Inside The New York Times Instagram strategy

To appeal to a new generation of news consumers, The New York Times is going all-in on Instagram.

Over the past few weeks, the Times started new Instagram accounts for its video team, sports desk, marketing department and events team. Those four joined existing Times accounts for food, travel, fashion and T Magazine content. That makes eight active Times Instagram account today, with plans to launch a primary @NYTimes account in the next month or two.

“It’s not an effort to drive traffic to the site. That’s very hard to do on Instagram,” said Alexandra MacCallum, assistant managing editor for audience development at the Times. “It’s much more about building awareness and, hopefully, loyalty for The New York Times broadly, but particularly for the Times’ incredible visual storytelling.”

Each New York Times desk — be it food, fashion, sports or video — operates its own Instagram feed, determining what and when to post, according to MacCallum. Some editors choose to repurpose existing photos and videos for their Instagram feeds, but others share certain things exclusively on Instagram. The travel desk, for example, cuts 15-second videos specifically for Instagram, which serve as vignettes from its “36 Hour” weekend travel guide series.

While the audience development staff has encouraged Times editors to become more active on social platforms, the team hasn’t required any specific department, photographer or videographer to make an Instagram feed, said MacCallum. Yet working social media into the newsroom workflow is a broader goal of MacCallum’s team.

“It has been a lot easier than I had anticipated,” said MacCallum. “After the [internal New York Times] innovation report, the whole newsroom has been very excited about experimentation.”

Facebook-owned Instagram now has over 300 million users. Many of those users are young, wealthy and highly engaged: Over half of Americans aged 12 to 24 have Instagram accounts, according to a survey from Edison Research and Triton Digital; Instagram reaches 83 percent of U.S. teens in wealthy households, according to Piper Jaffray; and Instagram users interact with posts 18 times more often on Instagram than they do on Facebook, according to a report from research firm L2.

In other words, Instagram users are very good candidates to be future New York Times subscribers.

“This Instagram strategy is a very cost-effective way to stay relevant to the younger audience,” said Fahad Khan, CEO of Tube Centrex. The Times “may not necessarily want or expect them to pay for the subscription immediately, but when these teens eventually graduate and get a job, I think there’s a great chance the Times can convert some of that audience into customers.”

The Times’ longest-running Instagram account, @nytimesfashion, is by far its most popular. Simone Oliver, formerly the Times’ online fashion editor and now growth editor inside the audience-development group, launched the account on July 1, 2011. Since then, it has averaged just under two posts a day, amassing 727,000 total followers on the platform. The feed is full of attractive, stylish people, a mixture of model photos and on-the-street shots. Each new post racks up thousands of likes and dozens — if not hundreds — of comments.

“The broader success of that particular account has been because it had a very passionate editor who cared about maintaining a specific visual voice,” said MacCallum. “To the extent that we can do that in other verticals, I think we’ll be able to be successful.”

Cycle chic at #pittiuomo87 Florence – photo by @leeoliveira A photo posted by New York Times Fashion (@nytimesfashion) on

Homepage image courtesy of Meridith Kohut / The New York Times