The Rise of Instagram
Instagram’s explosive growth has led many newsrooms to wonder what is the effort that they should make with this image sharing social platform.   The fundamental question: is it worth dedicating resources to maintaining a strong and consistent presence on this social media platform vs. other platforms that generate website visits?  Given that Instagram acts as a walled garden and doesn’t offer a direct link to other newsroom properties, many news organizations have shied away from making Instagram a big effort.   

SmithGeiger has dedicated significant resources to understanding this new world of “visual social” and how Instagram can help your team grow your reach, reputation, ratings and revenue.  

The Basics
The platform was one of many photo sharing applications created in 2010.  The elegance of the design elevated the appeal of Instagram which lead to the purchase by Facebook for a billion dollars.  Since the very first days the platform has been a favorite of teens and millennials (although the mobile first experience has widened its appeal considerably) with engagement with millions of images and billions of likes every day.  Four hundred million users gives Instagram an international audience that includes many mobile consumers in your market. 

If your team has an Instagram presence, you already know the substantial engagement that a great picture can create.  In our studies of Instagram use, we can confirm it has among the highest levels of engagement of any social platform due to the simplicity of the experience.   Instagram’s focus on pictures that can be instantly consumed and can be quickly interacted with elevates it beyond text driven experiences.  The ability of the audience on Instagram to quickly swipe through dozens of images whenever they are bored or have a spare mobile minute makes it one of the best platforms for brand relevancy at any hour of the day. 

This high level of engagement can occur around a wide range of visuals…from sunsets  to news quotes to the latest breaking news.   The audience is not just consuming content on the go, Instagram represents a the evolution of visual documentation by the mobile generation where your audience is constantly creating photo collections around their lives.   As a result of this new habit, Instagrammers (as users are often referred) to are actively sharing photos of news as it happens.   This reflects how Instagram isn’t just a place to share your team’s news gathering to a place where your team can actively search for news as it happens. 

Instagram will not be a strong source of traffic to your website.  It is instead a powerful platform for engagement and brand awareness.  Given the younger demos using Instagram, a strong picture can be a great way to help an audience understand why they should get to know your newsroom or station.  As your team distributes compelling images and videos, the audience will share them and serve as digital word of mouth for your team’s efforts…be it sharing a rainbow from your weather team or pictures of important moments in your region’s history coming from your anchors. 

Getting Started
While video has a role in Instagram, we encourage news teams to launch with their best pictures.  Your station archives can often be a starting place for a series of popular posts particularly those showing your community from a few years ago and how different it may have looked.   You’ll want to quickly go beyond just throw back Thursday like efforts to asking the question each editorial meeting, what is today’s best picture and how can we share that across multiple platforms including Instagram? 

To immediately boost engagement, include user handles in the captions and be generous with appropriate hashtags.   To increase your success, move away from horizontal news images that work for TV and instead look to vertical media, images that are shot in the up and down aspect ratio that reflects mobile use.   While many people think of Instagram images as a square (the new pixel count is 1080 pixels in width x 1080 pixels in height for the traditional square) you can have a more powerful impact and more screen space that fits the mobile environment with the vertical presentation Instagram now supports.    Snackable videos can also be effective when the topic has more enduring value.   The content can be quickly uploaded from any mobile device.  You can’t tag people in videos but you can mention them in the comments where the people or organizations will be notified. 

While it may be tempting to do promotion pictures or videos for programs in Instagram, the same equation that works in other social channels of offering value first before any promotional message applies to this platform.  Simply posting pictures of your talent on the set or program tune in images stars of network shows is unlikely to see strong engagement unless the picture or video is compelling and the topic of great interest.   You can give your audience a sense of behind the scenes and insider access but only when the picture or video illustrates a part of an interesting story, not just another selfie like presentation. 

Going Forward
Access to what is now one of the world’s largest advertising platforms is giving big brands a new way to power their relevancy with the new generation of visual social consumers.  We’ll offer ideas about ways to increase your connection with new audiences in future SmithGeiger updates with the latest advice around making targeted social buys on Instagram.  For now, we recommend that you talk to your SmithGeiger consultant and our social specialists for more specific and updated examples of how newsrooms and media companies are leveraging the power of Instagram for their cross platform success for free.