How the Guardian’s Instagram strategy is winning new readers

Like many publishers, the Guardian is using Instagram to cultivate a loyal, young audience that doesn’t visit its main digital products.

The publisher has steadily grown its following and has nearly 860,000 Instagram followers to date, up 57 percent from a year ago. More interesting yet, 60 percent of those who follow links to the Guardian’s site are new to the Guardian, according to the publisher. The plan is to encourage those followers to become regular readers of the Guardian’s site and apps and, in time, possibly even paying members.

The Guardian has introduced more recurring Instagram Stories over the last year to keep people interested. One is a weekly Story called “Fake or For Real,” which features a Guardian journalist highlighting some of the biggest fake news that has surfaced that week and asking readers to tap if they think the news is true or false, before debunking it herself. The one-minute story gets approximately 50,000 views each week and has proven popular with people overseas, according to the Guardian’s social producer Eleni Stefanou. Another regular Story is “Brexit Bites,” which condenses complex developments around Brexit as they come up in the news. “Ramadan Diaries” is a recurring Story featuring Guardian journalist Iman Amrani, who explains the Muslim holy month and other related topics.

The Guardian has three people dedicated to posting on Instagram and the Guardian’s Facebook groups like Guardian culture. This team is separate from the publisher’s “reach team” that focuses on widespread distribution, a large part of which is Facebook publishing and search engine optimization, but both teams work closely together. Designers, journalists and video producers from the Guardian’s main multimedia team all contribute to Instagram content, with an average of three posts published daily to the platform. The content is a mix of original content made specifically for Instagram and existing assets — many of which are images pulled from major news stories and compiled into galleries to help tell the story in images.

People focused on video within the multimedia team are tasked with finding stories beyond traditional news, and they’ll contact independent filmmakers to ask if the Guardian can use footage for videos, which are often turned into Instagram Stories. An example of a Story that used assets from outside the Guardian is one created for Valentine’s Day, which depicts love letters sent between Barack and Michelle Obama; writers Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas​; and artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

Naturally, having wider resources to tap is useful, but that can come with its own challenges. Maintaining a consistent style and editorial tone for Instagram posts can be difficult when so many different people contribute to it. The Guardian’s core guidelines are to create posts around topics relevant to the younger demographics that use Instagram: the environment, human rights issues and animal welfare. The message must also convey hope and emphasize the solutions being implemented as opposed to just a gloomy message.

“We want to use Instagram to reach a younger audience and one that we can convert into longtime readers,” said Stefanou. “We also want to build communities around shared subjects, all in the main account, not sub-accounts. That way, when we have a big [editorial] project come up around, for example, the use of plastic, we know we have already cultivated that audience on Instagram.”

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