December 12, 2013, 8:09 PM — You might think of Instagram's new private messaging feature as a way to share certain photos with just your best friends. But Instagram -- and the Kardashians -- have other ideas about how the tool could be used to serve up promotional content.
On Thursday, the photo-sharing app announced "Instagram Direct" -- a way for people to send photos and videos only to selected recipients, even if they aren't connected to each other on the service. Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom described it as a way to better share photos around common interests, or with a more intimate group of friends.
In addition, Instagram gave a lot of thought to how brands might want to use the tool, Systrom said during a meeting with the press in New York City. A good amount of that thinking stemmed from the company's larger, ongoing monetization efforts, he said.
At least one brand is already interested. Shortly after the feature's announcement, Kourtney, Kim and Khloe Kardashian of reality TV fame got in on the action with a promotion tied to their Kardashian Collection fashion and jewelry line. The promotion is open to anyone following the "KardashianKollection" Instagram account. Fifteen lucky followers will be sent, via Instagram Direct, a private "behind the scenes" photo from the line's 2014 campaign shoot if they repost the promotional message with the hashtag #KKDirect. Winners were announced Thursday at 7 p.m. Eastern.
The idea, of course, is for more people to sign up for the brand's Instagram feed, which is filled with photos of high-heeled shoes, shiny bracelets and handbags. With more than 620,000 people following the feed already, the Kardashians' post has generated thousands of likes and hundreds of comments.
The speed at which the Kardashians capitalized on Instagram's new functionality is impressive. And it shows how important the tool might be for brands that want to attract more followers and deliver promotional content to specific people.
Systrom called out some similar types of applications during the event on Thursday. "Imagine you are a brand and you want to get submissions for a contest. Or you are a brand and you want to do a call to action to submit for a website collection," Systrom said. "You can actually say to all your followers, 'Hey, send us a photo.'"
It could work both ways. In the Kardashians' case, they're the ones sending the photo, but the goal is still to build brand engagement.