How journalists can use Instagram to engage and inform

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

During the process of redeveloping Me Explica in the Tow-Knight Center program, I have experimented with different tools and strategies to create engagement around my content. In my last article, I explained how my new strategy is to focus on social media because that is where citizens are mostly getting their news from.

In its past iterations, Me Explica was an article-based publication, first as a blog, then as a site. As the years went by, I noticed that being on social media requires much more than simply posting links to your content. You need to truly engage with the reader, answer questions, address criticisms and sometimes even accusations. As a small publication, I am able to do it with little effort but I believe even bigger ones need to commit to talking directly with their readers.

Having this in mind, I have been conducting a few experiments on Instagram. Once defined as a "photo-sharing" app, IG is very versatile and allows for the publication of text, photos, videos, cards (images with text), and videos with text (either with subtitles or only text).

I will share what I have been doing, the tools used to create the content and brief observations about the results.

Experiments

My tests revolved around three kinds of content:

(1) Cards

Explainers on images that are perfect for the photo feed and can easily be shared on other platforms.

Card about Petrobras' losses after a statement by the Brazilian President

(2) Video explainers

The presenter (me) talks directly to the audience in native videos that can be short (1 minute for the feed) or long (up to 10 minutes os IGTV).

Video explainer about the militias in Brazil

(3) Video Stories

Even though the Stories feature only allows for smaller videos, creating the content on an external tool can be helpful in order to do something that lasts a little while longer.

Considerations

These experiments have shown that there is an opportunity to create engaging and informational posts on Instagram. The audience is interested in consuming journalism on a platform that is not made for long-form content but still allows establishing a quick connection to the news. Instagram may not be the best place to break the news but is a good tool to build on it.

One major difficulty for journalists and outlets is to monetize their Instagram profiles. There is no option for doing that and there is no news showing that Facebook might be interested in building such features. Yet, we have plenty of success stories of news delivery on Instagram, such as former CNN White House correspondent Jessica Yellin, Poynter's Media Wise, and Uno.ar (from Argentina).

Toolkit

Having decided what kind of content you will post, you can use the many tools that can help journalists create posts quickly and efficiently at a low cost. I will share some of the platforms and products used to conduct the tests on Me Explica.

Visuals: Canva

Canva is one of my favorite tools. I use it to make presentations, design posts and covers for social media and to create the card I showed above. It is very intuitive: you need only to drag and drop. There are thousands of templates to choose from. The free version is already very good, but the pro subscription allows you to resize projects so you can post in multiple social media channels. https://www.canva.com

Video: Lumen 5

I have only recently come across Lumen 5 but I'm already a fan. I used it to create the Stories video shown above. It helps you create social media videos very easily -from text or your own audio. Its artificial intelligence creates new frames automatically, speeding up the process. Anyone with little to or no design experience can use it and have great results. https://lumen5.com/

Smartphone videos: Cheap tools

Showing my gear on Instagram

I shared on my Instagram account some of the accessories I have been using to film my explainer videos and some people got interested in the equipment. Amazon was the source for both the selfie ring light that can be attached to any smartphone and the lavalier microphone. Considering that Instagram allows for more informal and amateur-ish videos, this set up is very helpful for filming on the go. All for less than 20 dollars.

Here's the microphone:

And here's the light:

Conclusion

Instagram is a great tool to explore new ways of delivering information to audiences that no longer want to visit homepages in search of news. It is a good testing ground to get a sense of what might and not might work to engage citizens. Even with its limitations in terms of generating revenue, it can be a good way for smaller outlets and individual journalists to get a sense of what resonates with audiences. It is worth experimenting.