera roll, making it easier to select only the best photos to share
- View upon app open is a feed, serving as a discreet tutorial on what types of images Instagram is meant for
- Addition of an “Explore” tab allowing users to see some of the most popular photos on the service
If you take a bunch of photos on a vacation, you might post only 2 or 3 to Instagram. First you carefully select the best ones. Then for each: evaluate from 20 different filters + color correction + frame + soft focus; come up with a clever caption; maybe add some hashtags; name the location; then finally post. I’d be curious what the average cycle time for this is, but it is minutes not seconds.
Once you’ve gone through all of this perfecting, you’re left with an image you’re probably proud of. And once you share it, you’ve been trained that rewards in the form of likes and comments of admiration await. So by this point, sharing directly with only one person is a highly unlikely choice - doing so is counter to what we’ve learned Instagram is for.
Snapchat does none of this: The Snapchat product experience is the complete opposite, and is a good example of how excluding features can create an entirely different kind of experience and value proposition:
- View upon app open is your camera - the product wants you to capture the current moment.
- There are no filters. No hashtags. No marking your location. No sharing to other networks. There’s no obsessing over the photo. You can add a caption or a rough doodle, that’s it.
- The far fewer choices mean taking and sharing a photo happens in 3 steps vs. ~10 on Instagram.
- There’s no liking or commenting.
- Accounts are private and use a two-way friend model - you’re sharing with real friends, not a public audience.
- Core sharing is only with the individual(s) you select, not everyone.
- There’s no feed of popular images.
- There’s no option to upload from your camera roll.
- And, of course, images “self-destruct” after a max of 10 seconds.
People, especially those who’ve never used Snapchat, focus on the ephemeral nature of the photos as what makes Snapchat different. But all of these individual decisions combine to create a product that plays a very different role in a user’s life. With Instagram the internal trigger is the desire to share a beautiful photo people will love. Snapchat eschews the expectations of perfection, instead letting you share a brief glimpse into your real life - sans retouching - with a much more intimate audience. It is actually an experience far closer to texting than posting to Instagram, letting you communicate visually with your friends.