Instagram’s instant messaging – a no-brainer innovation?

instagramInstant messaging has been on the rise in recent years, as a way to keep people using social networks, but also to help maintain privacy for users. For instance, it is widely known that social networks have had problems, such as Facebook with its trouble keeping its teen audience.  They are therefore moving towards using mobile messaging services. It is therefore not surprising that a report from Gigaom suggests that Facebook-owned Instagram may be working on its next big feature – instant messaging.

Do they need to innovate with such a feature?

The short answer is yes. The timing is actually quite interesting particularly with the likes of Snapchat supposedly declining a $3 billion offer from Facebook. However, the feature will be a good way for it to keep its user base engaged and deter them from going to the competition.

What we should focus on though, are the teens that are gravitating towards them. We live in a world of ‘instant’ technology whereby young people in particular are living their social lives in a predominantly virtual manner. What instant messaging offers is chatting with people that you probably know in real-time. According to mobileYouth, 78% of teenagers and young people use mobile messaging services to plan their meet-ups with friends. Perhaps the added reports of testing group messaging is a sensible one.

Privacy is also a big issue. Think of the ‘Selfie culture’ that dominates Instagram (#Selfie bought up 58,653,564 hits!). In fact, almost half the photos on Instagram feeds among the 14-21 year olds are selfies according to mobileYouth. Will they post them to Facebook? Of course not.  It’s much easier and safer to send them via Instant messaging apps and avoid comments from friends that aren’t their friends or even their parents.

However, this space is pretty crowded already. Whatsapp now has more than 350 million monthly active users which makes it the biggest messaging app in the world. Then there’s Facebook’s own dedicated messaging app, Snapchat, Kik, iPhone messages, BBM and so on. Will adding yet another option for users make them the preferred instant messaging service of choice? Probably not. But Instagram has always lacked a way to communicate with others so it might be a very welcome feature. Facebook may even integrate it with theirs to expose it even further and use it as a means to bring those teens back, but into a safe and private environment.

Overall, I think this move makes sense. Instagram has evolved over time and is now more than just a photo-sharing service.  The new features will allow users to connect further, giving users the ability to share their photos in a more private way, whilst potentially giving them the freedom to communicate with their friends all in one app. Of course any new app update may be met with some anger, especially when talking about the loved, simple design Instagram already has. Only time will tell.

Jonathan Gaiger is community manager at Spinnaker.