Adding the tags seems simple enough, as Instagram’s blog lays out: The next time you want to make it seem like Dasani or Poland Spring or even Hydro Flask is sponsoring your low-res photo of a water bottle, just move past the filtering and editing screens, and hit the “Add tag” button that crops up under the photo. Tag that sucker with the bottle brand of your choice (or, well, anything really), hit the “Products” tab in the right hand corner, and cycle through the resulting list until you find the bottle/product that’s presumably in your photo. Maybe you want to tag Shein in the night’s fit or HomeGoods in your living room decor. Once you’re done, just tap the photo to add the tag, and bam, there you go—you’ll have one of those tags smack dab on the middle of your photo, just like your favorite influencer. And just like those posts, Instagram says that once a user taps the name of that product, they will be directed through a “product detail page” where they can buy those wares directly in the app.
What’s less clear is why, exactly, you’d want to tag these brands. In its announcement, Instagram notes that creators and influencers have used these tags to “[share] how they use and style their favorite products on Instagram and inspiring their communities,” and that ostensibly, by using these same tags, you can “inspire” your followers, too.
But spon-con serves a pretty specific purpose, and it’s not “inspiring.” It’s getting paid. Most of the promoted products you’re seeing on your feed are driving cash into the pockets of the creators promoting, say, a specific water bottle or a certain brand of eyeliner, via Instagram’s affiliate program. When sales get made through the platform’s affiliate links, creators get a cut of the total profit—and presumably Instagram does, too.
While these tags have now rolled out to everyone, the affiliate program hasn’t, and that means the digital checks haven’t either. Though the program debuted last summer, the page for it says still that it “is not yet widely available,” and that interested influencers-to-be should “check back [on the page] for updates!” So, for the time being, it looks like the newly announced tagging program is just a way to clutter your feed with more branded content, but for free.
We’ve reached out to Instagram about these new tags, but the company hasn’t issued a response yet. Personally, we’d suggest steering clear. If you’re going to be bringing brands into your “inspirational posts,” the least you can do is earn a few dollars from it.