The Good and the Bad of The New York Times' Instagram Foray

Mar 20, 2015 admin

The New York Times, the shining beacon of what we think of when we think “traditional media,” is finally stepping into the millennial-driven world of Instagram.

This week, the publication launched its long-awaited primary account, @NYTimes, along with a selection of more niche accounts: sports, fashion, food, travel, etc. – everything you would pretty much expect from a major media brand. This move is part of a larger mobile-centric push by the brand in an effort to sell more subscriptions after a lackluster adoption of their new service, NYT Now.

In an effort to differentiate itself, the Times has opted to use the platform for a type of short-form journalism, including a short paragraph about what is taking place in the picture. By building a narrative around each image, the New York Times is aiming to use the platform to slot its own unique brand into the 30 second attention spans of young users’ social stream.

Here’s a recent example of the type of prose used on the @NYTimes Instagram handle:

Before she visited @pacificmmc, @kendrickbrinson had never been this close to a sea lion. The #rescue and rehabilitation group has been working to save some of the hundreds of starving pups that have washed up on California beaches this year. For Kendrick, the visit was a little overwhelming at first. "It is such a stark contrast to see the young thin pups they've recently rescued compared to the ones that have been rehabbed at the center longer," she said. "The older and healthier sea lions swim and play chase in the pools outside.

So, does this move signal the end of a storied brand marked by tradition and sternness? Definitely not.  It does, however, have some positives and negatives associated with it.

The Good:

  • This is invariably a land grab for millennials, but it’s a chance for the New York Times to stay in front of them as frequently as possible. Young people, particularly those that are digitally obsessed, will rarely go to the actual New York Times home page and will likely never pick up a hard-copy paper in their lives. By going to where young users are, to their own social streams, the Times has the ability to build the brand among an entirely new generation.
  • Each New York Times article is littered with the names of the powerful, the famous and the infamous. By sharing and tagging images associated with those influencers on social media, particularly on Instagram, the publication encourages engagement with those influencers in a way that it hasn’t before. This engagement can lead to broader reach and positive associations.
  • Publications around the world have been letting photographers go for years now, this renewed focus on photo-journalism will hopefully be a boon for those legions that are now freelancing.

The Bad:

  • This one took me a while to wrap my head around; Instagram isn’t Twitter. What I mean by that is that it’s not for driving people back to your website through links. You can’t even include a URL in the body of an image that you share. The rumor mills says that those are around the corner – particularly for paid advertisers, but it won’t be enough. Instead, Instagram should be seen as an organic extension of your website through which you can build buzz and brand recognition. The unfortunate thing for the Times is that that model doesn’t necessarily fit into their revenue stream. Its success depends on driving users back to the website to read ads.
  • Most major brands have been on Instagram for months, even  years. Unfortunately, the New York Times is late to the game. While the platform’s growth is still skyrocketing, the publication has only 38,300 followers. On the other hand, Vice, the antithesis of the New York Times to many people, has over 400,000 followers.

The Verdict:

It remains to be seen whether this is a good move or a bad move for the publication. In my eyes, it isn’t really either, it’s just expected. Most brands know that Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, etc. are just table stakes at this point – it’s up to them to be on them early and actively.

Topics: Instagram, Social Media

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