Using Instagram to cover an election: lessons from #wmmayor


During this year’s mayoral elections one of my MA Online Journalism students, Sam Gould, adopted an Instagram-first publishing strategy during the lead up to the vote, and on the day of the count. The results were impressive, taking in profiles, interviews, explainers, and live coverage. But equally interesting for anyone considering a mobile-first approach to elections this year was the workflow, so I thought I’d share some of the key points here.

1. Branding is even more important when you’re on someone else’s platform

Sam’s research into news organisations’ use of Instagram noted the importance of a consistent style guide in identifying the publisher and story: Sky News’ #OceanRescue series of posts, for example, had a distinctive design that helped it stand out. But this was an exception:

“[Posts on the Sky News account] outside of the #OceanRescue series aren’t easily identifiable as Sky News haven’t adopted a style guide for every post, instead sharing a mixture of preexisting television/online content, standalone images and video. The result is a mix of content that lacks consistency.”

A better example of strong branding came from Jerry News which, despite not being a mainstream brand, has 200,000 more than Sky News, and 4-10 thousand likes on posts. BBC News also uses a strong template on its Instagram posts.

2. Templates help you produce branded content quicker on mobile

Sam created a template for profile posts for each candidate (shown above), then blank templates so that new posts could be created from a mobile device or tablet. “This was important for creating updates without the requirement of a computer with advanced software, like Photoshop,” he notes.

3. Making content for Instagram means using more than just Instagram

It might sound obvious but it’s worth highlighting that it’s better not to use Instagram’s built-in video or photo capabilities, and instead import video or images once they’ve been recorded and edited elsewhere on your phone.

In this case Sam used the iMovie app to cut interview footage into a number of shorter clips, each under a minute long (Instagram limits video to 1 minute). He then added text using Vont. Image templates were created using Over.

Reporters using Instagram might also need to consider related apps such as Boomerang (for key moments) and regramming apps. Vertical video can be edited in InShot.

4. Instagram carousel is a great vehicle for ‘chunked’ interviews

The coverage used Instagram’s carousel feature (which Sam wrote about for OJB in March) particularly well as a vehicle for interviews.

In the example above users can swipe to move between one politician’s positions on public sector spending, transport investment, integrated transport, travel for young people, and youth employment.

5. Prepare material in advance during the quiet periods

Again, this might seem obvious, but it’s always worth stating: live coverage means using the quiet moments well, and being prepared for the key moments.

Sam used the hours before the first result was expected to create imagery for future posts, including an explanation image of what would happen if no candidate secured the 50% needed for a first round win. This used the names of the two leading candidates in the polls — a risk if a third candidate became involved, but better than having nothing prepared at all.

6. Explainers also work well on Instagram carousel

In the lead-up to polling day, Sam used Instagram to create a series of short explainers covering the election, role, and candidates. Strong visuals and key points can make the format work well – ending with a web address for more information.

7. Think about cross-publishing content online — and on other social

On Instagram content stands alone but it’s worth considering how the same content can be used on other platforms to improve engagement and broaden the audience.

Cross-posting original material on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat etc. is straightforward with only one image or video, but with a carousel you need to retain the sequence too (in the Twitter update shown above, three images have been uploaded, creating a Twitter gallery. Twitter Moments could also be used like this).

Instagram posts can be embedded easily on WordPress sites by just pasting the URL. This allows users to navigate carousels directly within the article, and follow, comment or like from their own Instagram accounts.

Instagram content can be used like this in a number of ways:

Read more

You can read Sam’s post on covering an election on Instagram here, and his post on Instagram carousel here. Also relevant: “Tap to advance: the rise and rise of the horizontal story“. If you know of any more examples of Instagram election coverage, let me know in the comments.

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3 thoughts on “Using Instagram to cover an election: lessons from #wmmayor

  1. Pingback: Online Journalism Blog: Using Instagram to cover an election: lessons from #wmmayor | ResearchBuzz: Firehose

  2. Pingback: Tip: Learn how to cover elections using Instagram | JOURNALISM NOW

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