The Guardian is finding when it comes to Instagram Stories, less is more — at least when it comes to how polished videos are.
Two months ago the Guardian started tracking and analyzing its Instagram audience data on a more granular basis, to test what formats and topics it should develop and evolve and what should be scrapped. The upshot: video drives more new followers than static posts, but time and resources spent on creating polished Instagram videos, specifically for Stories, simply aren’t worth the pay-off.
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After crunching data, the Guardian found that heavily produced videos with scripts and shot in a studio and professionally edited were simply not worth the effort. (Example: a short video series in which a Guardian presenter gave daily updates on gender pay gap-related news).
“It was just too laborious for the return on investment,” said Eleni Stefanou, acting social platforms editor at the Guardian.
Less labor-intensive posts have been introduced instead — static graphics or quick video explainers on news topics — have proved more popular. The average completion rate for these explainers is 45 percent, according to the publisher though it wouldn’t break out exact numbers.
These explainers will typically be about 15 slides that delve into topics such as the Russia spy poisoning story that dominated headlines through March. The Guardian is publishing around two of these a week and plans to increase its output in coming weeks. It will also keep its Instagram Stories series such as “Fake or For Real,” which were introduced earlier this year as a method of building return viewing.
“What the Guardian publishes now feel much more like news stories that are very much the culture of the internet — more like BuzzFeed’s style,” said Charlie Cottrell, head of editorial at agency We Are Social. “The language and use of emoji, and more low-fi sets, having younger presenters from all different kinds of backgrounds that will likely resonate more with the young audience they want to reach. The Guardian is a publisher and a brand that people have a very strong emotive relationship with.”
The publisher’s five-person social media team now meets weekly to talk through the week’s Instagram metrics, and get under the skin of what works and what doesn’t.
The channel has already proved a useful marketing vehicle for driving traffic to its website, and reaching new readers. In the last four months the publisher’s main Instagram account has grown from 860,000 to 1 million followers. Its Royal Wedding Instagram coverage, which included a mix of static images, Instagram Stories, and other videos attracted 3,000 more followers within 24 hours, 80 percent of which were new users. At the time, The Guardian Instagram account typically added between 500 and 1,000 new followers a day, according to the publisher. “This mirrors the average traffic that we drive from our global Instagram account, which is consistently made up of over 80 percent new users,” said Stefanou.
Of course, fuzzy engagement metrics aren’t enough these days. Reader revenue has become a core pillar of the Guardian’s business model, and as such, figuring out whether Instagram can become a useful vehicle for driving paid memberships, is also a priority. “We want to crack how we can use Instagram to drive membership at some point,” said Stefanou.
Options that it will consider include putting calls-to-actions into Instagram posts, though the publisher is wary of doing so prematurely. Before that the publisher is more likely to try more indirect methods, such as correlating whether people become members on its main website, after clicking through from Instagram videos or regular posts. Currently, it’s not possible to measure that.
“That will be the next step,”” said Stefanou. “What we have managed to do is track all the links we can see from Google Analytics and our Ophan [analytics] software. We can see the behavior of the audience who land on the page, but it’s hard to track the conversion. We can’t see what they do after they land on the page.”
“Younger audiences have grown up in an environment that’s free, so the content has to be relevant and important to them if they’re to build that relationship with the Guardian,” said Cottrell. “It’s about building relevance with an audience and helping them understand why good journalism should be paid for. The content has to be relevant and important to them in order to start building that relationship.”
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