Which publishers have the most active audiences on Instagram?

October 25, 2017

Written by NewsWhip
social media monitoring instagram engaged audiences

Instagram is the platform of 2017 to master as a content creator. But which publishers have succeeded at building a following that actually likes and comments?

Last week, we looked at which publishers have built out the most engaged audiences on their main Facebook Pages. This week, we’re shifting gears to take a look at the most engaged followers on Instagram.

We’ve watched Instagram closely over the past few months, noting that its exponential growth has been particularly beneficial to publishers on the platform.

In our analysis of the top July publishers, we saw National Geographic continue to sweep the rankings, along with viral gossip publishers like the Shade Room and Baller Alert.

We grouped more than 130 of the top publishers on Instagram together for the month of September. Here’s what we found, using data from NewsWhip Analytics.

News Publishers

If we focus just on news publishers, we see that BuzzFeed News comes out on top by a notable margin. We calculated these engagement rates by dividing the handles’ total likes and comments in September by its number of followers.

After Buzzfeed, Fox News and ABC 7 LA follow. Fox News saw nearly double the engagements to its Instagram account in September than BuzzFeed News, but still BuzzFeed News had the more engaged audience.

If we compare these numbers to our top engagement rates on news publishers’ Facebook Pages, the Instagram rates are slightly higher. The average engagement rate for these Instagram accounts was 1.69, while for the top 20 news Pages, it was 1.18.

What’s also interesting is how many regional publishers make this list. San Francisco Gate and Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, and several New York outlets. These publishers have a more focused audience than national or global publishers. Their content may be more relevant to their followers’ everyday lives, as in ABC 7 LA’s post and SF Gate’s post here.

So what is BuzzFeed News doing right?

The publishers’ top Instagram posts come from making “snackable” stories. They’re primarily lighthearted, human interest stories, related to celebrities, pop culture, or to current U.S. politics.

In September, the publisher posted 87 photos, 70 videos, and 23 carousels. As we learned from Instagram’s own Lila King at ONA, it’s key to switch up your formats so your content has a better chance of being discovered in the Explore tab.

Sports Publishers

As we mentioned in our sports publishing report, sports have a natural fit on social. By combining stunning visuals with hero stories, sports publishers can deliver truly compelling content. The audience is already passionate and social media gives followers a place to connect and participate further.

Bleacher Report Football had the most engaged Instagram audience of any publisher in our analysis. Bleacher Report’s main Instagram account nabbed the fourth place spot as well, following after BenchWarmers and Squawka.

Comparing again the most engaged sports audiences on Facebook vs. Instagram, our average for the above Instagram accounts is a rate of 9.20 vs. 1.08 on Facebook.

Digiday just reported that Instagram is a huge focus for Bleacher Report: quoting Lee Walker, the global managing editor at Bleacher Report, “Across the board, it’s the platform where we get the most engagement. It sums up our mantra of elevated storytelling through great visuals and design.”

View this post on Instagram

Hard work pays off.

A post shared by Bleacher Report Football (@brfootball) on

Bleacher Report Football’s posts hit all the best practices for sports publishers on social: hype posts, telling athletes’ stories, sharing entertaining memes, nostalgic posts, must-know news, asking fans to comment, and going beyond the game.

Political Publishers 

We saw politics drive significant engagement rates in our analysis of Facebook. Does the same hold true on Instagram?

Looking at publishers with a political focus, we can see that those with a more conservative or more liberal view tend to perform better than “middle of the road” political publishers, like CNN Politics.

In a change, Facebook seems to have the more engaged audiences than Instagram. The average engagement rate for our political Facebook Pages was 2.72 and 1.85 for our Instagram political publishers.

Looking at the top publisher on both sides, Breitbart drove engagements with photos on current events with big, impossible-to-miss text, and ATTN:’s top posts came from short videos that summarized current events in the news cycle.

Fashion and Beauty Publishers

When we looked at the fashion and beauty industry on Instagram, we saw that the visual and inspirational platform was the perfect fit for those publishers to thrive. Let’s take a look at the top engaged audiences.

We have a clear winner. Highsnobiety has the most engaged audience here by a wide margin, a rate of 6.90 to Bustle’s 2.11 and Teen Vogue’s 1.18.

The publisher’s top performing posts are all photos, with short captions. The photos have a strong focus, and often are out-of-the-ordinary images. The captions sometimes ask followers to comment or come up with their own caption.


Meanwhile, Bustle sees its top posts come from memes and entertaining, relatable photos. The tops photos often have animals. Teen Vogue’s top posts come from celebrity photos, often asking users to tag a friend in the comments.

Viral and Interest Publishers

Lastly, we turn our attention to publishers with a specific focus in content, be it music, animals, nature, food, or anything else.

social media monitoring instagram engaged audiences interest viral

There are some great engagement rates here. COMPLEX, a music publisher, has a rate only rivaled by Bleacher Report Football and BenchWarmers in our analysis.

What works for these publishers, whether they’re focused on travel, celebrity gossip, food, or simply fun content, is that they have a focus. Social media is more and more a niche publishers’ game. Platform algorithms will surface the content that users’ are most interested in, and niche publishers can cater to those interests.

What’s behind COMPLEX’s stellar engagement rate?

View this post on Instagram

NOPE. [h/t @peepmyeats]

A post shared by COMPLEX (@complex) on

While COMPLEX’s top posts primarily came from photos of celebrities, there were also quirky posts like above. These tie into pop culture moments, and stand out in a user’s feed.

Other top posts were nostalgic, throwback posts around celebrities, and out-of-the-ordinary videos (sometimes music related). The captions tend to be short and snappy.

What to remember

Instagram has a world of opportunities for publishers and you want to be targeting your audience there.
The proof is in the numbers. In our analysis of publishers on Facebook, the highest engagement rate was 9.12 from NTD Television Australia. Compare this with Bleacher Report Football’s 39.25.

So how can you optimize your content?

  1. Share “snack-size” stories
  2. Be as targeted as possible; know what your audience cares about
  3. Encourage participation from followers
  4. Use visuals that are eye-catching in a user’s feed
  5. Create posts that are relatable to your audience

For a closer look into what’s going viral on Instagram and the web, try NewsWhip Spike.

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