Three Ways Journalists Should Be Using Instagram


By Justin Sablich

Media professionals are well aware of the benefits social media promotion can bring, mainly, the driving of traffic to stories and building a stronger community among readers.

Though when it comes to Instagram, the goals can seem a bit unclear, as this platform has not been traditionally designed to send readers to your stories or news site.

But driving traffic is not the only perk to using social media. With visually-focused social media interfaces like Instagram, the point is to build brand awareness.

Instagram has over 800 million monthly users, and according to one study, engagement with brands on Instagram is 10 times more than Facebook, 54 times more than Pinterest and 84 times more than Twitter.

Why should you care, you may be wondering? Media brands are not the only ones in the industry who can benefit from Instagram. Individual journalists can use it to build their personal brands and spread the word about the great work they’re doing.

Plus, if you become “popular” enough, Instagram allows you to send readers directly to your online content. Keep reading to find out how and learn other tricks to building a successful presence on Instagram.

Start Filtering (But Not the Way You’re Thinking)

Filters are good when you want to give your photos some edge. But this filter is something different.

If you want Instagram to be more than just a way to share everyday photos, you’ll want to start being mindful of the actual content you’re posting to your personal account.

“There are countless accounts out there with messy profiles, that do absolutely nothing for their brand. Every image should be informative or eye-catching – or both, especially when viewed as a square thumbnail image,” writes Caroline Scott at

As Scott alluded to, the general audience on Instagram values good photos and informative content. So, you can still post a few nice shots of your dog, but also start thinking about what else you can mix in.

If you’re a reporter, share a few behind the scenes shots from your latest story. If you’re an editor, consider taking a screenshot of a visually impressive interactive project your team worked on. Also, pay special attention to the captions, which can add a lot of value to your post, and know that hashtags can make a big difference on Instagram, unlike most other social media platforms.

Master the #Hashtag

The benefits of using hashtags are debatable across social media in general, but with Instagram it’s invaluable. One study found that posts with at least one hashtag have 12.6% more engagement than posts without one.

They also categorize content, which is key because Instagram now allows users to follow specific hashtags to get whatever targeted content they like, so using them can help you reach new audiences.

“When someone searches #fitness, it’s like telling Instagram to search its cabinet for the ‘fitness’ folder and show the latest posts containing that keyword. When you use hashtags in your posts, you let Instagram know to put your post in the appropriate folder in case anyone searches for it.” writes Alex York of Sprout, a social media management software and solutions company.

So depending on your beat or subject matter your work focuses on, be sure to mix in some basic category-based hashtags in your caption.

Also consider using what are known as “community hashtags,” which are widely used across Instagram. “Community hashtags are more general and don’t necessarily have anything to do with your company. Some examples are hashtags like #instafood or #picoftheday. They’re widely used and aren’t specific to any one person or company,” writes York.

If you don’t know how to find these kinds of hashtags, several tools are available to help, like’s Hashtag Generator Tool.

Experiment with Stories



Instagram Stories go beyond the basic posting of photos and videos. If you’re familiar with Snapchat, then you’ll know how stories work. If you’re not, basically you’re creating a mini slideshow of photo and video content that will be viewable by your followers for 24 hours, then it disappears.

“This is a great platform to give your audience a behind-the-scenes look into the workings of your newsroom, or you may prefer to use this feature to report on a story as it happens,” writes Scott.

For stories tend to be on the lighter side, you must write captions directly on the photo with colorful fonts, emojis and graphics to provide context. One general rule: The shorter, the better. Users rarely like sifting through 25 slides when they’re skimming their Instagram feed.

For media professionals and organizations, journalist Luis Assardo recommends the following:

  • Feature stories: A feature story published in print or digital may contain very attractive images and data. You can simultaneously build a condensed version of that story and publish it on Instagram. Use five to seven images, a video and a link to the website.
  • News summaries: Curate five relevant news stories that had a lot of traffic on your website and advertise them as “Top 5.” Every news item must have a unique design, including an image and a link. Then you can add them as a featured story on Instagram.
  • Specials: For special events, start a live streaming — but keep it short. If the event has several highlights, it’s better to launch different streamings so that followers receive separate notifications.

The reference to “links” Assardo makes brings us to our final tip: Change your profile to a “business” account. This opens up additional, useful tools for promoting stories.

For one, you are able to add “highlights” to your profile, which allows you to save your stories rather than having them disappear for good after 24 hours. You are also allowed to add links to your stories, which is where the potential to drive traffic comes into play. The catch for links is that you must have a verified account, or, have at least 10,000 followers use this feature.

Justin Sablich is a freelance journalist and social media strategist as well as a contributing writer and editor at The New York Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @JustinSablich.

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