Why media companies should take Instagram a little more seriously

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According to NYmag the place that could well become a key destination for people to share their thoughts is, wait for it, Instagram.

In a feature that ran last week the writer Kyle Chaka explained that Instagram, which he describes as a “minimalist, mobile-focused app for sharing photos” might not seem an obvious place for sharing words. Yet the are now power users who use the platform to share their thoughts in a way that is is very reminiscent old school blogging.

Not perhaps the blogging of Blogger and WordPress, but more akin to Livejournal the diary-like hybrid blogging platform that preceded them. 

To give the article some celebrity sheen Chaka cites The Rock, who regularly posts mini stories next to his images like this one. Then there’s Natasha Japanwala, a startup employee and writer in London who turned to Instagram for blogging.

She told NYmag “Facebook is daunting in a way that Instagram is not yet because literally everyone I know is on Facebook. Posting on Facebook can be an almost political act. On Instagram I have a little more freedom to just be me.”

The limitations 

To be fair Chaka points out that there is a limit on the number of words that can be written as a Instagram caption – 2200 characters. Also that the posts do need to be accompanied by an image, so for longer more discussive, less visually pieces a writer is probably a lot better off on Medium

In some ways Instagram is a dream platform to share content for media companies. It now boasts over 400 million active users, the majority of which are young, tech savvy and quite possibly in possession of a little disposable income. 

However in other ways it doesn’t work so well. After isn’t just sharing images a little dull? And also there is no clear monetisation route, unlike there is say on Snapchat where in Discover the limited number of publishers invited to join the elite club of 17 (now that the platform has added Vox) can sell ads to accompany their content.

Which partially explains why publishers have taken very mixed approaches to Instagram.

Most take the lazy, slightly uninspiring (in my opinion anyhow) route. Take the Instagram output of two British papers the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror you can see how the Brits are very focused on the images and barely think about the words that accompany them. It is not surprising  then that output is limited and that engagement levels are comparatively low. Other news sources like Newsweek and Time are a lot more prolific, but tend to just focus on images and not worry too much about the words. It all feels as if Instagram is a bit of an afterthought – which is a sad waste of the full potential of the platform.

What the NYT gets right

If you are looking for a newspaper that uses Instagram in an inspirational way and maybe even a little as a blogging platform then take a peek at the New York Times output. The Gray Lady experimented with Instagram for a while with fashion, travel, food and sports sections. However in March this year it took the plunge and launched a general channel for the paper. The images from the paper’s team of accomplished photographers are, not surprisingly very striking, but what is interesting is that unlike some its rivals the captions are lengthy and very much focused on telling the story behind the image. 

Take this image, a profile of The Met Museum’s Sheena Wagstaff, which includes an NTY take on how it imagines she will change the museum’s output. There’s no direct link to any NYT content, but rather the publisher knows that its subtle approach will encourage Instagram users to find out more about the story.

Ultimately the limitations of the platform – the fact that comments aren’t threaded, that re-sharing requires an outside app and, the big one, that you need to type on  mobile keyboards – might scupper Instagram’s use as a serious blogging tool. 

For media brands through the intimacy of the medium, along with its influential and considered community ought to ensure that they take Instagram seriously. And part of that new approach might mean a commitment to posting on the platform using word as well as images. 

So, Instagram as a key media blogging platform!? Stranger things have happened.

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