New York Times uses Instagram to attract and retain new audiences

By Paula Felps


Nashville, Tennessee, United States


As social media has become a way to reach and engage new audiences, news media companies are increasingly focusing on strategies that will help attract and retain new audiences. During this week’s INMA Webinar, Tyson Wheatley, Instagram director for The New York Times, shared insights on how the company is leveraging the format.

During his presentation, How The New York Times uses Instagram, Wheatley noted that while the format of Instagram is different from print and online, it must still observe the brand’s quality storytelling: “When we post on Instagram, you might be reaching someone who is not even aware of your brand or maybe encountering the times for the first time. So when it meets them, it needs to be exceptional journalism.”

In addition to providing the kind of quality content its readers expect, Wheatley said the company also needed to create a product that was built for Instagram but was true to The Times brand.

“Everything that we make needs to look and feel like it would at the New York Times,” he said. “If you’re already a subscriber, then it meets your expectation of what you would expect from any Times product. And if you’re not a subscriber, hopefully you walk away impressed with what we’re doing and will eventually become a subscriber.”

Instagram is unique from other platforms in that it’s visually driven, and The Times has created a social visuals desk to oversee Instagram and TikTok. But it has taken some time to learn how to leverage the visual format for news stories, he said.

Tyson Wheatley, Instagram director for The New York Times, explained the company's strategies and successes during this week's Webinar.
Tyson Wheatley, Instagram director for The New York Times, explained the company's strategies and successes during this week's Webinar.

“For a long time we thought of Instagram as like, OK, we just post a beautiful image,” Wheatley said. “But then we realised that’s not really going to grab people’s attention. We need to sometimes add context and text on top of an image.”

He said adopting that practice was “uncomfortable” at first, but now it is a routine part of how they operate.

Beyond images

Sometimes, it’s fine to tell a story without an image, he said: “Text-only is a totally appropriate way to tackle a story that you sometimes a necessary way to convey [your brand] on Instagram.”

He explained the company has created a “visual language” for how it covers text-only stories, and they can give content the distinctive Times look even without a photo.

Maintaining the look of The Times brand allows it to use text-only successfully on Instagram.
Maintaining the look of The Times brand allows it to use text-only successfully on Instagram.

Using visuals like maps and graphics is effective, and Wheatley said the team “looks at all visuals from The Times as a possible Instagram post.” They can also be used on other platforms to extend their life and reach.

One of the most successful types of post is something Wheatley called a “quotrait” — a combination of a quote and a portrait.

“One of the things that The Times does that I love is, when they are working on a story, they’ll send a photographer out to get a beautiful, lovely portrait of the people that they talked to,” he said. “We weren’t really sure what to do with those photos because nobody could recognise them. They were just ordinary people, people that had something to say or [were] part of this great article, but it didn’t really translate on Instagram.”

So the team came up with the idea of quotraits, which he said allows them to convey the subject matter simply and visually.

“They’ve become a huge, very effective part [of our strategy] and a staple of something that you might see on The New York Times Instagram now. It conveys a point of view; it shows the person and gives you a sense of what the subject matter is all in one slide.”

The use of quotes and portraits is another popular approach on Instagram.
The use of quotes and portraits is another popular approach on Instagram.

Reaching audiences through Stories

In addition to using the posts in the NYT Instagram feed to attract readers, Wheatley said the Stories feature — in which a post disappears after 24 hours — plays a significant role in generating interest.

“This is where your most engaged audience is going to be,” he said.

In the feed, followers may or may not see a post, depending on how it ranks in the algorithm. However, it has an advantage because people can share a post: “That’s part of our strategy,” Wheatley said. “It’s like, is someone going to share this?”

Stories are different because they are shown to people who have opted in and are most engaged with the brand. Wheatley said they have used Stories to “humanise the newsroom” and provide some fun, behind-the-scenes views of The Times.

The New York Times publishse about 15 slides a day in the Stories feature, running from breaking news to wellness pieces. He monitors the response to see what works best. The team also is working with Reels, trying to figure out how to best tell stories in a short video format.


As The Times continues to hone its Instagram strategy, Wheatley said one of the biggest lessons learned is the need for consistency. Although experimentation has its place — and is needed to find what works for your brand — it is important to find a focus and build a strategy around that.

“For us, that’s been really leaning into news. We’re a news organisation, and breaking news is a core part of our identity. So that became a big part of our focus.”

That content is created with the visual element and the shareability in mind: “We emphasised creating content that was shareable and geared towards reach, and that ultimately has led to growth.”

The Times also prioritised weekend programming, which Wheatley said has led to being able to serve a different audience. “Instagram will tell you when your audience is online for the most part, and we noticed that a huge chunk of them were just hanging out on the weekend,” he said.

“So we started to hold certain stories for the weekend to sort of programme it, almost like a print edition or the Sunday Times print edition.”

That fits into the strategy to meet people when they’re on the app and be ready to engage with the content they’re looking for: “We lean into the stories as a traffic driver.” 

About Paula Felps

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