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The Top Publishers on Instagram and their Tips to Success


By   |   July 19th, 2016   |   Reading time: 6 minutes Digital Journalism

How are publishers engaging audiences on Instagram amid algorithmic changes?

Instagram remains a less straightforward platform for publishers. Without external links, traffic isn’t driven to publisher content and nearly all engagement takes place directly in the stream.

However, as we noted last year, publishers are nonetheless finding imaginative ways to use Instagram and engage with their followers.

From stunning visual galleries, to native storytelling, to enhancing existing reporting, Instagram remains a great place for publishers to build a devoted community and bolster their brand.

When we looked at a selection of 30 publishers on Instagram for mid-June to mid-July 2016, we saw some interesting statistics.

IG Publishers June July

Niche publishers, like National Geographic, ESPN, Bleacher Report, and Vogue were high up in our rankings. The only general news publisher in our top ten was Fox News.

Only two other hard news publishers, the New York Times and BBC News, joined Fox News in the top 15.

Let’s jump into how these publishers are engaging audiences on Instagram.

A Delight for the Eyes

At its heart, Instagram is a platform that’s meant to be visually pleasing. That’s why the niche publishers have mastered it, focusing on their verticals of stunning travel photos (National Geographic), the excitement of sports (ESPN), and the beauty of fashion (Vogue).

Nat Geo June 2016

For these publishers, Instagram presents a consistent, unified visual board for their brand. National Geographic provides a variety of human interest, culture, travel, and animal photos that are all appealing to the eyes.

Video by @renan_ozturk // The practice of walking “slack-lines” in high places has been rapidly evolving the last few years. Here @theo_sanson walks a ~500 meter line in Castle Valley, Utah between the iconic formations of Castleton tower and The Rectory. The line isn’t pulled tight, which makes it easier to walk and safer in terms of the forces on the anchor points. To create this wild installation art, a highly coordinated operation is required with a skilled team of climbers. Then to cross successfully takes a level of athletic skill and meditative focus only a few people on earth posess. Ultimately tho, it’s about the vision to dream something different – and then to make it into reality. #slackline

A video posted by National Geographic (@natgeo) on

While photos see more engagement than video on Instagram, National Geographic applies the same philosophy to their video content. Their visually beautiful videos were also the top video Instagram content in mid-June/July. Take a free trial of Spike to see the visual trends and stories going viral on Instagram right now. 

Another Way to Tell Stories

National Geographic’s content is more than pretty pictures. They give context to their photos, often providing readers with insights into different animals, places, and ways of life. Other traditional publishers do this as well.

As far as Europe’s creative capitals go, Amsterdam has historically taken a back seat to trendier, bolder neighbors like Berlin and Copenhagen. Those days are over, @nytimestravel reports. The dynamic Dutch capital recently reopened 2 national landmarks, the @rijksmuseum and @stedelijkmuseum, after multiyear, multimillion-euro renovations. Meanwhile, old and abandoned buildings are finding new identities as music venues, galleries and a wildly popular food hall. Amsterdam’s famous canals are as pretty as ever, but in every district, from the industrial north to the fashionable south, there’s a palpable sense of a city in perpetual — and exciting — renewal. @ilvynjio photographed this view of #Amsterdam from above of the the city’s center. Visit the link in our profile for tips about what to do with #36hours in Amsterdam. ????

A photo posted by The New York Times (@nytimes) on

The New York Times uses Instagram to provide readers with snapshots into their stories. With their extensive photo archive, they’re able to create compelling micro-stories on the platform.

The above photo drove over 19,800 likes and nearly 500 comments for the New York Times. The whimsical photo of Amsterdam was accompanied by a caption talking about the city reviving old buildings. This made for a digestible story, all in one’s Instagram feed.

What about video? Video is the format everyone wants to master this year, and publishers like NowThis are using video on Instagram to tell short stories and capture moments that will satiate their readers’ curiosity for new, interesting content.

NowThis Instagram

The above posts on NowThis’s feed are short, captioned videos, easy to watch and digest for users on their phones.

Encourage Audience Involvement

On Instagram, it’s pretty straightforward for users to comments or like content – these are the two main engagement actions. Savvy publishers use Instagram to bolster their audience’s relationship to their content and thus, publication.

If Ray Allen joins the Warriors: Down by 3, who takes it?

A photo posted by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

Bleacher Report saw the most comments out of the publishers we analyzed, over 718,000 in just 30 days’ time. Their content ignites sports fans’ passion, and prompts debate by asking questions or opinions on sports happenings.

The above photo drove over 102,000 likes and 12,000 comments. Publishers that gameify their content, or ask for followers’ opinions on something they’re passionate about, can see big responses. 

Join our newsletter to keep up on ways to get your audience buzzing, read by experts at BBC News, BuzzFeed, and more

Be True to the Publisher Brand

Though Instagram isn’t driving traffic back to publishers’ stories, it can nonetheless showcase the brand as the star and show the value of the publishers’ content to readers.

giving hiddleswift a run for their money

A photo posted by BuzzFeed (@buzzfeed) on

BuzzFeed saw over 106,000 likes and 3,800 comments for this post, which could easily have belonged in one of their articles. In fact, all of BuzzFeed’s Instagram content follows this pattern — providing funny or thought-provoking cultural posts that may inspire users to hop over to the website for more.

What to Remember

For publishers looking to stay ahead of the algorithm and bring their followers interesting and compelling content, there are a few things to remember:

  • Be visually pleasing or striking
  • Use the platform’s strengths for new ways to tell stories
  • Get your audience involved and play to their interests
  • Show off your publisher brand and value

The hero tactic here is as always, provide content that has a genuine value to your audience. Adapt it to the best practices and trends of the platform and pay attention to how your followers respond. Quality stories can and will resonate across platforms.

Take a free trial of Spike to see the Instagram trends driving engagement now

 

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