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5 Instagram Audience Development Strategies From The New York Times

When was the last time you held a real, physical newspaper? Chances are much higher that you get your daily news fix from a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. This shift to digital media, accelerated by a decline in advertising revenue from print media, has flipped the newspaper business on its head. No one is untouched, not even a prestigious publication like The New York Times.

The award-winning newspaper occupies an enviable spot in the media industry. It is the most-discussed news publisher on social media, the most-cited, and one of the most-linked news sources across the Internet.

Source: The New York Times
Source: The New York Times

While The New York Times has had an online presence for the last two decades, it was only about two years ago that they recognized the need to make a concentrated effort to push their digital efforts, especially since social networks were becoming increasingly important for driving traffic to media sites. They have since strengthened their presence on Twitter and Facebook and created a solid presence on Instagram.

Let’s look at NYT’s performance on Instagram in the last two months, and see what can we learn from them.

1. Be Present Where Your Audience Is

With the shift in today’s consumer’s media consumption behavior, it was imperative for The New York Times to capture and engage with a new generation of news consumers, who get their daily news mainly on their smartphones. 

55% of Millennials check social media or news on their smartphones first thing in the morning.

39% percent of The New York Times’ audience is made up of Millennials, and Instagram usage is particularly strong among millennials.

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Add to that the astounding growth Instagram has seen in 2016–adding 100 million users in the last six months–and we have proof that the platform is something brands cannot ignore anymore.

The New York Times’ efforts to use Instagram to reach out and connect with their target audience has paid off well, with the account commanding over 2 million followers already in two short years and growing, adding 191k+ followers the last two months (a growth of 10.4%).screen-shot-2016-12-29-at-2-26-30-pm

2. Understand What Engages Your Target Audience the Most

The Times already reaches millions of people through print and digital subscriptions. To reach and engage their audience on Instagram, the brand experiments with various formats: photos, videos, and Instagram Stories. Their engagement as a % of followers in the data period between 10/23/16-12/23/16 was over 175% (the top five fashion brands that we studied last week average 60.6% engagement as a % of followers), indicating that this community is highly engaged with the brand on Instagram, and brand content is resonating.

Looking at the broad content types posted by The Times, we see that posts related to Travel generate the most engagement and are among the top 5 content types posted by the brand. Posts related to the 2016 Election were the second most-engaging and most common post type sent out by The New York Times.screen-shot-2016-12-29-at-1-05-44-pm

The following post from this year’s election was the most engaging post in the data period.

@hillaryclinton addressed disappointed supporters this morning, hours after an early-morning conversation for which she and her team were entirely unprepared: a phone call to @realdonaldtrump, conceding the presidential race. At a hotel in Manhattan, she thanked her supporters: “Thank you, my friends, thank you so very much for being here. I love you all, too.” @hillaryclinton never made it to her election night party, where she had planned to hail the shattering of a figurative “glass ceiling” — the election of a female president — beneath the grand, literal glass ceilings of the Javits Center on Manhattan’s West Side. This morning, she said that she feels pride in the campaign that she ran. To the women who supported her, she said that “nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion.” And of @realdonaldtrump, she said: “We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead.” The @nytimes staff photographer @fremson took this photo this morning in New York City.

A post shared by The New York Times (@nytimes) on

3. Organize Content and Facilitate Discoverability

Since hashtags are a proven way to enhance discoverability on Instagram, 86% of the posts The New York Times published in this data period included a hashtag, and over 60% included two or more hashtags. By posting a mix of branded as well as non-branded hashtags, and categorizing them under different themes, the New York Times helps amplify the reach and assist audiences in discovering relevant content that appeals to them the most.  

The post below was among the top five most engaging posts in the data period; it is a great example of organizing hashtags and the use of branded and non-branded, yet relevant, hashtags.

Since early 2015, photographers have shot tens of thousands of images and logged hundreds of thousands of miles while on #nytassignment on the presidential campaign trail. @nytmills took this photo of @hillaryclinton with President @barackobama at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, after the president defended his legacy and laid out the ways she would continue it. “I think that was just a pivotal moment for the election,” @nytmills said. He covered the 2008 campaign, so when @hillaryclinton walked onstage that night, his mind went back 8 years. As the candidates make their final rounds today, we're sharing memorable photos from the campaign trail. Visit the link in our profile to see 12 indelible images from the 2016 campaign. #campaignlookback

A post shared by The New York Times (@nytimes) on

4. Descriptive Captions and Overall Quality of the Post

Using highest-quality images and content, just like their print media, has helped The New York Times generate high engagement-per-post (over 10K engagement-per-post in this data period). Carefully crafting the posts, explaining what the audience sees in the image helps the audience connect with the content and engage more. In the post below, while the image captures the grandeur of the Rose Reading Room at the New York Public Library, the caption details the story behind the post. This was the second most-engaging post in the data period.

New York got one of its beloved public spaces back in 2016. Last month, the photographer Philip Greenberg captured the majestic Rose Reading Room at the @nypl’s main building at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, which reopened after a 2-year renovation. You can credit Eric Hammarberg, an engineer at Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, for ensuring all that delicate, ornamental plaster on the decorated ceiling, which had begun collapsing, won’t fall down. In ways big and small, architects have changed New York City this year. Projects from the #RoseReadingRoom to a revamped local library branch in Washington Heights made the city a little more livable and humane. Visit the link in our profile to see the best architecture in New York of 2016. (This is not a list of 2016’s architectural highs and lows in town. “It’s more a kind of belated thank you note for a few projects that kept faith with architecture’s ideals and the city’s better self,” writes @nytimes architecture critic Michael Kimmelman.)

A post shared by The New York Times (@nytimes) on

5. 45% of the Times’ Posts in the Data Period Tagged a Journalist, Photographer, or Reporter

Sharing compelling images, along with succinct stories from the journalists, photographers, and reporters on the ground, and tagging them in the captions, imparts a sense of a one‐on‐one relationship with the audience, which positively impacts the way the audience experiences content. The post below from The Times balances the image and the caption in a way that imparts to the audience a sense of being right on-site, with the photographer, becoming a part of the story. This was one of the top 5 most-engaging posts in the data period.

“Made some new friends,” wrote @hlswift, who took this photo in late October. This group of #raccoons living by the Pond in @centralparknyc has become a sort of tourist attraction. When @hlswift, a photographer, and a @nytimes reporter went to visit the raccoons — 22 of them, clustered on a path near the southeastern edge of the park — foreign tourists were posing for selfies with the animals. One woman offered the raccoons a snack: cherries, which tempted the group pictured here to emerge. Raccoons are perfectly capable of feeding themselves, but those in #CentralPark have been treated to some particularly New York snacks: pretzels, organic gummy bears, a piece of a hot dog, and stale bagels, offered up by a local baker who frequently hurls 3-dozen in their direction. For the record, the practice of feeding the animals, however Instagram-worthy, is frowned upon by @nycparks and wildlife experts. #regram

A post shared by The New York Times (@nytimes) on

With a deluge of news channels, sites, and outlets swarming the World Wide Web, just creating great journalism now is simply not enough to compete in the noisy modern media landscape. It is more important than ever to craft a thoughtful strategy across social media platforms, including Instagram, a strategy that aligns with the business’s objectives and goals and fits with the audience’s needs and behaviors. Such steps can help guide the audience through their buyer’s journey and impart a lasting overall impact.

Get in touch with us to discuss how to develop your own brand’s audience on Instagram. Need tips on creating a solid Instagram strategy for your business vertical? Download the kit below.

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Tripti Shrivastava

I'm a Social Media Analyst at Simply Measured. I love food, music, movies, and long walks. Let's talk about social media data!

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