For The Telegraph, social platforms like Instagram and Snapchat are useful for finding and warming up new and younger audiences it hopes to eventually convert into paying subscribers.

The Telegraph has begun to more closely monitor user journeys on Instagram and Snapchat to work out what content drives readers to register and eventually subscribe, paying attention to metrics like retention and dwell time.

“There are a lot of different things at play, a deeper look at user journeys are the obvious next step,” said Beth Ashton, head of social at The Telegraph. “What the payoff will be is still pretty unknown; it’s about engaging people and introducing them to our content, which may be different from what they expect from us.”

Instagram is the only social platform where The Telegraph can easily spot a link between the posts and paying subscribers, via article links in the account biography. On The Telegraph’s Instagram account, 53% of its 405,000 followers are below the age of 34. According to the publisher, the account has converted people to registered users and paying subscribers, but it wouldn’t share the exact conversion rate.

The Telegraph has a six-person social media team, although it has an additional five employees dedicated to Snapchat Discover. Instagram followers have doubled since September 2018, according to SocialBakers, partly because The Telegraph has translated its color palette and typography to its posts and expanded the range of content to include topics like lifestyle and culture.

The team also adds context to stories to make them more relevant to a younger audience. For instance, this obituary of John Humble, who pretended he was the Yorkshire Ripper murderer to police, features just the audio phone calls on The Telegraph Instagram post.

“This isn’t how we’d normally do an obit but we felt that it was important to contextualize the story for this specific audience,” said Ashton. “This content is from the story; it’s just not necessarily in this order but includes the infamous call and then explaining why it was so significant.”

The Telegraph’s Snapchat Discover channel, launched June 2017, is the publisher’s most regular and well-established route to reaching younger people, but how it drives subscribers — as a closed platform — is murkier than Instagram. The channel has an average of 1 million daily viewers, 50% of whom are between 18 and 24 years old, according to the publisher. It also monitors dwell time and top-snap conversion rates, showing that readers are interested in the content beyond the attention-grabbing style of the top snap.

Figuring out how metrics beyond unique views fit into the subscriber journey is becoming increasingly important, said Ashton. The Telegraph is playing catch-up to other subscriptions publishers like The Economist and The Financial Times, which have already worked out how many times readers typically come into contact with the news brand before converting.

The Telegraph’s five-person Snapchat team comprises three designers and two editors. For Snapchat, and its other social platforms, The Telegraph doesn’t create original content but repackages and redesigns what already exists. This is so readers going on to register or subscribe will, to some degree, know what to expect. Where it does differ is in contextualizing in-depth stories, for instance, background articles on consequences of a no-deal Brexit and explainers on what terms like “proroguing” parliament mean.

The publisher has revealed that WhatsApp, where it offers twice-daily audio news segments, does drive subscribers: People are 12 times more likely to become a paying subscriber if they sign up to the WhatsApp channel compared with accessing the homepage, according to the publisher.

People who follow the link to articles via the WhatsApp channel go on to read double the number of articles than an average reader. So far the publisher has thousands of people subscribed. High levels of engagement are more likely as people have to seek out The Telegraph WhatsApp channel, whereas on Snapchat and Instagram viewers can happen on content by chance.

The Telegraph’s primary social accounts have 8.2 million followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube combined, according to Tubular Labs. That’s a sizeable funnel that it needs to work on converting into registered users.

“Understanding user states are the next logical step,” said Ashton. “Our overall goal is [to drive] registered users and subscribers. But, in order for us not to cannibalize ourselves, we have to cast a wide net, we have to do the two things in tandem.”

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