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“News is evolving in exciting ways”: How publishers are using Instagram to hook young audiences and grow subscribers

Instagram is opened a “staggering 35 times per day” by The Economist’s followers, according to Kevin Young, the publisher’s Head of Audience. The photo and video sharing platform “has become a key platform for The Economist’s digital growth” and is enabling them to “reach and retain new audiences.” 

Reuters’ 2020 Digital News Report reveals that the use of Instagram for news has doubled across all age groups since 2018. It is now set to overtake Twitter as a news source in the coming year, with younger people—about 63% of Instagram users worldwide are between 18 and 34 years old—embracing Instagram for their news. 

Source: Statista

“Engaging with us more than ever in recent months”

Consequently, many publishers are beefing up their Instagram strategies. In 2019, The Economist ramped up its Instagram posts. It went from an average of 4 posts per week in March to nearly 50 by September. 

The publisher also devised a set of habit-forming, traffic-driving sequences for the vertical Instagram Stories format. This included “Weekend Reads” which showcases six of its best articles of the week every Sunday using images, illustrations, graphics, audiograms and slideshows. 

Besides traffic, this feature also brings in revenues via ads placed at the middle point of each sequence as a full-page vertical still image or video. Users can swipe up to be driven to a client’s site to learn more, or click through to the organization’s own Instagram account.

Source: Economist Group Media/Medium

“Reach and retain new audiences”

“Our account, @theeconomist, is of particular significance to our engagement strategy because two-thirds of our followers are aged 18 to 34,” says Young. “And our community on the platform is growing: we added 1M Instagram followers in six months in 2019, while video views rose by 90% over the same timeframe.” 

Instagram “is enabling us to reach and retain new audiences and develop a different and distinctive storytelling style.” 

Kevin Young, Head of Audience, The Economist

“As we sharpen our focus on identifying, acquiring and retaining the next generation of readers and subscribers, this community of more than 3M young people appears hungry for news and has been engaging with us more than ever in recent months.” 

Data analysis has also revealed that Instagram followers have the greatest propensity to subscribe. 

The publisher crossed 5M followers recently. Young says that Instagram will continue to feature prominently in their social strategy over the next year as they build on the successes achieved on the platform which has over 1B monthly active users.

“We can give more analysis in visual form”

Instagram has been a focus area in The Guardian’s social media strategy as well. The publisher added 1.3M Instagram followers—a 63% increase—between August 2019 and 2020, led by Eleni Stefanou, Social Media Platforms Editor at The Guardian. It has also seen a doubling in total interactions and video views during the same period, according to the Facebook Journalism Project.

The Guardian increased its activity on Instagram like The Economist, focusing on engaging a younger audience. It posted 9.5x more IGTV assets this year compared to the previous year, and produced more content exclusively for Instagram. For example, in one IGTV format, The Guardian’s reporters comment on news clips to analyze political videos, speeches and interviews.

I’ve always felt that as journalists, we can give more analysis in visual form. We can fact-check and let our audience pause and read between the lines. 

Eleni Stefanou, Guardian News & Media

“Make it sing on screen”

Other experiments designed for Instagram audiences include a positive news carousel, tweet screenshots and shareable quote cards. These have helped increase shares of stories that might otherwise receive less reach. For example, a set of quote cards from a story about people who have decided to live childfree had 14,000 shares and reached 1.6M accounts, 38% of which weren’t previously following The Guardian on Instagram. 

Stefanou has asked reporters to “capture little stories…particularly ones that wouldn’t work as a written piece but would as a visual experience.” 

Try to think of the story before you film so you can decide what would make it sing on screen.

Eleni Stefanou, Social Media Platforms Editor, Guardian News & Media

She has also used the platform to drive home the importance of supporting The Guardian’s independent journalism. Donations from an Instagram Story series doubled when reporters integrated requests for support in video. 

Stefanou tracks the performance of the posts to understand what’s working and what’s not in terms of formats, packaging. and topics. She also works cross-functionally to find articles that convert the most subscribers on-site, so that she can tailor those stories for Instagram.

“News is evolving in exciting ways on Instagram,” says Stefanou. “We’ve learned that it’s no longer enough to publish a single photo and a descriptive caption. While a powerful shot can speak volumes, people want to go deep.”

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