Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
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How to gain 10,000+ followers a day, and other Instagram insights from the BBC, Economist and Bloomberg

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BBC News’ Instagram account went from 4.4M to 10M followers in less than a year and a half, becoming one of the world’s largest breaking news accounts on Instagram. On average, they gained more than 10,000 new Instagram followers every day between April 2018 to October 2019, and peaked at more than 21,000 new followers in a single day. 

One of the keys to its success, according to Ciara Riordan, Assistant Editor at BBC News, is consistent and regular posting of content. 

“Bigger audience over the weekend”

The BBC News’ social news team creates two IG Stories every day, Monday through Friday. The first is the ‘News daily’ morning story highlighting the top three stories of the day. The other one is usually the most interesting story of the day. For example, it could be a Brexit explainer, or a feature story about how climate change is impacting Antarctica’s emperor penguins. The team also publishes at least 6 additional posts a day, a mix of video and photos.

Riordan told the Facebook Journalism Project, “Through testing, we discovered that the time of day for posting didn’t affect growth in engagement or followers, but we did notice that we have a bigger audience over the weekend despite most news happening during the week. Our audience has more time to watch our videos, view our stories, swipe back to the website to read more, and go to the link in our bio to look at other stories.”

Bloomberg, whose Instagram account saw a 391% increase in followers during 2018 (currently 1.5M) creates video features specially for the weekend. According to its former Senior Social Editor, Kevin Young (now with the Economist), “We developed a weekend video strategy where we run feature-based material for Saturdays and Sundays, when people had more time to watch it.”

Viewing figures rose and many of our most successful clips are the ones we run on weekends. We’ve developed the “5 big stories” sequence on Saturdays and Sundays, which takes 10 of our most popular articles of the week and presents them for an Instagram audience. We’re regularly generating clickthrough rates of 25% for these Stories.

Kevin Young, former Senior Social Editor, Bloomberg

Young added, “We also use polls to produce simple quizzes, encouraging followers to swipe through to the website for the answers, and regularly publish Instagram Stories to promote our best articles.”

“Often our most successful traffic-driver”

The BBC News’ social team also noticed that people like to engage with Instagram stories. So every Friday, they post a news quiz that allows people to test their own news knowledge from the week. A few readers have said it’s their favorite story, according to Riordan.

Quizzes are a regular feature at The Economist as well. Instagram editor Ria Jones told Journalism.co.uk, “We’ve been creating a weekly news quiz for a couple of years and that is often our most successful traffic-driver.”

The publisher also uses Instagram’s multi-poll option. “When Instagram developed the multi-poll option, that freed us from the constraints of a two-way multiple-choice poll. This function is great at increasing engagement whilst gauging our audience’s response to the subject matter,” added Jones. 

When asked what has worked and what still needs tweaking, Francesco Zaffarano, The Economist’s Instagram producer (now with The Telegraph), told Journalism.co.uk, “We want to diversify our production between stories that are self-contained and stories that can lead to a more developed piece of content. We have also seen that quiz and polls stickers drive shares and this is another feature we want to experiment with in the future.”

The Economist’s most engaging post, with over 129,000 likes, according to SocialBakers, was a contest to pick this year’s Comedy Wildlife Photography Award.

“An uptick in more than a million followers”

The publisher which currently has 4.5M followers on Instagram, decided to ramp up its Instagram posting in April. It has been making around 50 posts a week since September, compared to 4 in March

Among its new initiatives is “Weekend Reads” on Instagram Stories. The feature showcases six of The Economist’s best articles every Sunday using images, illustrations, graphics, audiograms and slideshows, to encourage repeat visits.

“This has led to an uptick in more than a million followers in the last six months. In October, the Instagram account pulled ahead of LinkedIn for monthly referrals for the first time,” reported Digiday.

64% teenagers prefer consuming news via pictures and video

It makes sense for publishers to strengthen their presence of Instagram as it could become a meaningful channel for reaching digital-native audiences. According to a Common Sense Media survey, 54% of US teens between ages 13-17 say they get news from social media, compared to 41% who get news reported by news organizations in print and online, and 37% say they get it on TV. 

Source: Business Insider

A Piper Jaffray survey found that Instagram is now the most-used social platform among teens, with 84% of US teens saying they use the platform at least once a month. Further, nearly 64% of teens say that “seeing pictures and video showing what happened” gives them the best understanding of major news events, while just 36% said they’d prefer to read or hear facts about what happened.

Reaching this young audience is one of the Economist’s goals. Lucy Rohr, its Stories Editor, says that their social strategy is “intended as a way of putting The Economist’s journalism before a vast, young audience who we’d otherwise find difficult to reach.”

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