The ubiquity of social media platforms has signaled a shift in mobile storytelling. With smartphones in hand, people can document every aspect of their lives in visual platforms such as Instagram like never before.
Visuals are the reason behind the popularity of Instagram, a platform where nearly 50% of the users are between the ages of 18-34, spending an average of 25-32 minutes per day on the platform. Much of this growth in engagement has been attributed to Instagram Stories. As people spend more time on the platform, newsrooms are realizing the importance of taking their reporting where their audiences already are.
Tap for News is a set of guidelines that will help news publishers and journalists create engaging content and build a more personal relationship with their followers on Instagram Stories. It will highlight formats that are popular on the visual platform and explore techniques that newsrooms can adopt to engage the attention of a pre-dominantly young audience.
This guide was prepared as part of my Master’s thesis project for New York University’s Studio 20 program, in partnership with Instagram.
How the Project Worked
I kick-started my research by reaching over 20 news publishers to understand how they had been experimenting with Instagram Stories, what their strategy was like and what their workflow looked like.
At the same time, I reached out to 17 influencers on Instagram, which included photojournalists, photographers and designers, to dwell deeper into how Instagram Stories were being used by individuals and not necessarily within a news environment.
And to really understand how Instagram Stories were being used in general, I reached out to regular users on the platform to do more deep diving on their Instagram Stories habits, what they liked about it and what they absolutely despised.
The findings of my research are centered mainly around two questions:
What works on Instagram Stories?
When is a good time to be thinking of using Instagram Stories?
Video is more immersive
Formats that work on Instagram Stories
When we talk about visuals, both photos and videos are excellent mediums on Instagram Stories, but users prefer videos more because they feel immersive and are far more engaging. Video can pull people right in and breaks down the barrier between the creator and the viewer, giving users a chance to experience a different perspective.
Like this video of Newroz celebrations in Iraq where photojournalist Cengiz Yar makes you feel like you are actually in Iraq experiencing the celebrations.
Documenting what’s happening behind the scenes is also an excellent way to bring your audience closer to the storytelling.
By giving so much access, Instagram Stories become a window to something that the user would not have been able to experience otherwise. These Instagram Stories by Michaela Skovranova takes use deep under the ocean and offers a glimpse into what her work underwater looks like.
Why repackage the same content when you can give your audience the chance to explore content that they will not have access to anywhere else?
News publishers are known to repurpose the content they produce to fit the mold of the platforms they publish on. Instead of having the same content exist everywhere, create content specifically for Instagram Stories.
One way some publishers are creating exclusive content is by producing weekly series that only live on Instagram Stories.
Bustle is a great example here, where they specifically schedule several of their series every week, like “Wake up with Bustle” and “Beauty Call” just for Instagram stories. This is a great way to build engagement with your audience and allowing people to know when to expect new episodes.
Unlike the curated nature of the main Instagram feed, most influencers I spoke with suggested that Instagram Stories gave them more room to be playful and creative and gave them the freedom to present their unique perspective.
Instagram Stories is a great space to experiment.
These stories by Girma Berta shows his creative side as he creates his own custom-made filters and add special effects to distinguish his stories.
For Instagram Live to work, it needs to center around a certain event or topic. Although most publishers and influencers I reached out with didn’t use Instagram Live as much, users were interested to see how Live can be used to highlight real stories and more on-the-ground reporting.
As long as your internet bandwidth allows you, go out on the field and live-stream it to your followers.
Techniques that work on
Start with strong visuals
On a visual platform like Instagram, it’s always best to start with the strongest visuals. Publishers should decide what to put up on Instagram Stories based on how visual the story is because their audiences come to Instagram Stories for the visual content they share.
While starting strong is a priority, it’s equally important to build that momentum up as the story progresses. The nature of Instagram Stories makes it very easy for users to tap through slides or skip entire Stories with a swipe.
Mixing up photos and videos is a good way to break the monotony and create a strong, engaging narrative arc.
The Story needs to be able to pull users in right away.
Users want to know what’s happening in the Instagram Story within the first few seconds, so it’s important to have the context along with strong visuals right at the start.
Don't delay the intro
In terms of text, the more concise the better.
While it’s important to not omit important information out, the text should be able to give the full scope of the story without being too wordy. Users do not like having to read too much text on the slides, and tend to skip through slides when there is too much information.
On a feature like Instagram Stories that is primarily catered to vertical content, landscapes, or horizontal photos, were mostly eyesores to users. Having been used to seeing vertical photos or videos on Stories, users found horizontal photos to unnecessarily take up valuable space.
Keeping text as
concise as possible
No landscape photo
Ideal number of slides
There isn’t one right answer when it comes to the ideal number of slides for an Instagram Story. While the length of each story will vary depending on the topic, users tend to prefer a good balance between 5-8 slides. More than 10 slides and they zone out.
Users prefer stories that feel authentic because it embodies the element of spontaneity that is a hallmark of Instagram Stories.
Users like to consume content on their phones that feel native to the platform, not necessarily highly-produced content that appear like digital magazines.
As the lesser curated version than the main Instagram feed, users look forward to seeing Stories that feel more personal and is created through the first person’s point of view.
Native tools work better on Instagram Stories because it breaks down the barrier between news publishers and the users.
The use of native fonts, colors and emojis gives more personality to the Stories and makes it seem like publishers are directly talking to their audiences.
Using native tools as the audience is using it
Tag Instagram handles
Tagging Instagram handles of people or organizations that you are featuring or photographers you are crediting is a great way to introduce your audience to other social circles within Instagram and helps in building engagement around your community.
In a few cases, publishers have tried to fit a landscape-mode photo onto Instagram Stories by panning across a static image. Users weren’t entirely fond of this effect, stating that it took too long for a point to be made.
Most news publishers that I spoke with link back to their website and many stated that one of the main reasons behind their use of Instagram Stories was to drive traffic back to their websites. However, in my research I found that users rarely want to swipe up to read the full article or watch the full video, mostly because they don’t want to be taken out of the Instagram app.
Users prefer to get the information they are seeking, or at least the main gist of the content, within Instagram Stories itself, and being taken out of the platform only serves to be disruptive.
Users don’t want to swipe up for news, they want to tap for news.
Engage with your audience
And finally, make it more interactive! Engage with your audience and directly talk with them. The more you engage with your followers, the more likely they would want to follow your content.
If you have questions or comments regarding the guidelines, are interested in collaborating or want to reach out, please fill out the form below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.