Social tip: Use Instagram for real news

April 20, 2017 01:30

By Steve Safran, RTDNA Contributor
TV news people: I want you to look at a newspaper’s Instagram feed. You will see pictures of various things going on in the community. You’ll see meetings, sports, events - the news. Now, look at your station’s Instagram feed. I bet it’s behind-the-scenes goofing around. “Here’s me on the morning show desk.” “Here I am palling around in the newsroom.” “Here we are sharing a pizza.” 
This is a missed opportunity, because TV photogs and reporters have a great eye for telling stories through pictures. But we are demeaning the importance of pictures when we use a picture-driven social media like Instagram for strictly non-news purposes. And we’re missing a valuable opportunity - to show we’re serious about the news.
There’s nothing wrong with behind-the-scenes fun. I don’t think we show enough of it. But if you’re only using social media for “Here’s the AM show gang having coffee,” you’re not doing the serious job of telling the news. 
According to the excellent newsroom research project undertaken by Bob Papper, Instagram has strong newsroom penetration. Of the 200 news directors who responded to this year’s edition of Bob’s annual survey, more than eighty percent said their newsroom was using Instagram. Writes Bob:
“For Instagram, the list of what stations are doing included posting pictures – especially “behind the scenes, glimpse into our lives,” beauty shots, mostly non-news, visually driven content, sharing pictures, story photos, show talent personalities, raise engagement with viewers, share video and ask for tips, share breaking information, photos of weather events, station events, post pictures and link to stories on our website…”
This is a problem. For a social media strategy to be effective, you need followers. Nobody is following you for pictures of text that ask them to share breaking news. Instagram isn’t a tool to push people to your website. It is a new channel. It is its own entity and no, it can’t be directly monetized any better than Twitter.
However, immediate monetization is not the purpose or goal of social media. Nothing turns off people faster than a Twitter feed that solely pumps the stories “Coming up at six!” Think of social media - all of it - as the best free promotion machine ever handed to you. It serves the purpose of informing your audience and reinforcing your brand. When I find out a story is breaking from a CNN Twitter entry, I watch CNN. Ask me a day later where I heard the news, and I’ll tell you “CNN.” If I see interesting local pictures in your local news Instagram feeds (and there should be many), I’m more likely to see you as people interested in my community. This is a long-term play.
It is a tremendous frustration to newsrooms that their work cannot be repurposed for each social platform. A strong social media strategy requires content that is true to each platform. Video that works on TV may not work on a website. Video that works well on a website may look terrible on mobile. And great mobile video may never get shared on Facebook. But to be a success, we have to behave as everyone else does on each platform. That’s no different on Instagram.
The great news is this: Instagram is easy. You don’t need to write SEO copy. You don’t need grabby headlines. You don’t need original, edited video. To be an Instagram Success, your people simply need to do what they do best: let their great pictures tell great stories.

Steve Safran, a veteran journalist and digital media consultant, is a longtime RTDNA member and presenter who has written on the media for several publications, most notably helping to start the influential digital media website Lost Remote in 2000. He lives outside Boston.