How BBC News has grown its Instagram following by posting less video

Since last summer, BBC News has honed its Instagram content, posting less frequently, but more relevant video, and it’s paying off. According to the broadcaster, Instagram is its fastest-growing social platform by followers, relative to size; it has 4.8 million followers to date and adds 2,000 followers a week.

Data from NewsWhip finds the monthly average number of engagements (likes, shares and comments) for the BBC News Instagram account has grown from 10,000 in March 2017 to 22,000 this February, while the number of monthly video posts has halved from 120 to less than 60.

This is partly because BBC News, and other news publishers, has figured out the type of content that performs well on Instagram — typically, human interest stories with a U.K. focus. Recent posts include a video about a transgender beauty queen in Thailand and one about a Londoner navigating the subway system in a wheelchair. Previously, the broadcaster posted a wider variety of video — which BBC News has in abundance — to the platform. Now the focus is on creating a more mixed content offering.

“This audience is on Instagram first,” said Mark Frankel, social media editor at BBC News. “This is an opportunity to reach an audience that otherwise wouldn’t consume our content, while boosting referral traffic.”

Frankel leads a social team of six people, plus an assistant editor, who post content to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The group also relies on the wider digital video team to make Instagram versions of videos when needed.

Apart from Instagram Stories, content for the platform is mostly reformatted from the BBC’s other platforms, although content that is a clearer fit for Instagram, like a video honoring fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy after his death, is published there before it appears on the BBC’s other social and owned platforms.

In February, coinciding with Facebook’s decision to de-emphasize publisher content in the news feed, BBC News started focusing on using Instagram as a traffic referrer, showing its top three news stories of the day on Instagram Stories, where audiences can swipe up to read more and then sign up for the BBC News daily email.

“We’ve been looking at how to take the audience on a journey, a daily digest to encourage them to go and engage with BBC News more deeply,” said Frankel. “It was the right time to think about boosting referral traffic from other platforms.” That’s not to say Facebook isn’t still an important part of the mix: the news of Stephen Hawking’s death yesterday drove millions of people to BBC News from Facebook.

The first clip in a BBC News Instagram Story tends to get up to 150,000 views, with a retention rate of about 50 percent, according to the broadcaster. BBC News said a few thousand people will typically swipe up on clips to read full articles, with 2,000 on average each day signing up to its daily newsletter, which has roughly 100,000 subscribers.

But Frankel is realistic about what Instagram can deliver. The platform will never funnel the same amount of referral traffic back to BBC News’ site as the broadcaster’s Facebook page, which has 46 million followers. Linking to its email newsletter in Instagram Stories is a more tangible way to bring audiences deep into the fold.

For BBC News, as with other media companies like the Guardian, Instagram is a way to grow its younger audience. Frankel estimates 80 percent of its Instagram audience, which is mostly based in the U.K., is younger than 25. While it’s hard to prove these are new audiences, unlike BBC News’ older audience, which consumes its content on TV and on its site, “they perhaps won’t have seen the news as a destination,” said Frankel.

Also since February, BBC News has run a quiz on Instagram Stories each Friday, in which users answer a true or false question about the week’s news. The goal is simply to get people more engaged with the news. One recent quiz was about fake news, pegged to the broadcaster’s initiative to increase knowledge of fake news in schools.

The BBC, funded by payers of its license fee, doesn’t have the same commercial pressures as other media companies that post to social platforms. But traffic referral from Instagram is still a top priority for the BBC, and it must smartly direct its resources to grow in this area. In time, Frankel wants to use Instagram, particularly Stories, to gather feedback and comments from audiences, which BBC News’ journalists can use to shape their stories.

“The workflow needs to be easy and sustainable before getting caught up in the engagement opportunities, of which there are many,” Frankel said.

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