How Instagram helps The Economist to reach a new generation

By Kevin Young, Head of Audience, The Economist

Instagram has become a key platform for The Economist’s digital growth. As our community passes the 5m mark, it is worth examining how the app — which is opened by our followers a staggering 35 times per day, on average — is enabling us to reach and retain new audiences and develop a different and distinctive storytelling style.

Instagram’s bite-sized format allows us to feature our most important written journalism while simultaneously showcasing the best of our visual assets: charts and data, graphics, illustrations, audio and video, as well as images from some of the world’s most talented photographers. This exclusive and often unique content is the catalyst for about 50 posts per week in our news feed and three to four sequences in the vertical “stories” format.

Our account, , is of particular significance to our engagement strategy because two-thirds of our followers are aged 18 to 34. 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.

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. Indeed, as the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2020 , “use of Instagram for news has doubled since 2018 and looks likely to overtake Twitter over the next year”.

Last year we introduced a “link-in-bio” option, a process that enables our followers to click directly through from each post to any article on Economist.com. This new stream of traffic has generated hundreds of thousands of referrals back to our website each month so they are engaging with on-site content in addition to the material they are reading off-site.

We also devised a set of habit-forming, traffic-driving sequences for the vertical Instagram Stories format. The most successful of these has been our “Weekend Reads” feature — highlighting six of our most important articles of the week — to encourage repeat visits to our account, and our website, every Sunday.

To accompany these we have created a unique and customised advertising opportunity for clients to be featured in our Instagram Stories. Sponsor messaging is 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 organisation’s own Instagram account. We have worked with a number of clients so far: the most successful has been in partnership with the Japan Arts Council, generating significant engagement on its content hub.

Appearance is integral on a platform so strongly geared towards visual storytelling. We streamlined our look and feel to present a unified approach to graphics and design throughout not just our Instagram content but also our three other priority platforms: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Our teams across the newsroom collaborated to tailor their work to our audiences on social media. Charts were a particular focus: we devised a new red-and-white template, matching the colours of our logo, to rethink our presentation and ensure this material was recognisable as belonging to The Economist. We also saw charts as a way to engage with a different audience who might not be aware of the breadth of our coverage, from books and arts to science and sport, as well as our core economics and business output.

You can learn more about the strategy behind a redesign that has enabled us to simplify some of our most complex content by adapting a clear, easy-to-read format that works well on mobile screens.

Over the past year we have turned The Economist’s long-standing weekly publishing cycle into a daily digital news operation, offering exclusive content to subscribers and fast reaction to events of global significance. Our team of social editors in London and the United States developed a strategy to more effectively engage with audiences by introducing a more customised approach to each platform. We sought to maximise opportunities for referrals without dumbing down or turning to clickbait and wanted to identify and attract “quality” audiences, with whom we could form long-term relationships, in the process.

We also enhanced our data-analysis processes to more effectively monitor where these referrals were originating and the habits of our social audiences. We introduced ways to track the content that increased the likelihood of generating a subscription, finding — for instance — that Instagram was the social platform where followers had the greatest propensity to subscribe. This enabled us to further refine our strategy and identify ways to build long-term relationships with them.

This approach led to in referrals in six months, with a corresponding rise from 24% to 35% in the proportion of total page views that were generated from social sources. We were also shortlisted for Social Media Team of the Year at The Drum Online Media Awards 2020.

Instagram will continue to feature prominently in our social strategy over the next year as we build on the successes we have achieved on a platform with 1bn active users each month. Make sure you follow us so you don’t miss out!

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spearheads The Economist’s digital growth in a newly created role that builds on his previous position as Head of Social Media.

He oversees editorial strategies for social output, newsletters, push alerts and SEO, as well as developing the company’s presence on new platforms and exploring other digital opportunities.

He leads a team of talented and motivated editors who have transformed The Economist’s social operations over the past 12 months and are nominated for Social Media Team of the Year at The Drum Online Media Awards 2020.

He aims to bring together a global network of journalists, data analysts, commercial specialists and product managers as one united force to identify, attract and retain quality audiences for the long term.

Economist Group Media

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