The new, new thing? Instagram. Again.

Instagram is not new, but media companies of all shapes and sizes have been rushing to Instagram in 2018. Changes and challenges with Facebook’s algorithm have partly driven the push, but it’s also because IG continues to surge in popularity with audiences. 

Instagram has long been known as the “positive” social network and local media companies have done well to leverage a strategy that emphasizes “pride of place.” Audiences will follow you if they look at your account and think to themselves, “this is why I live here.”

Of course, news brands also feel a responsibility for actually covering the news and presenting information that’s more important than a pretty sunset. “The trick is to balance the two,” says Lila King, Instagram’s head of news partnerships. “Do something that is deeply tied to what you stand for, being a pillar, a voice for the community. But also covering what’s happening.”

Yes, breaking news can work in Instagram, but should be done selectively. For example, KABC in LA saw a nice boost in referral traffic from this post. But if you look through the rest of the station’s feed, you will notice that its 220,000 followers receive a mix of content that  leans heavily toward “pride of place” with situational breaking news sprinkled throughout. 

Instagram has become a more complex platform in recent months, with Live, Stories and the new IGTV confusing what previously was a relatively simple play. Given that, we thought it would be timely to offer an Instagram reset with some recommendations for how best to leverage IG.

Nuts and bolts

First, it’s important to remember that 80% of Instagram users are located outside the United States, so when you see eye-popping stats (300 million Insta stories are generated daily) you should take them with a grain of salt. 

Next, understand how the IG algorithm works and determines what your current followers will see in their feed. There are three main factors that determine this, according to Techcrunch:

- Interest: How much Instagram predicts you’ll care about a post
- Recency: How recent a post was published 
- Relationship: How much a user engages with the authoring account

Unlike its parent company and some of the games Facebook has played over the years to juice new features like Facebook Live, Instagram’s feed doesn’t favor users who use Stories, Live, or other special features of the app. People’s feeds adapt to show the kind of content they engage with more often, so if you never stop to watch videos you will probably see fewer of them.

Stories have proven successful in growing followers and driving referral traffic to your website and can be cross-posted to Facebook. First Media was able to increase the Instagram followers for its So Yummy and Blusher accounts when Facebook viewers tapped on the cross-posted Stories to view the publications’ Instagram profiles. Within 10 days, So Yummy was increasing its Instagram followers by 34 percent to 6,358 new followers a day from what it was adding previously, Yuval Rechter, First Media’s head of digital, told Digiday.

IGTV is the new kid on the block and it’s relatively easy to gain views in the new content hub since the IGTV feed is not yet flooded with content. ABC30 in Fresno has been experimenting with a Pet of the Week installment, which receives hundreds of views, and has also published promotional instruction videos for customizing its news app. Meanwhile, consumer product brands are out in front (as usual) finding ways engage with audiences on this new platform.

And, in case you hadn’t heard, users can now add music to their Instagram stories

Do more of this, not less

Be playful: Whether you are posting a static photo or publishing to Stories or using LIve or IGTV. It’s one of the constants of the Insta community and something the audience expects. Identify what you can do that no one else can do better than you, which often comes back to “pride of place” and surfacing special places and personalities in your geographical market. 

Mix your content: Instagram recommends mixing content (photos, videos, Stories and Live) will help you gain more followers. 

Strategically tag your content: Proper and strategic hashtagging is also critical to follower growth, especially now that users can follow hashtags. Do your research and explore hashtags and create a list of the most active hashtags that are appropriate for your brand, then consistently use them. 

Look to non-news brands for inspiration: Good examples of “mobile-first” style accounts include Cosmopolitan, Bustle and Refinery29.

More Insta advice (from an Instagram workshop in NYC):

- Instagram Live should be conversational and intimate. Use your own mobile phone, not a professional camera or live broadcast.
- If it looks different from the rest of Instagram, it feels like an ad.
- Instagram has found higher Story completion rates if you introduce yourself near the beginning.

And, as always, keep experimenting. “Don’t assume the thing you did six months ago is going to work because people get bored,” King says.