Today Instagram launches photo tagging, the feature that fueled Facebook’s early growth. New Instagram iOS and Android updates rolling out now let you tag any person or brand in your own photos, which then automatically show up in the “Photos Of You” section of their profile. You get notified when you when you’re tagged, can require approvals before photos hit your profile, and have the option to detag yourself.
Instagram tells me a year of work went into building the new tagging and Photos Of You section. Until now, people just @mentioned each other in the comments of photos as a hack. However, this didn’t make them much easier to keep track of, you couldn’t say exactly who’s who, and they weren’t hosted together anywhere. The new features are designed to help you more vividly capture moments, build a collection of photos you’re in, and create a curated photo history of yourself on your profile. The Photos Of You section of each person’s profile will remain unpublished until May 16th, giving you time to select whether you want to allow open tagging by any Instagram user, or prefer to pick and choose which appear on you profile.
Photo tag notifications could boost engagement and return visits to Instagram. Photos Of You gives people and brands a new way to curate their Instagram presence, and businesses can show off user-taken photos of them. The data about who tags who and who you’re tagged with could help Instagram provide a more personalized experience or power new forms of discovery. And perhaps one day, businesses might pay to more prominently show photos you’ve taken of them to your followers.
Clicking through reams of tagged photos of friends is an incredibly popular and engaging activity on Facebook. By giving Instagram its own version way to encourage these deep dives into someone’s life, it’s taking expanding beyond real-time and putting its goldmine of older content on display. Instagram’s focus has been on photos for so long, but these new features see it trying to put a new focus on identity.
That’s the gist of the new features, and there’s a video showing them off, but now let’s look closer at how they work.
How To Use Instagram Photo Tags
Once you’ve got the latest version 3.5 of your iOS or Android Instagram app, you’ll be able to go to your profile and check out your Photos Of You section. You can select free tagging so every shot tagged with you shows up there, or pre-approvals so you have to approve them before they appear. People who don’t get tagged often will probably be okay with automatic additions to their profile, but brands and celebrities that get tagged often may want to choose pre-approvals so they can offer a manicured presence on Instagram. Instagram has more privacy tips available in its Help Center.
Once you’ve made your decision, and skimmed through any photos of you that have been tagged since the new feature launched today, you can publish your Photos Of You section, similar to how Facebook gave people a curation period to scan their Timeline. On May 16th, whether you’ve published it or not, you Photos Of You Section will begin appearing in your profile.
When you go to upload a photo, you’ll get the option to tap on people or brands they show. You can then search for their name and tag them. Instagram also lets you go back and add tags to your old photos. You can tag anyone, not just people you follow, who follow you, or are your Facebook friends, but you can only add tags to your own photos, not anyone else’s.
Facebook sees the uploader as the story-teller. People will tag their friends, celebrities they spot, or brands that appear in their photos. Brands meanwhile might tag associated businesses or public figures. For example, the San Francisco 49ers might tag individual players in its photos.
When people browse their feed, they’ll be able to tap a photo to reveal who or what’s tagged in it. By hiding the tags by default, the sanctity of your phone-tography is preserved. If you get tagged in a photo you’re allowed to see (any public photo or private photo of someone you’ve been allowed to follow), you’ll get a notification. You’ll get the option to remove or not approve the photo if you don’t want it on your profile, detag it if you don’t want to be associated with it, or report it if it’s a serious problem.
The Future’s In The Photo Graph
Each time you get notified that you’ve been tagged, you’re likely to immediately go check out the photo on Instagram. It’s this same viral reengagement technique that helped Facebook grow so quickly in its early days. Instagram already has over 100 million users, but this could get them spending more time with the app. It also might draw in new users who want to be able to see where they’ve been tagged.
Instagram tells me it hasn’t thought too much about the long-term monetization or data use implications of the features, but they’re sure to help it. Knowing who you get tagged with or who you tag could let it eventually serve you more relevant ads. Tags of brands could power a Sponsored Stories that amplify your word-of-mouth mention of them to more of your friends. Perhaps Instagram could pin these Sponsored Tags at the top of your followers’ feeds, or show them multiple times. Businesses might buy these ads to get more followers themselves. Mark Zuckerberg said yesterday on Facebook’s earnings call that there’s still no immediate plans to put ads on Instagram. That makes sense, as Facebook wouldn’t want to knee-cap growth when Instagram is still adding so many users per month.
As most people can attest, pretty photos of sunsets and latte art are nice, but it’s photos of people that are truly engaging. That’s why these changes could supercharge Instagram, and make it more than just today’s photo feed. With Photo Map and now Photos Of You, Instagram is becoming your photo life.
Read my follow-up: The Trouble With Identity’s Late Arrival On Instagram