Audience DevelopmentSubscriptions

WaPo latest publisher to look to Instagram to grow subscriptions

Via Unsplash

Publishers using Instagram is not a new phenomena, but newspapers appointing a dedicated Instagram editor with the objective of boosting subscription revenues is a new twist on how publishers are using the image sharing platform.

  • The Washington Post has appointed its first dedicated Instagram editor. Travis Lyles, promoted to the role February 1st, has grown the Post’s Instagram following from 675,000 to 4.5 million since he joined the paper in 2017.
  • Instead of sticking rigidly to the visuals-first approach that Instagram is best known for, Lyles has run the account to focus on delivering news on the platform. The plan is to build a team that will produce more video for ‘vertical, visual’ storytelling.
  • The Washington Post is not the only newspaper to invest in Instagram. Last year, The New York Times hired travel photographer Tyson Wheatlley to oversee its main Instagram account, and added two new roles to its Instagram team, a weekend editor and a video editor.
Why Instagram?

Instagram’s use as a news source has doubled since 2018, according to The 2020 Reuters Institute Digital News Report, positioning the Facebook-owned platform to overtake Twitter as a social news source this year.This trend is particularly prevalent among younger audiences.

  • Digital News Report author Nic Newman said, “Instagram’s become very popular with younger people. They really respond well to stories that are told simply and well with visual images”.
  • Another Reuters Institute study, looking at how people accessed information on the pandemic, found over a quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds in the US said they had used Instagram to access news content within the previous week. This compares with 19% for Snapchat and just 6% for TikTok.
The publisher play

News and current affairs publishers are increasingly seeing Instagram as a powerful platform for building brand awareness and growing subscription revenues, especially among younger audiences.

  • The Economist views Instagram as a key part of its digital growth strategy to reach and retain new audiences. Two-thirds of the weekly’s 5.4 million followers are aged 18 to 34 and open the app an average of 35 times every day. The Economist has used Instagram and other social engagement to drive an increase of 180% in referral traffic back to its subscription site.
  • The LA Times’ dedicated archive Instagram uses historical photos to connect the paper’s current coverage with historical stories and its Coronavirus account, focused on delivering pandemic updates, has gathered 25,000 followers in less than a year.
  • The i newspaper doubled its Instagram following in 12 months by developing a consistent, daily posting strategy in line with the paper’s ‘daily briefing’ brand. The paper has also used the Stories facility to develop an explainer format that goes deeper than individual posts.
The bottom line

Subscription revenues are the top priority for modern publishers and broadening the acquisition funnel is critical to future success. The Washington Post Instagram editor position has been described by Digiday as a ‘key cog in the newspaper publisher’s subscription business’.

“The biggest end game is to grow our subscribers,” said Mark Smith, director of social and operations at The Washington Post. Instagram is, “where we can introduce The Washington Post to people that will be a big asset going forward.”

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