While everyone has been focused on Snapchat, and in a continued quest for Facebook Inc. to own social messaging, Instagram has quietly updated it's commenting features so that when you tag someone in the comments of a post, it defaults to a private message (image below). Since the infancy of Instagram, before direct messaging was available, the easiest way to share a post was to tag a person in the comments. Even after the introduction of direct messages, users favored tagging people in the comments vs. sending direct messages because it required fewer steps and people often forgot to check their inbox.
Facebook Inc. is essentially diversifying its messaging ecosystem -- recently Facebook created an independent Facebook Messenger app which has 900M users, and Facebook purchased WhatsApp, which has 1B users. With this update, Instagram aims to make it easier for people to have private conversations, but reactions to the update have been mixed.
What does this mean for brands? Expect to see fewer tags on your post, which could have a negative effect on the overall reach of content. Hopefully, Instagram will introduce analytics for direct messages -- otherwise, brands won't know how many times a post has been shared.