Photo vs. Video: How Publishers on Instagram Breakdown Their Strategy

October 5, 2016

Written by NewsWhip

With Instagram driving enormous engagement for publishers, how are publishers dividing their content across photo and video posts? 

Last week, we looked at how content on Instagram has seen tremendous growth and engagement for publishers in the past year. 
We’ve looked at the top tactics for Instagram video as well, but how do the top media publishers on Instagram divvy up their photo and video game?
As video is an increasingly essential medium across social media platforms, how are these publishers using it on Instagram? We put 31 Instagram accounts from news publishers under the microscope. The data around engagement for the month of September comes from NewsWhip Spike.
Let’s start with a look at the top 10 media publishers of September.
Instagram Publishers September 2016
As we see above, these are the top news publishers we analyzed on Instagram for September. National Geographic, ESPN, and Bleacher Report continue to steal the show. However, their video vs. photo strategy differs greatly.
chart of top ten Instagram with video count and photo count
Bleacher Report and Vogue were the only two we analyzed that produced more video content for Instagram in September than photos. Overall, of the 31 publishers we analyzed, there were 2,955 photo posts to 1,105 video posts.
ESPN, CNN, and Vogue had the closest photo to video ratio, while the New York Times, GQ, and the New York Times Travel had the biggest disparity, because they didn’t post any videos at all.
ESPN Bleacher Report Vogue Instagram
Despite this close ratio, both ESPN and Vogue saw significantly more engagement for photo posts, while Bleacher Report saw more for video.
Most publishers saw most of their engagements coming from photo posts. Bleacher Report, NowThis, Daily Mail, and BBC News were the only four out of the 31 Instagram accounts to attribute more engagement to video posts.
The average likes per Instagram post were 53,612 for a photo and 36,485 for a video. Meanwhile, the average comments per post type were 767 for a video post and 373 for a photo post.
So, photos get more likes. But videos spark more comments. Let’s look at which photos and videos came out on top. 

The Top Photos

What are the most liked photos of September? From the publishers we analyzed, the top 214 most-liked photos were all from National Geographic’s Instagram accounts. You go, Nat Geo!
So, instead, here are the top liked photos from each of the top 10 Instagram photo publishers.
Top Photos Instagram Publishers
Looking at these, we can see some publishers chose to use extensive captions to add quite a lot of context to the photos. This brings in some storytelling around the image, whether it’s emotive or simply the photographer’s point-of-view. Other photos utilized Instagram hashtags, which can drive a good deal of engagement and discovery from users not in your fanbase.
Hard to visualize? Let’s look at the actual photos.
These photos are visually striking. Some show something that users wouldn’t see everyday, like National Geographic’s three photos. Some are just well done photos, like that of New York Times Fashion. Some tug at followers’ heartstrings, such as the ones from ESPN (top right corner), Bleacher Report (middle left), Vogue (middle right), and Fox News (bottom right corner).
Paired with powerful captions, these photos create moments of snapshot storytelling. Publishers can pack a punch by combining an emotive photo with a compellingly worded caption.

View this post on Instagram

Maybe it was the unexpected warmth of the gesture, the sheer enveloping display of affection. Maybe it was his response, the beatific expression on his face, eyes almost closed, head tilted toward her shoulder. Maybe it was the moment: tenderness at a time when presidential politics has become a festival of cruelty. And maybe you’ve already seen the photo splashed across your social feeds by now. Because when @michelleobama hugged former President @georgewbush at a ceremony to open the National Museum of African American History and Culture (@nmaahc) on Saturday, the internet reacted. “However one chose to interpret it — and overinterpretation is a hazard in such exercises — it became an instant metaphor,” wrote @nytimes White House correspondent Mark Landler. #regram from @al_drago, who took this photo on Saturday while on #nytassignment. Visit the link in our profile to read more. #regram

A post shared by The New York Times (@nytimes) on

This was the top liked photo from the New York Times in September, following the above trends. It’s an emotionally triggering photo, accompanied by a strong caption. With 39,000 likes, the photo was a success for the Times.
Want to see the Instagram photos that drive the biggest engagement in your industry? Try NewsWhip Spike free to discover them.

The Top Videos

Since we looked at the top liked photos, let’s now pivot to the most commented videos of September.
top Instagram videos September
National Geographic shared its crown here in the top ten with Bleacher Report, BuzzFeed, and ESPN. Again, we see some visually stunning videos from National Geographic, and some high-action sports moments from Bleacher Report and ESPN.
Bleacher Report also combined controversial moves in the sports industry with pop culture memes, as seen in their top commented video.

This was Bleacher Report’s top Instagram video of September. The video was viewed 2.6 million times and drove over 24,000 comments. Passionate sports fans (and equally passionate Harambe fans), left reactions and tagged their friends in the comments.
We saw in our last analysis of publisher video on Instagram that Bleacher Report often encouraged their fans to comment by asking trivia questions or for their opinions on sports. This month they deviated from that format by incorporating pop culture into many of their videos, from Mortal Kombat to ‘the dab.’
Pop culture works well for driving comments. BuzzFeed’s videos, much like its top liked photo, shared relatable, often self-deprecatory moments, that users often tagged their friends in the comments in order to share. Pop culture references create mass shared experiences that many people can join in on.

So, Photo vs. Video.

With both Instagram now such a massive channel, and video growing across all platforms, it’s important for publishers and brands alike to drill down their content format strategy.
Instagram photos may drive more likes and engagement overall, but videos can drive more comments on average. Since a like is as easy as a double tap on a user’s phone while they scroll, commenting might reveal deeper engagement.
It’s up to publishers to assess the content that their audience craves, find the trends and tactics that are engaging users across the platform, and bring the stories they’ll love.

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