The guiding principle behind The Guardian’s Instagram strategy is simple: Whatever we share should be informative, useful, or inspiring.

  • Informative: We’re telling people something new, hopefully about an issue they care about.
  • Useful: We provide our audience with knowledge they can apply in the real world.
  • Inspiring: When we instill a positive feeling in people that might influence them to go out and pursue their passion.

For example, when we posted a photo of a dazzling cherry blossom tree under the stars, the caption focused on the tree’s cultural significance in Japan. We want the moment of experiencing something beautiful or intriguing to be accompanied by context and meaning. That’s the role I see The Guardian playing on Instagram.

Like most publishers, our long-term Instagram strategy is to expand our readership, with a focus on connecting with younger audiences who are harder to reach elsewhere. In the data we have, 65% of our Instagram followers are between 13-34 years of age — so we are largely achieving that goal. The next step is for us to become a regular feature in their lives; for them to look forward to, and enjoy hearing from, The Guardian. The arrival of Instagram Stories, with its TV-like configuration, really crystalised this for us.  

The Guardian's Instagram channel engages, helps, and inspires its audience.
The Guardian's Instagram channel engages, helps, and inspires its audience.

While we publish a mixture of things on Stories, our energy is channeled into the production of serial content. I’ve spent the past eight months developing formats centered around the episodic content model, with the premise that habitual viewing will lead to loyal readers who trust and value us.

We kicked this off with our “Fake or for real?” series in December 2016. This is a weekly quiz-format series born out of the fake news phenomenon. Leah Green, our presenter, shares three news stories with our viewers — who then have a few seconds to figure out which stories are fake or real. If they think they know the answer, they can tap their screen to reveal the truth.

Going by its reception, the series has had a substantial impact. Teenagers have told us that it’s helped them scrutinise headlines more; parents and teachers have asked for copies of “Fake or for real?” to show in classrooms; and one reader requested that we dedicate an episode to diet and health because her daughter has a tendency to fall for fake stories on this subject. So facilitating critical thinking in a fun way is paying off.

“Share It, Solve It: Mentoring on the Go” is our second series. With this, readers send us their career-related dilemmas and we ask someone with relevant experience to offer advice. Our mentors respond through short videos filmed on their phones. They offer tangible tips, but perhaps more importantly, a sense that someone cares and wants to help.

The temptation to publish crowd-pleasing content and viral stories will always tug at us. That’s why our strategy is an important reminder of a greater intention: to provide rich, immersive narratives unique to The Guardian to the extent that — if we disappeared one day — our followers would feel that something valuable was missing.