How Vogue International implemented a new global Instagram strategy

This is a repost of an interview by Elisa Benson at Instagram, posted to the News, Media and Publishing on Facebook private Facebook group

Around the world, the Vogue brand is synonymous with fashion, but social strategy can be trickier to translate across countries, time zones, and teams. Enter Hannah Ray, Vogue International’s head of social strategy and storytelling. A former Instagram employee based in London, Hannah aimed to make Vogue’s IG storytelling more compelling by piloting new ideas, digging into analytics, and rolling out the biggest successes to the 11 Vogue brands that Conde Nast International wholly owns. Hannah’s hunch was that focusing on community — not simply “broadcasting” content — would bring the Vogue fam to a new level.

You took on an ambitious project this year, establishing a coordinated Instagram strategy across dozens of international accounts. What was the motivation behind the work?

HR: The work I do is part of a new editorial team called Vogue International, which is part of Condé Nast International’s Digital team in London. The team’s mission is to safeguard Vogue for a digital future. This Digiday article has a bit more background to the project, including our President Wolfgang Blau’s vision. A big part of this work is empowering and equipping local Vogue teams to excel at what they do so well already. Bringing in consistency shouldn’t be about making things the same or bland, it’s about drilling down the focus to make sure what we do is the most impactful, the most efficient, and the most innovative. It is also about harnessing the network — aligning strategy across international Vogues around the world can be very powerful. There’s no homogonising of the approach — the accounts work best when then have a mix of local and global commissioning and content.

My passion is connecting people through visual stories and here was the chance to help a legacy media brand engage with people to an even greater degree on Instagram. Vogue is an incredibly well-established and visually powerful brand, but some of the local Vogues could translate the best of what they do to Instagram even more effectively. I spent some time looking at what Vogue was doing well and what could be done more effectively across the 11 wholly owned markets internationally (we have others which are licensee markets). I made some recommendations to Wolfgang and he asked me to come onboard and work with editors globally to implement them. Seeing the needle shift over the last year has been incredibly rewarding!

Hannah on the scene at Paris Fashion Week

Walk us through the steps you took. It couldn’t have been easy to get 43 accounts to work together! How’d you do it?

HR: It certainly was and is a challenge: a lot of the digital editors had never met each other before last January! I started with a global audit of all Instagram accounts which included tons of data and some qualitative research. I come from Instagram’s editorial team so I had a lot of gut feelings about the content, but I wanted to sense check this against raw data.

I also began speaking to all Vogue digital editors and understanding their own resource limitations and needs. I started creating Stories for our audience, looking at the results and sketching out editorial approaches. I trialled new Story sequences, takeovers, series and videos on some of the accounts and once I felt confident about a change I’d suggest rolling it out across all.

Above all, a lot of the work I do is mind-shifting and deepening an understanding of what makes a compelling story on Instagram. You can tell someone something will work for them until you are blue in the face, but if they don’t do it themselves, or believe it for themselves, there’s no use. I want to raise the bar for what Vogue is doing on Instagram, globally. I try to lead by example, show what best can look like, back this up with data, and then encourage editors to trial new approaches for a temporary period, ask for feedback, and review the results together. It’s had to start with collaboration.

What were the results?

HR: So far all good! We’ve seen some accounts buck the trend of engagement decline and increase and deepen their engagement and growth. We’ve started to be recognised in the industry as pioneers for the platform, particularly with Stories such as our exclusive behind-the-scenes with Claudia Schiffer for that famous Versace show, or getting a sneak peak at the Balmain costumes for the Paris Opera Ballet, or a preview with Virgil Abloh at Off White. Here’s a look at some of the Stories we did over fashion month in September. We’re working collaboratively with editors across countries in a way we haven’t done before and engaging in conversation around female empowerment and diversity through series. We’re reaching a much younger audience than in other expressions of the brand, and for me this is working towards is securing Vogue’s future as the most influential voice in fashion.

Screen grabs from Vogue International IG Stories during Fashion Month

What metrics do you track most closely on Instagram and why?

HR: For growth we look at engagement: comments, likes and views on our posts. For Stories we measure reach, total views and completion rate. For me Stories is the most important area for understanding our engagement and resonance. I know all too well that having high numbers of followers means zilch if none of them actually see or engage with your content, or indeed watch a Story at all. I worked on Instagram’s community team in the very early days so it’s always been a community platform for me. If you don’t know who your community is — having a conversation with people rather than just broadcasting — then you don’t have anything on Instagram. I think a lot of established media brands are struggling to understand how to “connect with their audience” on Instagram, and it’s precisely because they think of Instagram as a place to broadcast to a group, when actually it’s a space to connect with real people on a personal level.

I want to bring my passion for community to a brand like Vogue which traditionally has had an air of exclusivity and intangibility which doesn’t resonate in a social mobile age. Vogue also represents what is aspirational, innovative, high quality, positive and global. These values are spaces where they can meet with people and share something of what we stand for.

I also go back and look at the data and we do user research regularly — some of the feedback has corroborated that what we are trying to achieve is working, which is hugely rewarding.

“A lot of established media brands are struggling to understand how to ‘connect with their audience’ on Instagram, and it’s precisely because they think of Instagram as a place to broadcast to a group, when actually it’s a space to connect with real people on a personal level.”

Share a bit about what you learned through this process. Anything you would have done differently if you could do it over again?

HR: One of my superiors encouraged me when I was hitting a brick wall to ‘work with the people who were open to working together and the others would come.’ He was right. I think for any global multi-franchise organization, it’s unlikely you’ll get everyone on board right from the start, especially when you propose change. I wasn’t prepared for how long certain changes would take to implement. To me they were fairly simple and obvious, and I was impatient to see change fast. But there are short term wins and then there’s the long game. I’ve come to realise that the long-term rewards of doing things carefully, diligently, and with empathy far outweigh the benefits of short term gains. I don’t think I’d do anything differently — the journey and learnings are necessary for me to grow and improve.

What else should we know?

HR: We have some exciting plans for awards season, fashion month and International Women’s Day. Be sure to browse and follow the Vogue in your country and elsewhere to see what we are up to: @vogueparis, @britishvogue, @voguespain, @vogueitalia, @voguegermany, @voguerussia, @voguejapan, @voguechina and @voguetaiwan. I’m also speaking at Digital Innovators Summit 2018 and the International Journalism festival next year — so if you are interested in hearing more about how we do what we do, please come along! If you are in London please let me know as I love meeting up with fellow Insta nerds and story producers. Let’s hang out!