The Economist on Social Media
Media associated with this campaign
Overview of this campaign
At The Economist we began 2020 knowing that we would be refreshing the look and feel of our social accounts to capture the attention of mobile-first audiences around the world, and covering an American election campaign that was likely to be one of the most notable in decades. We ended the year with our group of young editors having demonstrated remarkable resilience and endless energy and creativity at a time of unprecedented complications to their lives.
Our core team of nine—seven in Britain and two in America—worked from spare rooms and kitchen tables. They were bolstered by the crowdsourcing of material from around The Economist’s newsroom, where journalists, designers, video editors and radio producers contributed ideas and produced content for multiple platforms, from Twitter threads to Instagram Stories and long-form IGTV and YouTube documentaries. And every post, article and film was produced following a thorough fact-check by our research department, which reviews all source material before publication.
Among our objectives was to use our social accounts to be the primary method of updating the daily projections on our first-ever statistical forecast of an American presidential election. Indeed, data visualisations were key to our digital strategy: among our other innovations was a portal that kept track of the race to secure the Democrats’ presidential nomination, by estimating opinion-poll performance and demographic statistics for each candidate. And when the results finally came, we devised graphics-based cards and maps to clearly display the latest details from each state and illustrate notable changes and trends in the country’s voting patterns.
These several months of intense promotional activity across multiple digital platforms were to showcase not only our in-depth coverage, our rigorous, fair-minded analysis and our empirical approach to reporting, but also our award-winning data visualisations, graphics and films.
Results for this campaign
The elections became a record-breaking moment for The Economist. As results were called traffic to our website reached its highest-ever weekly total, at twice the level of the previous 12-week average, with about a third from social media (but 44% on November 4th itself, however). Across November our Twitter and Instagram accounts generated their highest-ever levels of referrals, many to our comprehensive results page. And between June and November our presidential forecast drove more visits than all other election articles combined. It generated 20m views, more than even our home page.
Specifically on the forecast, we explained our methodology through Twitter threads, Instagram carousels and a Reddit AMA that generated 1,400 comments. We used our Twitter handle @EconUS to go into greater depth, while our Facebook group, Democracy in America, let members remark upon policies that mattered to them and engage with others. And the social team branched out into newsletters by launching and producing Checks and Balance, a weekly email dedicated to US politics and a companion to a podcast of the same name.
In October we deployed Instagram’s native polling function to ask followers what they wished to know. We used Instagram Stories to answer their questions and publish graphics-led sequences that analysed Joe Biden’s proposed policies and Donald Trump’s record. A series of longer video explainers generated several million views on YouTube and were shared widely elsewhere.
Our graphics-based cards and maps illustrated results from each state and notable trends in voting patterns. These proved particularly successful on Twitter and also on Instagram, where two posts generated more than 100,000 likes to become our best-performing graphics ever.
Our work is not over: at the time of writing we plan extensive coverage around the inauguration, and Mr Trump continues to object to the results. However, it is clear the elections were a phenomenal success for our social-media team. An ambition for 2021 is to retain as much of this audience as possible for the long term.