What Marketers Should Know About Instagram’s Shoppable Photo Tags

Instagram revealed a new feature earlier this month that many retail brands would love to jump into: taggable products, a new shopping experience inside the application.

Instagram revealed a new feature earlier this month that many retail brands would love to jump into: taggable products, a new shopping experience inside the application.

The taggable products feature allows users to tap the tags that are applied to photos. Apart from the usual tags, these will offer more details about the product. The even more awesome part is that this product view window will have a purchase link, which will redirect users to retailers’ own products pages, where they can complete their purchases.

InstagramShoppingWarbyParker from SocialTimes on Vimeo.

This means users can buy products they see on Instagram directly through the app, without having to search for those products in other windows.

Instagram vice president of monetization James Quarles said 60 percent of Instagrammers say they learn about products and services on the app, while 75 percent say they take actions like visiting sites, searching or telling friends after being influenced by posts on Instagram.

And according to the latest research from GlobalWebIndex, one-half of instagrammers research products on the social network.

As we see, Instagram is more than a place where users like and comment on other users’ photos–it is a great place to find new customers, too. And with the new taggable products feature, brands that use the platform have the opportunity to start making some real money.

But let’s delve into this topic and see if it’s something suitable for influencers and what brands should take advantage of it.

Instagram wants to develop a bigger shopping experience, including:

  • Product recommendations.
  • Different ways in which products are showcased to users.
  • Global expansion.
  • The ability to save content and take actions later.

Will Instagram become the largest mobile e-commerce platform? Well, it seems that this is its goal:

We want to understand how to deliver the most seamless shopping experience for consumers and businesses on Instagram and, ultimately, mobile.

When I first heard the news about taggable products, I began thinking about the two most important elements that can sell a product: the influencer and the brand. How will this feature be suitable for them? Who will use it? Who will get more money out of it? What will be the user experience like?

This is why I will try to share my personal opinion about this feature and what you should learn before you jump into it.

Influencers and taggable products

There are many users who try to hack Instagram to make money. The standard strategy is to upload a video or photo and write a description in which users are told to check the profile’s bio and click the link found there. There is also a simple way of tagging a brand in order to raise awareness on its Instagram profile.

But if influencers take advantage of this feature and forget about the user experience and why people are following them, they will take the spammy road. And we don’t want that to happen, right? I can only hope that I won’t see this kind of photos in my feed:



There is another thing we have to be careful about. How about including a small disclaimer when content is sponsored? Influencers work with brands and are getting paid to post on Instagram. Some use terms like “sponsored” or “ad” or “advertising” to let their users know the content is part of collaboration with a brand.

Do they have to tell their users that a post is sponsored? Or will the users understand that only by seeing the tagged products? The Kardashians know better.

Maybe Instagram thought about this situation and will take care of it. Or will it?

On the other side of this story are the brands. What does this new feature mean for brands on Instagram?

Instagram isn’t just a tool that can increase brand awareness anymore or an inspirational, educational or informational destination for users. It means that from now on, brands can start making real money using the app–something that Pinterest and Twitter already thought about a long time ago with Buyable Pins and the Buy Now button, respectively.

And as we can see lately, Instagram wants a bigger slice from the mobile industry: more content creation tools and convenience, more users, more engagement, more brands, more advertising opportunities and more money.

Even if Instagram is the world’s largest mobile ad platform, with more than 500 million monthly active users, it is aiming for something more.

I believe that in the future, we will see brands that we never imagined could benefit from taggable products. For example, think about this: How can a magazine like Time or publishers like Penguin Random House sell their magazines or feature shoppable products in their Instagram posts?

I want to outline the three questions that I’ve read about in Adweek’s article about Instagram’s latest feature.

Quarles said Instagram is launching this feature as a test, and it has three goals for it:

  • How easy is it to discover the tags?
  • How much value does it create for businesses?
  • How native does it feel for the users?

Now, let’s look at the main topics of these questions and see what they really mean for the Facebook-owned app:


At the beginning, Instagram was a tool with which you could edit a photo, apply a filter and upload it on your profile. You could also discover other users only if you used a certain hashtag, searched for it in the Explore tab or jumped into conversations via comments to photos uploaded by users you already followed.

Then people started using Instagram to discover new users who created beautiful content that resonated with their interests. Brands started using Instagram to more easily connect with mobile users and to be part of their lives (well, the part about being part of users’ lives is kind of hard, but not impossible).

Instagram realized that video was getting bigger and bigger on their network, so it started adding videos to Explore. This feature allowed users to find new content that they might be interested in.

It wanted to become even more personal, so it developed a new algorithm to determine which posts users see first, giving up on its reverse-chronological feed and becoming more like Facebook’s News Feed, based on what content users engage more with.

Finally, Instagram added Instagram Stories to Explore–again, the importance of discovery. But what about discovering the new taggable product feature?

Well, it seems like Quarles, Instagram and Co. are very interested on how the user will discover and experience it.

How easy is it to discover the tags? Think about this question in a more broad way. How easy is it to discover a new user? How easy is to discover a new place to visit? How easy is to discover a new community? How easy is to discover a great brand? How easy is to discover … ?

“Discover” was in Instagram’s DNA from the beginning, and it wants to integrate it into the business world and, more precisely, into the e-commerce world.

How easy will be to buy a product or service you just liked and discovered on Instagram?


How much value does the feature create for businesses? If you already know me and my style in talking about a feature, I want to see a deeper value not just on the business side, but also from the user’s side. How valuable is this feature for the user? If it’s something that a user will want, or need, or even desire, it will bring value for the business, too. And this depends on how brands start using taggable products.

This is not about who will kill who. Remember the story about how Instagram Stories will kill Snapchat? Well, Snapchat is still alive, and it’s doing great.

People don’t want to download another app. They want something better, easy to use and faster integrated in their familiar app. And this is what Instagram has done with their new feature: Give users the opportunity to use the app for something else.

I’m curious where this will lead the mobile industry and the advertising industry, but more than that, I’m curious about users’ behavior when it comes to creating, consuming and shopping through mobile.


How native does it feel for users? In fact, this is the real question that every app developer, product manager and chief marketing officer should think about.

It isn’t more important than value for the user, but it’s more important than the experience the user will have after using it.

We want things that come in handy, that are native. And today, the mobile phone is a native thing for our human behavior. Installing Facebook, Instagram, email or Spotify is something we do natively with our mobile phone. Charging it every day (or multiple times) because we need it is a native behavior.

Being native is hard work, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be done. So how native will this feature be for the user? We will see.

I’m the kind of marketer that didn’t install an ad blocker just so I could see what kinds of ads work better on different social media platforms. And in my daily research and scrolling, I see more native ads than stock photos with big, fresh, white smiles on top models’ faces. And guess what? These are banner ads, too, with more native behavior.

If you look at what Instagram showcases in its portfolio of case studies, you will see that the majority of ads have well-told stories with native photos or videos.

How native was it for users to use Instagram Stories? Just two months after the feature’s launch, there were more than 100 million MAUs. Why? Because it’s something native for them and for the platform.

This is how important being native is for Instagram when it comes to every single feature–even this new one!


Discover, value, native–the terms that any brand should start giving more importance to when they want to develop their Instagram marketing strategies.

I’m not scared about how users will use it, I’m not scared about how Instagram will make it, but I’m scared about how brands will take advantage of it by using it aggressively only to make money.

If you want to make money using social media, start building a straight bridge between your brand and your consumers—engagement, attention, relationship, customer care. These terms should be the first words you should have in mind when you are about to start your work day.

Robert Katai is a visual marketer and brand evangelist for online banner creator Bannersnack.