Instagram Taps Hashtags To Bundle Pictures; Brands Quickly Jump On Board

Did you come to the Crunchies? If so, did you use Instagram to take a picture? If so, did you hashtag it with anything? If you did, you helped create something cool, you just didn’t realize it.

One of the things that makes Instagram great is its simplicity. You take a picture, add a filter, upload, and then off you go to explore other pictures in the stream. Unfortunately, unless you happen to be looking at the stream around the time a picture is taken, you may never see it. Sure, Twitter, Facebook and other integration points help with this somewhat, but there simply hasn’t been a good way to surface older pictures on Instagram before. A new feature launching today may change that.

Instagram is launching hashtag support with the latest version of the app today. Users of Twitter will be well aware of the hashtag phenomenon, but it actually could end up being more useful in Instagram. The idea is the same: you tag any picture you take with a hashtag you want in the caption or comments for that picture. For example, a couple weeks ago I was on a wine tour in Napa with some friends. Many of us were using Instagram, and began using the #winowagon tag to mark our pictures (classy, I know). This allowed all the pictures to be grouped together and reside on their own special page laid out as small square thumbnails (see image above).

In other words, hashtags on Instagram give you a way to create photo albums. But they’re photo albums that anyone can add any picture to in realtime simply by tagging them. This is particularly useful for events, such as the Crunchies. People didn’t even realize they would be grouping photos together by using the hashtag, they were simply using them to send to Twitter. But now, thanks to this latest version of Instagram, there is a nice Crunchies album (below) to explore on Instagram.

You get to these albums by either clicking on the hashtag under a photo, or there’s a new search area in the profile tab of the app. Each hashtag also has its own RSS feed associated with it, so you can subscribe to certain tags you’re interested in.

And while this is a cool feature for users, brands may love this even more. Already at launch, Charity: Water, Brisk Iced Tea, NPR, Photojojo, and @joshjohnson are all using hashtags for various branding campaigns or events they’re running. For example, at SXSW this year, Brisk is offering to feature the best Instagram photos on their cans. If you use the hashtag #briskpic, you’ll be entered to win. As we’ve previously noted, brands are quickly starting to utilize Instagram in interesting ways.

Personally, I’m just excited that the #winowagon will now live on forever.

You can find the latest version of Instagram here in the App Store.