Covering an election on Instagram

Following the research I conducted through my News on Instagram posts, I reported on the election for Mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority using predominantly mobile journalism techniques, and publishing only to Instagram.

What I found, was that there was a definite need to prepare everything in advance.

I started the election coverage with some simple carousel posts giving some basic insight into what the election was for, and who was standing.

I managed to get myself interviews with three of the candidates, although unfortunately not including the two frontrunners. An opportunity to record the interviews on a camera that had the capability of connecting to my tablet was lost as a last-minute interview was arranged for the time I’d have picked a preferable kit up. Instead, I used my own, and transferred the media to a laptop, which would then allow me to transfer files to the tablet for editing.

Despite their original length of about thirty minutes, I cut he interview clips down to short clips of under a minute in length – as Instagram limits video uploads to 60 seconds. Using an app called Vont, I added text and exported ready for publish.

A second app, called Over, was utilised for its incredibly easy text editing for images. Using some templates I created on a computer, I created title images for all of the carousel posts. Having the blank template also gave opportunity for me to amend or create new images.

Once I had published all of the pre-election content, I was able to work on creating some templates for the results. My intention was to film some footage of the results being announced, and combine this with a breakdown of how the votes were cast from each region. There was no telling whether the results would be taken to the 2nd preference round, and so I had to prepare for this eventuality too.

For this, I created the first round results template with the mindset that if it went into second preference, I would simply change the background image and some of the wording – the text size and positioning would stay the same.

I arrived at the results centre early in the day, and was given an indication as to what time the first results would be expected. I published a post and Story outlining the process for the day.

As the results from each region within the WMCA weren’t announced all at the same time, I was able to gradually build up the results breakdown post. This was useful as I was able to spend some extra time clarifying the accuracy of what I was producing without rushing to upload as quickly as possible. Once the final results were announced, I was able to upload the results breakdown and confirm the need to result to 2nd preference votes. The explanation to this process, as created earlier, could be shared again as I believed it still held relevance to the content being published.

There was an estimated couple of hours before the final results would be due, which gave an opportunity to get some fresh air. After returning to the venue, I could spend time preparing the final results breakdown. This was simply a case of editing the existing template to remove the candidates eliminated in the first round of votes. At this point, I also made sure I had a plan for whoever won; with content prepared for both a Conservative and Labour win.

Once the results were in, and the announcement imminent, I readied myself for picture and video capture. I knew I needed a video of the announcement, as well as a photo of the winning speech for the content I wanted to publish. I used my phone to take this footage, as both Vont and Over and the Instagram app were available here, while my iPad was useful to check the results on the dedicated website (checking the results here meant I didn’t have to try and write down the numbers as they were read out and instead concentrate on gathering footage and editing the content for upload).

The final result was broken down into four individual posts: a quick upload, a results breakdown, a video of the announcement, and a panoramic picture with a summary of the results.

At this point I was able to fully appreciate the work I developed in advance, from building a template to use on results night, to having content ready for whoever was confirmed as the winner. Had this advanced preparation not been carried out, on-the-day production would not have been so efficient, and it would not have been possible to publish the breaking news with accuracy.

What I learned form all of this, is that if news if going to be a success on Instagram, it needs to have preparation. Given the nature of news, this isn’t possible from a journalistic point of view, but it’s certainly achievable at the point of production. JerryNews, a news publisher derived from satirical content producer FuckJerry, has exemplified possibly the most effective practice of this that I have seen; with results to confirm this.

The JerryNews account has approximately 575,000 followers, which is over double what Sky News has with 267,000. Taking an average number of likes from only the 12 most recent posts on both accounts, JerryNews receives likes from 1.8% of it audience, in comparison to 0.52% to Sky News.

The engagement rate for JerryNews is similar to the New York Times. Despite a follower count of 2.6m, an average of its most recent 12 posts also has a 1.6% engagement for likes.

Neither of these are of any level of success to the BBC News Instagram profile, which with 3.6m followers has an engagement of approximately 2.6%.

What these numbers, despite being approximations taking only an average from the most recent 12 posts, tell me is that being a big branded news organisation doesn’t neccesearily mean publishing to Instagram will be a success. Instead, as I believe is the case for BBC News and JerryNews, consistency in format and the use of a style guide plays a part in user engagement.