Social giant Instagram (owned by Facebook) recently announced a new feature on the popular picture-sharing app.

Social giant Instagram (owned by Facebook) recently announced a new feature on the popular picture-sharing app.

Instagram will now allow users to send pictures and video messages privately through Instagram Direct. The new direct-messaging capabilities allows users to share and show photos and videos in real time with all their friends and followers.

This capability was formerly almost exclusive to competitor Snapchat, which Facebook attempted to acquire twice earlier this year. Previously, Instagram users were limited to posting pictures and comments within a simple, image-based news feed. The crucial difference between the two apps remains Snapchat's blink-and-you-miss-it content. Pictures and videos sent via Snapchat only last for up to 10 seconds, depending on what the sender chooses.

How does Instagram Direct work?

The Instagram Direct process is simple: Tap the camera button on the app interface to select an image. Choose the option to send your photo or video to a group (Followers) or someone specific (Direct) then hit "send." Users who "follow" each other can send images or video to up to 15 people as a direct, private message.

After that, you can see who has seen your photo or video, who has liked it, and who has made comments in real time using the Instagram platform you already know! Also, as always, you will have the ability to view photos and videos people are sending you from your inbox, and the ability to choose whether or not to view it.

Importantly, the privacy settings established by each Instagram user also apply to the Instagram Direct update. Users who are set to "private" must first allow someone to follow them before they can accept a direct message. A profile set to private will receive a Direct Instagram in the form of a request, which they must first accept.

With Instagram Direct, all pictures sent and received via direct message stay in the "Direct" mailbox. Because of this, users can like and comment on the direct messages, adding further opportunities for engagement.

What does Instagram Direct mean for businesses?

With this new development, users (especially business owners) can now share everything. From photos of your restaurant's new perfectly-made pizza to videos of your construction crews in action, users can take advantage of sharing abilities on the already massive (150 million worldwide) Facebook/Instagram network.

"Instagram Direct affords businesses a new opportunity to connect with existing followers in a more personal way," said Meg McDevitt, Social Media Strategist. "This update allows businesses to re-engage with their existing fan base in a new and fun way."

Brands may soon utilize Instagram Direct to notify winners of a contest, share news of a sale, or to help deliver hyper-targeted content. The possibilities are endless, and will depend on the adoption of this newest update by the general public.

Propel Marketing is an online marketing company providing digital solutions to local small- and medium-sized businesses. www.propelmarketing.com