Instagram Now Lets You Tag Friends, Brands And Selfies (Of Course)

If you've got a lot of selfies, your tapping finger is in for a major workout. Today, Instagram pushed version 3.5 of its app to the iOS App Store and Google Play — and it's a big one for brands and users alike. 

Instagram 3.5 adds the ability to tag other Instagrammers in the photos you take. Unlike Facebook, where photo tagging has been routine for years, Instagram devotees have relied on a bare-bones system of @tags in the comments section below photos to give other users the heads-up that a given image is relevant to them.

I asked an Instagram rep if the new tagging feature is a play for making more money off mobile use — a revenue stream Facebook has square in its crosshairs. The company denies it: "At this time Instagram isn’t focused on monetization. [Instagram] rolled out this new feature because it was a missing piece to let people tell their stories... and to make it easier to add people and things to photos."

According to Instagram's business blog:

Photos of You also gives people a new way to explore photos of your business or brand. People can now add their favorite band to their concert photos from last night, the clothing brand they’re currently wearing or the coffee roaster who brews their morning cup of coffee. As a business or brand, Photos of You gives you a new way to curate and share the photos that best showcase your brand your brand[sic] as documented by your biggest fans.

Instagram's Biggest Update In, Well, As Long As We Can Remember 

Instagram hasn't made many major overhauls to its winning formula since launching in October 2010. Over the course of the last year, the app has trickled in a few new photo filters, a map view and a web interface, but not too much has changed — even after the great Instagram ToS debacle of last December.

Considering the level of loyalty that the company enjoys — particularly when compared to peers like its oft-disdained parent company — not tinkering with its recipe is smart. But, happily, so is this update.

Since version 3.5 was a simultaneous launch across platforms, Android and iPhone users eager to get their tag on can download the new app now. Update 3.5 also boasts improvements to image quality for photos uploaded on Android 4.0 and above (a relief for any Instagrammers who wonder why those Android photos never look quite right). 

Once you've got it downloaded, a pop-up will point to the new section, which lives on the far-right profile button (click the little image that looks like a driver's license).

In the profile view, you'll be greeted with a very Facebook-like silhouette of a person, again on the far right. This "photos of you" section compiles exactly that, though it will remain private until May 16 to give you time to pick your best selfie angles and curate accordingly. 

Why Brands Should Be Taking Notes

While other recent feature tweaks haven't shaken things up too much for Instagram, version 3.5 has all the trappings of a game-changer. Users will be pleased to have photos taken of them heaped into one neat little memory pile, while brands should be thrilled with their higher visibility on the young advertising platform. With photo tagging enabled, Instagram's platform should provide some unique perspectives on brand reach and the demographics of who is engaging and why. 

Plenty of brands have launched heavy-handed hashtag campaigns in an effort to figure out what makes Instagram users — ahem, potential customers — tick. Now, with the tagging feature, Instagram users will have a natural incentive to tag not just the "who", but the "what" and "where," too. Which should, in turn, spur more businesses to rev up their Instagramming.

But just remember, brands: Keep it real. An awkward hashtag is a fate worse than a grainy, Hefe-filtered selfie.