Newspapers and Instagram: Why and How Newspapers Should Use Instagram

Launched in 2010, Instagram has over 700 million monthly users and three times more engagement than its parent company, Facebook. Celebrities using the platform have tens of millions of followers; brands that are on it receive hundreds of thousands of likes. Despite seeing 424 percent year to year growth in engagement, the largest engagement increase of any platform, less than 40 percent of newspapers are on Instagram.

So, what’s stopping newspapers from hopping on the platform’s bandwagon? Here are a couple things that could be holding them back:

First and foremost, no live links = no traffic driven:

Instagram only allows active links in the user’s profile bio. This means links don’t work in captions, comments, etc. and therefore won’t be effective in those locations. For an organization whose main products are news stories, this type of content isn’t received as well on the platform. News organizations primarily want visits to their original websites.

On the actual platform, it’s next to impossible to monetize:

On Instagram, users can’t embed advertisements before their content is viewed like on YouTube. They also can’t embed advertisements near where their content is viewed like on Facebook. Really, they just can’t embed advertisements. Users who make money from Instagram content are those using brand deals. This is when the account holder (primarily social media influencers) uses their account to promote a specific brand or product. However, this is done outside of Instagram and is a deal between the brand and the user. Monetization of content is done without Instagram’s involvement, and any money made is separate from the platform.

So, what’s the point of newspapers using Instagram?  Despite the previously mentioned off-putting factors, some newspapers have taken to Instagram and here’s why:

To reach new audiences:

This goal is arguably the most achievable using Instagram. Almost 60 percent of all online adults age 18 to 29 years old use Instagram, the highest percentage of age groups. Most Instagram users are 18 to 29 years old. This age range also has the lowest number of daily newspaper readership. Eighty percent of Instagram users are also from outside of the United States, which provides the opportunity to reach international audiences. With the demographics of Instagram users and features (namely the explore page and the post-sharing messaging capability) that allow quick and easy content sharing within the platform, one post can spread or be stumbled upon and the organization that posted the original content will spread with it.

Brand awareness:

By being active on Instagram, an organization can easily keep its brand at the forefront of followers’ minds. Out of the adults that use the Internet, around around 30 percent use Instagram. Almost one-third of the 700 million on Instagram are on the platform at least once a day. This provides a lot of opportunities for brands to create awareness.

Expanding the brand:

Most newspapers already have an established brand prior to using Instagram. The platform provides the opportunity to showcase a slightly different aspect of their brand. Due to the uniqueness of the content-sharing capability on Instagram, a traditional approach to content may not work. It’s worth trying to expand the type of content delivered by your specific brand. This opens some doors for well-established organizations.
A great example of a publication achieving all these goals on Instagram is The Economist. They have over one million followers on the platform and receive thousands of engagements (likes and comments) per post. From quotes to short news stories, this publication is using Instagram to draw in more brand awareness, reach new audiences, expand their brand and more – while subtly placing their subscription link in their bio.

Once it’s acknowledged that the pros to using Instagram outweigh the cons, there are ways to effectively utilize this social media platform as a visual representation of an organization.
Here are some ways to follow in the footsteps of publishers that are doing it right:

Most importantly, stay true to the brand:

It’s true that Instagram provides the opportunity to try out some new aspects of the organization, but it’s important not to completely reinvent the brand on Instagram. Social media in general often gives off an informal tone, which can cause the temptation to follow suit. If the organization isn’t playful normally, they shouldn’t try to come off that way over social media. Take a note from a leading brand on Instagram, National Geographic. They replicate their brand through their posts, keeping an educational tone. It doesn’t hold them back – they have 78.3 million users and receive thousands of likes on each post.

Have amazing content:

This seems like an obvious tip; no one is attempting to produce horrible content. The main point of this one is to produce high caliber content as a priority. Focus on attracting new followers and keeping current followers engaged. On Instagram, there isn’t a ton of room for leading up to the content or posting meaningless content. Also, remember that Instagram is a photography platform, so a strong visual should be the strong point of each post on Instagram, just like it is for The Wall Street Journal:

Tease up future content:

Poytner suggests taking a lesson from CNN’s Instagram, where they “tease for long-form reporting.” When their reporters are on site, they will post photos to Instagram of the reporters in action, with captions hinting at longer, more in-depth stories that will be available on their website. This provides that desire to visit the website that isn’t made easy with Instagram.

A place to put extras:

Keeping the content meaningful and engaging is important, as is having a place to showcase this meaningful and engaging content, even if it doesn’t necessarily belong on a primary website. If there are some amazing shots that don’t really work with the story posted on the website, Instagram might just be the place. For example, The Los Angeles Times posted articles about the LA Pride events but they included this photo on Instagram instead of with any of the articles online:

Use it for what you want to:

If this is going to be the place where smaller, less hard-hitting projects will be displayed then that’s what it is going to be! Again, users should stick with the brand, but that doesn’t mean making a Humans of New York style Instagram of the company’s’ staff is going to be detrimental to your organization. Neither will using Instagram to highlight There aren’t rules of what type of content needs to be on Instagram, so you don’t have to align your content with that of which you see in your news feed. Take a note from azcentral who posts content on Instagram ranging from serious news updates to relatable memes:

A post shared by azcentral (@azcentral) on


Instagram is different for every user. While one newsroom is using it to display their hard-hitting news, another organization is successful showcasing their employees’ pets. See what works for the organization and run with it. Most often, first posts aren’t very successful- just think back to the first content you ever posted on social media; it might not have even gotten a single like. That’s because you were still figuring it out. Practice makes perfect.


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