How the Financial Times switches tactics to win big on Instagram

May 16, 2018

Written by Benedict Nicholson
emoji blog

We looked at the data to determine how the Financial Times changes its content tactics between Facebook and Instagram, and how emoji fit into that.

The Financial Times is one of the most respected and well-known brands in journalism. Ever since its first issue way back in 1888, it has been the go-to newspaper for serious people to read about serious topics.
So how does that fit into the age of social platforms?

Quite well, actually, comes the perhaps unexpected answer. We looked at eight of the biggest UK-based publications to see how their tactics differed between Facebook and Instagram, and how the FT fits in.

We looked at the Facebook and Instagram posts of the Daily Mail, The Independent, The Guardian, the Daily Mirror, The Sun, The Telegraph, the Financial Times, and The Times for April 2017 to April 2018 to determine:

  • what tactics they were employing to share their content
  • who were the most successful
  • whether there was any difference between the platforms

For these publishers, in terms of total engagements, their Facebook Pages are still much bigger than their Instagram accounts, mostly by virtue of the sheer amount of content they publish to their Facebook Page vs how much they are publishing on Instagram.

They are, however, comparable in terms of their average engagements per post, so the first thing we did was rank them by average Facebook engagements vs Instagram engagements, as seen in the chart below.

As you can see, there tends to be a pattern that the Facebook posts of these publishers have roughly the same amount or a slightly higher number of average engagements as the Instagram posts.

There were, however, exceptions to this rule, with The Guardian and, in particular, the Financial Times.
While The Guardian had an average engagement rate on Instagram of 2.5x what it had on Facebook, the Financial Times’ average outperformed its Facebook average by an astonishing 13.4x. So we decided to look at how the publisher was behaving differently between platforms.

The gap between the Financial Times’ social platforms

One thing we noticed immediately was the difference in the way the Financial Times presented its content, both in terms of the type of content, and the language used in its presentation.

On its Facebook Page, the Financial Times very much posted the actual story which it wanted people to read, which resulted in a much lower average engagement. The posts tended to be short, descriptive headlines, and either links or native video, as seen from the top content below.

This is a fine means to share stories, though it hardly helped the publication stand out, ranking seventh out of the eight publications in terms of average engagement on the platform. It works fine on Facebook for what the Financial Times is doing, but does not necessarily convert across platforms to Instagram.

For a publication known principally for its extremely serious financial and political coverage, and a paywalled one at that, it’s not necessarily the easiest transition to what is often a whimsical, visual platform.

Looking at their growth on Instagram over the past year though, they have clearly hit upon a winning formula.

In short, the publication’s tactics were completely different for Instagram. It was much less about the individual story and much more about the brand itself. The FT photo diary series draws people into brand awareness without ever linking to any particular story.

On Instagram, for the Financial Times, only three of the top ten posts for the year are about a story in particular and not linked to the photo diary project or their week in pictures page.

The descriptions tended to be extremely lengthy and informative and, interestingly, there was also a high number of headlines with emoji in them. Indeed, 67 of the top 100 posts most engaged posts from the Financial Times for the period contained emoji in the description.

The type of emoji used varied by the story, with the most popular being the camera emoji for their photo diary series, or emoji such as a lunar eclipse, or a rhino to add to what is being described in the main post.

Emoji, of course, were not limited to the Financial Times, all of the eight publications used them in at least one of their top stories on Instagram, but there is something interesting to note in the way publications use them differently.

How different publications utilize emoji

As we noted, the Financial Times principally uses emoji as an addition to the photo’s description, and this was something we also saw in The Times, The Daily Mirror, and even The Telegraph, for the few amount of posts they had with emoji.

This was one tactic, but there was also another one used principally by publications such as The Sun and The Daily Mail.

Where the first grouping of publications use emoji as a descriptor, the latter group uses them as an emotive driver. Liberal use of images that provoke or encourage emotions, such as hearts, laughter, or sad emoji constitutes a very different tactic, and clearly shows the aim of the publications to be to drive their viewers to see the image or video a certain way.

Interestingly, there is a crossover for The Daily Mail as they do this on their Facebook Page as well, while The Sun does not. This was clearly a successful tactic for the Mail though, coming out with the highest average engagement on Facebook among these publishers, so sometimes it doesn’t hurt to stick to what you know, and to what your audience will appreciate.

There are any number of tactics to be successful across social, and using emoji and changing strategies depending on the social platform you are using are just two of them, but they are two that have certainly worked.

One of the key lessons is that publications can be different things to different people, and even different things on different platforms. The Financial Times has embraced that, and are seeing genuine success from it.

For a look at the content that audiences are engaging with across any niche right now, check out NewsWhip Spike.

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Benedict Nicholson

In addition to leading the NewsWhip Research Center in New York, Benedict Nicholson manages partnerships with internationally recognized media outlets furthering data journalism, which includes NewsWhip’s Data for Democracy program. Benedict also facilitates consultations with communicators from the top 10 public relations agencies across America and Europe and with Fortune 500 brands to discuss consumer engagement trends and effective media monitoring. Email Benedict via

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