For the social media team at The Economist, 2020 was a record-breaking year.
Our Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn accounts generated their highest-ever levels of monthly referrals. Our innovative storytelling techniques enabled our followers to make sense of huge events such as the pandemic and the U.S. elections. And we refreshed the look and feel of our accounts by designing clear, concise graphics, illustrations, and data visualisations.
This all was achieved by a group of young editors who demonstrated remarkable resilience and endless energy and creativity at a time of unprecedented complications. The core team of nine worked from spare rooms and kitchen tables, bolstered by the crowdsourcing of material from around our newsroom, and every post, article, and video was produced following a thorough fact-check by our research department.
Our coronavirus coverage began in January 2020, and by March, it was dominating our social traffic. Our data journalism came into its own, with a surge in referrals from Twitter when we launched a tracker of excess deaths that mapped the way official totals were undercounting the true number of fatalities in many countries.
When Bill Gates wrote an article for us explaining how to fight pandemics, half of the pageviews were generated through social media. And forward-looking articles on the impact on workplaces propelled our LinkedIn traffic to an all-time high.
Using Stories to tell stories
We used Instagram Stories to outline what a pandemic was and how viruses spread, and provided answers after members of the public attempted to explain the emerging coronavirus. Other sequences examined issues such as the impact of the pandemic on prisons and the high U.S. death toll.
At one stage early in the pandemic, our monthly social traffic was twice that of a year earlier. And while digital audiences tended to tire of breaking news, they continued seeking out our detailed analysis and story-behind-the-story coverage.
As we dealt with COVID-19, we were simultaneously implementing an intensive promotional strategy for the U.S. elections to showcase our rigorous, fair-minded analysis to digital audiences.
Keeping tabs on the election
Social accounts were our primary method of updating the daily projections on our first-ever statistical forecast of an American presidential election. This calculated the probabilities of Joe Biden and Donald Trump winning each individual state and the race overall, along with forecast models for the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. In addition to mobile-friendly charts and concise graphics, we lifted the veil on our methodology through Twitter threads, Instagram carousels, and a 1,400-comment Reddit AMA.
We used our @EconUS Twitter handle to go into greater depth about the numbers. Our Facebook group, Democracy in America, enabled members to discuss the policies that mattered to them. And we launched Checks and Balance, a newsletter accompaniment to our podcast of the same name.
We worked around the clock during the five-day wait for the race to be called. Our graphics-based posts displayed the state-by-state results and notable voting trends. These proved particularly successful on Twitter and on Instagram, and drove significant traffic to our results page, where half of all page views came from Twitter.
During the week of the elections, we saw record traffic to our Web site, reaching twice the level of the previous 12-week average. About one-third of these pageviews came via social media, with record totals from Twitter and Instagram. Referrals and subscriptions from relevant articles remained high for the rest of 2020. And the presidential forecast drove more visits than all our other elections-related stories combined: It generated 20 million views, more than even our home page.