There's still no advertising on Instagram, but a new photo-tagging feature offers marketers new tricks to vie for users' attention.
Dubbed "Photos of You," the feature lets you tag other Instagram users, whether they're people or brands, directly in photos. It functions similarly to photo tagging on Facebook, Instagram's corporate parent. Previously, Instagram users who wanted to link another user to their photo would take the Twitter-like approach of @-mentioning them in the attached text.
The key difference is that tagging will now create an archive of photos that can be viewed on any user's profile -- provided they've granted permission for them to appear there. Wary of the blowback Facebook has been subject to over the years because of party photos inadvertently becoming visible to parents and prospective employers, Instagram has built controls into "Photos of You" that let users manually choose which tagged photos will be visible to others.
By adding the Facebook-like convenience of being able to peruse every photo of people of interest in one place, Instagram hopes it can prompt even more engagement among its already fervent fan base. Photo tagging also results in more notifications that could oblige people to open the app more frequently.
For brands who are already active on Instagram, the new feature could help drive follower counts and foster more personal connections with fans. For example, Nike could tag photos with sponsored athletes like LeBron James (who has 2.3 million followers), which could increase user engagement. And brands that urge users to submit photos of their products through contests can now dangle the carrot of adding the best submissions to their profiles, where those photos would get more exposure.
User growth remains the priority for Instagram, which currently has no ad products. That hasn't stopped celebrities like Nicole Richie and Mr. James from using their accounts to promote their sponsors, but Instagram isn't seeing a dime of the celebrities' earnings.
Noting that Instagram has 100 million monthly active users, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on Wednesday's earnings call that big brands have approached Instagram about advertising, but the time isn't right.
"They're really doing well and growing quickly, and that is the right focus for them," he said.