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Economist reaches new audiences with Instagram

By Liv Moloney

The Economist

London, United Kingdom

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Instagram is a busy, visual platform. To its users, “news” can mean anything from holiday photos or the arrival of a baby to a product launch.

Among the challenges for The Economist’s account: how to publish content that does not appear out of sorts amongst this jumble of material, staying eye-catching and classy while remaining true to our brand, and distilling complicated subjects into easily understandable visuals in the second or two before a user decides whether to scroll past.

We have made the transition from a weekly print publication to a regular digital destination for rigorous, fair-minded reporting and analysis. Our subscribers no longer have to wait seven days for our take on the biggest stories and there is an urgency to our output, whether covering the war in Ukraine, the global effects of the pandemic, Joe Biden’s presidency, or the fall of Afghanistan.

The Economist developed templates for Instagram to allow it to share its biggest news stories without appearing out of place on the social media channel.
The Economist developed templates for Instagram to allow it to share its biggest news stories without appearing out of place on the social media channel.

We have developed templates for our Instagram feed that provide a sample of our articles, charts, podcasts, and films, while they provide a clear, authoritative, understandable entry point to our journalism — particularly for younger audiences (two-thirds of our 5.8 million followers are aged 18 to 34).

We set a rhythm of eight posts per day, far more than most publishers, to ensure we feature regularly at the top of their news feeds. We wanted to devise content that encourages habit-forming behaviour and referrals to The Economist’s Web site and app. It was also essential to harness analytics to learn how to reach different types of readers and, ultimately, our next generation of subscribers.

The growth plan

Over the past year, Instagram has become essential to the growth of our business and a true shop window for our best journalism. The platform’s link-in-bio feature, which enables us to link directly to individual pages, has driven several million referrals to our Web site and a marked uplift in subscriptions and registrations.

We’ve also expanded into more news-responsive Instagram stories, as well as our regular biweekly offering, to generate referrals through swipe-ups. In December 2021, Instagram brought more article-generated subscriptions than any other social media platform for the first time, overtaking Facebook, and hundreds of thousands of referrals to our Web site.

We have also used Instagram to make news of our own. Our regularly updated excess-deaths tracker was frequently cited by other organisations as a guide to the true death toll of the pandemic.

The Economist's excess deaths tracker became a popular feature and was referenced by other organisations.
The Economist's excess deaths tracker became a popular feature and was referenced by other organisations.

We also raised US$420,000 for The Economist Educational Foundation, a charity, by selling a non-fungible token of our Alice in Wonderland cover on decentralised finance. Instagram was key to helping us spreading awareness of this important initiative to two different cohorts of our audience — knowledgeable cryptocurrency enthusiasts and those who had never heard of NFTs — without alienating or patronising either.

Gaining commercial ground

Instagram has provided commercial benefits to our wider business, too: Marketing activities such as promoted posts have led to significantly higher levels of engagement, while the sponsorship of Instagram Stories sequences has generated additional advertising revenue.

Three key factors sum up the success of The Economist’s journalism on Instagram and explain how our account has had such an impact:

1. We are considered a trusted guide to a fast-moving, confusing world.

2. Our visual assets range from punchy, eye-catching, and often amusing illustrations and animations to cards containing striking photography or quotes.

3. Our data journalism, meanwhile, is unrivalled — whether we are explaining the impact of COVID-19, the ramifications of Vladimir Putin’s invasion, or the impact of climate change.

About Liv Moloney

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