Sydney Morning Herald reaches younger demographic with Instagram strategy

By Sophia Phan

The Sydney Morning Herald

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


Social media has always been integral to our digital strategy at The Sydney Morning Herald, but things have definitely changed in the past five years.

Historically, a lack of analytics made it difficult to understand which stories resonated with our readers and how often we posted on our masthead accounts. Twitter and Facebook were king, and social videos were yet to take off.

During those years, we worked externally with companies like Facebook on beta products to better showcase our journalism and signed up to platforms like Apple News to reach a wider audience. For a time, push notifications were only available to us via Apple News until the functionality was integrated into our native app.

The rate of change has steadily increased. You only have to look at the growing prominence of TikTok to realise a newsroom’s ability to reach its audience is partly dependent on how quickly it can pivot to where an audience resides.

At the Herald, we’ve built a loyal home page audience, but we know our journalism must resonate off-platform to build loyalty with new groups. Social media is crucial if we are to attract a younger demographic and build brand awareness and habit outside the traditional consumption methods of the Web site and newspaper.

Internal research shows readers are willing to pay for news, but those under 45 are the least likely to. These readers seek a diverse range of stories and bite-sized rundowns of big issues through video, graphics, and interactives.

Their perception of our brand and content is varied, meaning we have to work on better showcasing the breadth of what we cover and lean on social media as a channel for discovery. For example, people younger than 45 think our publication caters to an older audience. They view us as covering predominantly hard news. They want quality content on “softer topics.” They want to see journalism that impacts their demographic and digest it through varied formats.

In the past year we have ramped up the number and style of posts on Instagram, the platform where we currently reach the youngest demographic.

Our account has been very effective in showcasing our award-winning photography, but we had to think more broadly and engage more deeply with our readers on social media.

As our strategy has evolved, so have social platforms like Instagram. It’s gone beyond the actions of just “like” and “comment” to “saves,” “shares,” and “DMs” with analytics to match. This has pushed us to interrogate and anticipate the actions our audience takes for every social post.

We’ve worked successfully with our graphics department to create a distinct Herald-style template for both in-feed and Stories posts on Instagram.

This can be seen in our posts detailing New South Wales’ COVID-19 restrictions, which are among those with which people most engaged. The three posts below have been in our top 10 most shared posts on Instagram over the past year.

Instagram has also been used to highlight the areas readers perceive to be lacking depth: premium lifestyle and in-depth sports content.

Our “guide to running” in-feed post was one of the Herald’s most saved posts in the last year, indicating people want to revisit our content. It generated a large number of new followers and was one of the best performing posts over the year.

Social media played a crucial role in our Olympics coverage, despite the tight restrictions surrounding image rights and distribution.

We produced daily Instagram stories with key news and events to watch as well as in-feed assets for Australian gold medals and international stories. Special templates were created to differentiate them from our day-to-day posts. Importantly, they were still identifiable as Herald content.

Some of the best performing posts include the posts below.

Engagement remained strong in Instagram Stories despite similar content being updated daily. Readers are obviously engaged in our journalism and appreciate a snappy daily forecast, logging a high number of swipe-ups from these Stories.

It’s important for us to distribute content on platforms that are easily accessible and to maintain a presence on apps where readers reside. After all, social media is a shopfront window to the quality journalism we have to offer beyond the paywall.

About Sophia Phan

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