Instagram for Brands: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Every brand on Earth is chomping at the bit to place official ads on the rapidly growing Instagram, but parent company Facebook continues to proceed with extreme caution.

While Mark Zuckerberg says he is very encouraged by the expansion of the image-sharing network, he clearly does not plan to open the commercial floodgates until he’s good and ready. In his own words, Instagram must first focus on “build[ing] community” before determining how best to use its considerable potential as an ad/marketing forum. We can see why Zuckerberg prefers to take low-risk baby steps, no matter how impatient advertisers may be.

In the meantime, brands and their social media teams should be quite happy to learn that they do have more promotional options on Instagram thanks to the newly introduced function “photos of you,” which allows users to tag any other existing account—be it a friend, a celebrity, a local business, or a big-name brand—in their own pics. Amateur lensmen and brand managers alike will receive notifications when others tag them, and they can then choose whether to display these images on their own public feeds.

Can you say “pre-approved user generated content?”

This new policy brings Instagrammers closer to their favorite brands. If, for example, a user takes some of those (in)famous brunch photos, he or she could tag friends as well as the venue and any relevant products—visible or invisible. We have a feeling that thousands of everyday objects will now find themselves labeled “Nike” and “Justin Bieber,” but that’s another issue entirely.

“Photos of you” could well resolve the brand’s content usage issues. Fans initially freaked out at the possibility of having their pictures appropriated for commercial purposes, but now the power is in their hands—they can name-check brands on their feeds if and only if they so desire. Most importantly, no one will unexpectedly see his or her own face popping up in future marketing campaigns. Crisis averted.

Not only does this shift make the Instagram experience more personal for users; it also grants community managers easy access to a sea of potentially priceless branded content.

Now, about those ads…