Picture this: You’re on a girls trip with a group of your closest friends, sitting around a table of $15 cocktails, editing a glass-clinking Boomerang for your Instagram story, when one of your friends asks, “Can you soft tag me in that?” An internet savvy term you’d never heard of before, could it be?
Soft-tagging is the art of subtly including your friends’ username in an Instagram story so that it’s barely noticeable or seen. It’s also referred to as subtle tagging, blind tagging, hidden tagging, and ghost tagging, and has apparently been around since the Facebook era of ’08, according to Urban Dictionary. This tactic allows the person tagged to repost the story without drawing attention to the text, since that could ruin the intended ~aesthetic~. A group photo where everyone’s showing off their new outfits? Instagram story gold. A Boomerang with usernames so big it almost blocks your friends’ cocktail glasses? Definitely not the vibe. Thankfully, there are a few ways to execute a flawless soft tag.
For one, you can type in a friend’s username and use the paint dropper tool to match that text with the background color. Then, pinch the words until they’re so tiny you can barely spot them in the photo or video. There’s something fun about having a little color-coded secret. If you want to soft tag on the go, simply type your friend's username and drag it off screen — but avoid the trash can. That will keep them tagged but invisible.
Soft tagging someone gives them the ability to soft repost, aka they can add your photo to their story and zoom in to hide their username, making it appear as if they took the photo themselves. This saves them the time it would take to edit a photo, while still allowing them to post about what they’re doing.
The soft tag is the latest IG trend feigning effortlessness. Think back to the soft launch, a trend that’s gained popularity in the last year, in which someone will hint at a new beau without explicitly showing their face or revealing their identity. (Maybe we see their shadow on date night, some PG hand holding, or a blink-and-you-miss-it video reveal.) Or the ever-popular photo dump, which tend to include blurry photos and screenshotted memes to seem super casual, but are probably as curated as any other post.
For many, these trends allow for aesthetic curation, sure, but they’re also an example of setting boundaries. Users are deciding how much information to give their followers, and some are opting to keep details private, creating a sizable divide between their online persona and IRL existence. After all, what’s the harm in erring on the side of “plandid” over candid? If the former is your goal, a soft tag is always there for you. But if you want everyone to know exactly who’s there — and which VSCO-edited cocktail they’re drinking — go all in on the hard tag. Because ultimately it’s up to you.