Over the past two years, Instagram has become a key focus for The Australian’s digital strategy. Today, The Australian has the fastest-growing and most engaged Instagram account owned by any subscription-based news publisher in Australia.
This result doesn’t come from a standing start, and we certainly weren’t always in such a strong position. In just two years, we have expanded our Instagram account from a platform where we mostly shared our recipes and news photos to a place where we also break news and take audiences behind the scenes of our journalism.
The mix of investigations, commentary, lifestyle journalism, and hard news is key to fulfilling our primary intention for the platform: Introduce new audiences to our brand’s breadth and rigour and let them sample it for themselves.
With 49.5% of our audience aged 35 or under, we are in a unique position to engage new readers by building habits on the platforms they engage with.
We are focused on growing quality audiences who will have a long-term connection with our brand. We set the audience’s expectations about what they will see from us and how they will see it — including the tone, frequency of posting, and style of content.
This has been the key to growing engagement in tandem with audience size.
Using quizzes for engagement
Epitomising our goal of building and delivering on audience expectations is our most popular Instagram execution — the weekly quiz. Tens of thousands of people engage with our general knowledge quiz every Saturday by using the native features on Instagram Stories, like the poll and quiz stickers. We deliver the content our audience values at the same time, in the same place, and in the same format every weekend, which has allowed us to build strong engagement habits and traffic referrals.
Building on extremely popular executions like this one, we seized the opportunity to apply the same principles of regularity, the familiarity of design, and valuable content, to the items we published “on the grid,” or in the Instagram feed.
In May 2021, we took our biggest strategy leap yet — and the results paid off. After adopting a radical new look and feel, we welcomed a 22% increase in followers and clocked a 919% year-on-year increase in comments and a 398% year-on-year increase in average daily reach.
A year’s worth of data showed us that, on average, images with text were significantly outperforming photographs with no text on them.
In collaboration with our designer, we spent months devising a recognisable style that gave us the liberty to share complex stories in an engaging mobile-first way. We drew from the depths of our colour palette — taking the light blue from the business section, for example — to choose a palette specific to Instagram that cuts through in such a visually stimulating feed.
The new brighter templates offer us enormous freedom in storytelling.
Going in-depth on Instagram
The team is not held back from telling 3,000-word stories from the print edition or articles we didn’t shoot fresh photos for. The new strategy, and the toolkit we have created to go with it, give us autonomy to allow our Instagram audience to sample and engage with the significant breadth and rigour of our editorial proposition.
What is the value of sampling, for a subscription-based publisher?
Instagram engagement in a vacuum doesn’t directly help our bottom line, and subscription-based publishers have grappled with how much to allow people to sample, or how much premium content to place outside of the paywall, via social media platforms.
For us, the value in Instagram engagement is that mostly young audiences are sampling a portion of our vast product in ways they like to consume. When they follow us, they are reminded of the value of our brand upwards of five times a day when we meet them where they are: in their feed.
While we are increasing dwell time on our posts, we are also building habits that support our subscription model. In the three months from May 2021, when we changed strategy, we saw a 173% increase in traffic referrals from Instagram.
The team will continue to focus on delivering compelling and valuable content on the platform, while consistently and strategically driving subscriptions from Instagram.
This is an incredibly exciting time for @the.australian on Instagram. And we are only just getting started.