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Instagram DMs Move to Desktop - What Does This Mean for Users?
London, UK
Whalar's Will Rix looks at how Instagram's latest update indicates a further professionalisation of the platform's role within the marketing space

Starting last week, Instagram will be rolling out to ‘a small percentage’ of users the ability to send messages on Instagram via their desktop. Amongst other seemingly small, but significant updates, the Head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri has implied the trial is being put in place with the full intent of making it a permanent and global feature.

1) Background - Facebook has become the Platform

It is not news, or a bold claim, to say Instagram is leading the cultural charge of Facebook’s ‘family of apps’. It has over one billion users, attracts a highly dynamic and engaged audience, and is currently the preferred destination of influencer marketing by 89% of advertisers (bigcommerce). For all it’s popularity, Instagram’s ability to be nimble and adapt to the social media evolution has been essential to its sustained growth since 2010.

Everything from stories to carousels to swipe ups - each stage of Instagram’s journey of ‘self-refinement’ has proved decisive in both how we engage with the platform and how they’ve maintained their universal audience.

The next stage, moving key in-app features to their desktop version, will undoubtedly prove to be equally significant, regardless of how minor it may appear to the ‘average’ user.

2) Rivals in the Messaging Space

Earlier in 2019, Zuckerberg published a blog on Facebook, stating; ‘Today we already see that private messaging, ephemeral stories, and small groups are by far the fastest-growing areas of online communication.” In light of how Instagram attracts over 500 million daily Stories, following Snapchat’s earlier introduction of a similar format, Zuckerberg’s comments regarding private messaging imply an instant re-focus in this area.

Looking at private messaging amongst rival platforms, Digital Infomation World published an article in August 2019 that examined the user habits of the four largest (at the time) social media apps that provide direct messaging: Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. Of those four apps, using data from the research platform Cowen, they discovered, ‘Person-to-person messaging still gives an additional advantage to Snapchat over Instagram...users mostly use Snapchat for direct communication over any other application.”

According to the same study, Snapchat was found to be on top of Instagram in the case of “sharing content one to one”. The results showed that 46% selected Snapchat for this purpose; whereas, only 33% responded with Instagram. Snapchat’s popularity with Gen Zs and their fixation with rapid-fire content is also notable. Currently, 90% of Snapchat’s users are 13-24 (omnicore) and the total snaps (combined photos and videos) created every day from the entire platform is surpassing 3 billion (variety). Younger users prefer the messaging format as it is temporary - encouraging honesty without the fear of permanent evidence.

Although Snapchat’s 220 million user base is a fraction of Instagram’s 1 billion, (both Statista), the percentage of users returning to Snapchat for direct messaging continues to be a significant factor in the app’s maintained popularity. This view does not detract from Instagram’s role as the king of visual; however, it reminds us that consumers have continued to use other social media platforms to contact someone directly.

3) The Update - Benefits for Marketers and Influencers

Culturally, few would have predicted Instagram’s rise. From its photo-sharing core identity, into a global and professional platform that many of us have built careers out of. The move to key features into desktop symbolises Instagram’s transition from an app built around entertainment, into a platform that also prioritises utility and efficiency.

For communication, it won’t just benefit those who work in influencer marketing - it further democratises forms of direct communication for the media industry. Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger, as well as Apple’s iMessage, all have desktop versions, so it should come as little surprise Instagram is following suit. For us humble media servants, we can embrace a user-friendly format that can separate our laptops from our phones. We can check Instagram for professional purposes, send and receive DMs, contact sources and reach out to new talent. We will be able to do all this without being distracted by having to reach for our phones, and use it as a tool to (sort of) separate work and play.

For the user experience, the direct message will be replicated through the browser from mobile. Anyone with an account will be able to start new groups, directly chat with another user from the DM screen or from a profile page. Your entire inbox will also be available - including how many unread messages you have, the ability to ‘like’ messages by double-tapping and share photos from the desktop. If you enable notifications for the Instagram site in your browser, you will receive desktop notifications as you would on your phone.

4) Closing Statements

Six years after rolling out the direct messaging feature, this update makes sense as an evolution of how the app is now being used by many people in the creative industries. For those who use Instagram as a professional portfolio, the update underpins Instagram’s service as a platform for visual careers. Perhaps it cannot completely mimic Snapchat’s ephemeral messaging identity, but in many ways that is not how the platform now operates. With this update, the platform is instead playing to its strengths - creating a seamless experience that services the professional, and every day, user.

With regards to the popularity of messaging, in times of public uncertainty over digital rights and image, more of us are turning to the safety of messaging for day to day publishing. Group chats provide safe spaces and private Story interaction continue to satisfy our infatuation with ephemeral content. Instagram’s focus on streamlining one-to-one content is a move to solidify its position as Facebook’s app for the future across all forms of social media.

How will the rest of the industry react? Let us know at Banner content from @joelrobison

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