“We take the best The Economist has to offer and turn it into digestible, engaging, quirky, interesting formats that can tease the audience with what’s behind the paywall. Users are unlikely to pay for a product unless they have a taste of it,” Liv Moloney, the publisher’s Head of Social Media, told participants of WAN-IFRA’s recent Indian Media Leaders eSummit.
Importance of Instagram
The photo and video sharing platform has become increasingly vital to The Economist, bringing in more organic traffic and subscriptions than Facebook during the past few years.
Diversity of content by way of carousels, daily charts and reels, data and stories has significantly improved the brand’s reach on Instagram.
“People moving to different apps is part of a broader industry trend as the media landscape changes. We simply try to give our audience content in different formats to boost reach,” Moloney said.
Two-thirds of the company’s 6.2 million Instagram followers are between the ages of 18 and 34.
“They also skew female, which is crucial for us because as a brand most people believe we just cover economics and finance,” she said.
“This gives us an opportunity to reach women who tend to engage slightly less with traditional news and finance topics and reach them to show them all the other brilliant things we cover.”
The Economist’s three largest Instagram markets comprise the US, followed by India and the UK. India makes up for 12 percent of its following.
Rise of short form video
A seismic shift in social media over the last few years has been the evolution of short form video. Social platforms are now either increasingly only video-based, or are prioritising short-form video in their algorithms.
The short-form video industry in India is expected to reach $5.5 billion in revenue by 2023, with a CAGR of 32 percent from 2019 to 2023, according to recent research.
After deliberating and strategising, the 180-year-old Economist launched on TikTok in July 2022.
“We chose TikTok because we felt it was the most different and would push us and challenge us to do a totally different new format of visual storytelling,” Moloney said.
The majority of their TikTok audience is younger than 35 years of age, which is split 58-42 male-female.
Although the company operates on a TikTok-first basis, that content also gets repurposed to Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, LinkedIn and X (formerly Twitter).
“All our videos are based on the original articles which helps us send people back to the website to register and subscribe,” she added.
Key staff guidelines: No dancing TikTok videos
The Economist has four main guidelines for its staff in creating short form videos:
- Simple, concise explanations of tough questions, with clever graphics, and clear narration.
- Irreverent wit and personality. “It is possible to have a personality without having a person,” said Moloney.
- Sticking to core pillars of coverage – Geopolitics, economics, finance, profiles of world leaders, science, tech, and data, but also executing quirky stories.
- Commission according to clear content strands. The brand has eight playlists on its TikTok account – People you should know; Did you know…?; Secret Economies; Economics explained; Geopolitics explained; War in Ukraine; Reading recommendations; and Political cartoons.
“Every single video we produce has to fit into one of these content strands, otherwise we won’t make it. It’s how we keep ourselves focused and pay attention to what our audience wants,” Moloney noted.
90m views on Instagram Reels, 32m on TikTok
In the past year, the company has recorded more than 130 million video views across platforms, of which 90 million have come from Instagram Reels.
The TikTok account has registered more than 32 million views, 1.6 million likes and 272.7K followers.
“These results are exciting because a lot of people perhaps thought – as a classical magazine – we’d struggle with video, but we’ve seen real success there,” Moloney said.
“These videos are a great example of what TikTok can be as opposed to what most people think it is. If you stick to your brand and do what you know really well, it will perform excellently,” she continued.
Getting timing right
Publishers have struggled to tailor the length of videos – long and short – for years now. For The Economist, deciding that was purely logistical.
The company launched on TikTok with 2-minute long videos.
“Soon after, Instagram Reels set its time limit to 1 minute 30 seconds. So, instead of making two videos, we moulded our TikTok videos to that duration, to help us repurpose them across platforms,” Moloney said.
The company is particular about only selecting topics for videos that can be done justice in under a minute and a half, providing users with the full Economist experience.
The social media team employs one video editor and uses Adobe to create all its videos.
“We have a brilliant Film team that takes care of the YouTube channel that showcases longer form videos of 10-15 minutes. So, instead of trying to cut down those long videos for TikTok, we’d instead take a chapter from it with a clear hook,” she said.