DDS: Publishers on Instagram

How publishers can capitalize on the fast-growing platform

By: Natalie Paschall

According to the CRMA Digital Data Survey conducted in December 2019, the average Instagram following growth YOY increased at a higher rate than both Facebook and Twitter.

In July 2019, Instagram was named the “fastest growing social platform for magazine media” and the CRMA Digital Data Survey results support that claim. Regardless of population size, Instagram growth was over 20%. And in smaller markets, over 35% growth YOY. This is a huge opportunity for publishers, but are you taking advantage of the platform to its full potential?  Below, we outline some tips and tricks on how to make the platform work for publishers of all sizes. 

Publication Group A Group B Group C Group D
Market Population 511,394 1,691,512 2,384,594 5,014,351
Market College Grads 18,000 26,667 41,500 79,083
Facebook 1 Year Growth 8.68% 9.87% 5.64% 4.93%
Instagram 1 Year Growth 36.53% 43.02% 23.63% 26.64%
Twitter 1 Year Growth 2.50% 5.13% 1.81% 2.64%

Facebook has offered their own advice on how to be a successful on Instagram.They call out finding your visual voice, finding a way to communicate your brand via your instagram feed and stories in a way that is cohesive and visually pleasing. Facebook reminds publishers to get in on the emoji & hashtag games and to ensure that quality time and energy goes into caption crafting. Publishers are also encouraged to tag users and other accounts to help build their audience and cross-promote to new audiences. 

Instagram is filled with content that is curated by media organizations, political figures, influencers, content creators, brands both big and small, user-generated content feeds, podcasts… pretty much everyone is vying for the attention of a user as they scroll through the app. So, how are you going to capture someone’s attention?

Let’s reflect on these reminders from Facebook and dive a little deeper into how, as publishers, we can work toward optimizing our efforts with this recommended baseline in mind. 

Finding your Visual Voice

Facebook’s first tip was to curate an Instagram feed that visually shows your brand. One key pointer: find a color pallette and filter that you will use consistently across your page. Depending on what type of organization you are, you will have a very different feed from others on the platform. Work with your art department to create some templates for you to use as backgrounds for your stories and feed images to highlight a particular article.

Your visual voice isn’t just about your aesthetic, it’s about how your users can engage with your content on the app itself. Your goal as a publisher is to take the users out of the app and drive them to your website to convert in some way. But it should also be your goal to provide a great user experience that makes the user wants to come back and engage again. A great example of this is @dallasnews. They translate their newsletters into a 6-7 Instagram story series that allows the user to swipe up to the popular articles of that week. They feature stories in carousel images in their feeds so they can tell users a longer form story, keeping them engaged with their content, and they save their stories to their highlights so users can refer back. They’ve also dove into IGTV to produce video content that they post on YouTube. They know that not all of their users are going to digest their content in the same way, so they repurpose it to fit the platform they are utilizing

Diversify your content, think outside the box, and find ways to make your content last. Move away from doing one Instagram story to tease an article with a swipe up link. Create 3 or more stories (all with swipe up links enabled) so users can get a sneak peek of the content they will be swiping up on. Give them more than 15 seconds or a quick tap of their finger to pass over what you’re trying to get them to see. 


We know that posts with hashtags receive 12.6% more engagement than posts without. Try to keep your hashtags relevant to your target demographic, though. Later put together a fantastic guide on hashtagging, specifically pay attention to the section on how to choose the right hashtags looking into 2020. Pro tip: there is a diminishing return on the amount of engagement you get if you use too many, you should include no more than 11, but average somewhere between 4-8 hashtags on any given post. Remember, users can follow hashtags. That means that if you’d like to populate your feed with content, but don’t have the labor in your budget for 2020, you can ask your audience to submit photos using a branded hashtag and fill your feed with images that meet your newly minted aesthetic. This article outlines how you can effectively do this and create a great Instagram feed with user generated content. Users who get their content featured on your page are likely to share it with their own audience. 


Captions on Instagram range from longform article previews to little quips that spark conversation in the comments. A great caption can stop a user in their tracks. Don’t be afraid to use an emoji to get your point across or draw the user’s eye beneath your photo. The longer someone spends reading your caption, the better your post will rank on the Instagram algorithm. Your caption should reflect your brand’s voice … are you serious or are you more playful? You should be consistent and try to write in the same voice. Take an opportunity to see what your audience responds best to. 

Take the caption as your opportunity to encourage engagement from your users. Tell them to comment either directly or indirectly. You can indirectly ask for engagement by soliciting reactions to your image, has the user ever been to the place you are featuring? What was their favorite part of going to that aquarium in the picture? 


City and Regional publishers have a chance to expand their reach because of the style of content they produce. For example, with Best Of content, you can announce winners for an entire month, tagging each restaurant that wins in a post. Chances are every restaurant you tag will be delighted you featured them and share your feature to their own page. 

Content Change Ups

Let’s focus on expanding our Instagram usage to video, Instagram Story optimization and maybe even dabbling into IGTV. For the record, on Instagram, video posts receive more than 2 times the comments of other types of posts. If there is an imaginary obstacle in your office about creating social media video content, go to the Apple Store and check out that latest iPhone. It can literally shoot a movie. The biggest investment you will need to make is in labor for editing. Maybe that isn’t in the budget, but shouldn’t it be? Social Media is one of the best ways to drive new traffic to your website. 

Partnerships/Branded Content

If you haven’t already, consider partnering with an advertiser to do sponsored Instagram Story and feed posts featuring their product or service. You ad sales department should be restructuring their packages to potential advertisers, too. If someone wants to advertise on the website or in a newsletter, suggest that they do a partnership on social media as well. You can leverage your audience to make money from an advertiser that is expanding their reach. Go a step further and boost that post or run an ad campaign behind it to increase your reach and the amount you can charge an advertiser. 


Publishers that host events can pay local influencers to help expand the event’s reach. With each ticket purchase, you may also be receiving a newsletter sign up, too. This is an easy way to cast a wider net and making revenue from your event but also from future newsletter sends — if you get enough people to sign up, you can probably start increasing your CPM there as well.

Driving Traffic to your Site

As with all social media platforms, the main goal of your content is to drive traffic to your site. Instagram isn’t necessarily optimized for that. You have two options of outbound links on your profile: the link in your bio and swipe up links inside if your Instagram stories. Every time a user takes one of those actions, you are driving a pair of eyeballs to your site. That’s a page view that you are (hopefully) making ad money on. 

Please don’t post links in your captions … users can’t copy and paste captions on the Instagram app and they’re not going to open a browser tab to retype your link on their phone. Make it easy for them to get to your content. Your bio link doesn’t have to be a single link to the homepage of your site. There are many tools available and it will take some research to find the right tool for the right price for your company. It has been shown that when accounts optimize their link in bio, they can drive an additional 10-15% of traffic from Instagram. 

A linkinbio aggregate page provides a better experience for the user, making sure that links for posts are live even after a new image is posted to your feed, while allowing you to link content to multiple domains and pages.

Instagram Shopping

Users don’t even have to leave the Instagram app to buy things anymore. Instagram now gives businesses an entire storefront to feature their products. You can post them in stories, posts or even on the Explore page. Take a look at how easy it is to use, and try it for yourself.

Want to chat about how to improve your Instagram game? Email me at

The CRMA Digital Data Survey was conducted by the City Regional Magazine Association and Twenty-First Digital in December 2019. Twenty-First Digital is a full-service audience development agency that works directly with publishers, brands, and media companies on their digital strategy and audience development efforts.

All CRMA members were asked to complete a survey that provided Twenty-First Digital with metrics that were then used to create averages and trends within the CRMA. From there, the data was presented to each member, outlining where they stood in comparison to similar publication sizes. If you have any questions regarding the conduct of this survey, please email