How Instagram can help publishers grow subscriptions

Jun 1, 2021 | Articles

Andrea Burgueño

Andrea Burgueño


As publishers focus on building and increase subscriber bases, Instagram becomes more and more relevant. While it does not seem to be directly related, the social network is in fact a potential cornerstone of the strategy. Why? Here is how Instagram can help publishers grow subscriptions.

The state of subscriptions

According to Piano’s Subscription Performance Benchmark Report, the higher subscription acquisition rate continues after the pandemic. Another interesting fact is that annual subscriptions show better retention results. However, retention depends mostly on engagement. That’s why a social media strategy could complement other editorial and marketing efforts.

The dramatic increase of subscriptions during the pandemic led many publishers to developing new strategies and products. As a result, publishers focus more on subscriptions products than they used to.

According to Piano’s report, users who visit five or more days in a month generate 43% of conversions in the first year and first day visitors 33%. In the second year, instead, first day account for 41% conversions and five day make for 32%. This indicates that publishers should focus on converting low-engagement users as fast as possible.

What does Instagram have to do with all this?

One of the most interesting findings of the report is this:

It’s much more common to succeed with subscriptions through high exposure and low conversion rates than the reverse.

Subscription Performance Benchmark Report, Piano

Exposure is the reason why publishers are working hard on their social media strategies. This is not really new, but the fact that many publishers are now focusing on Instagram is. According to the 2020 Reuters Institute Digital News report, Instagram reaches two-thirds of under 25 year-olds. That would not be that interesting if they didn’t use the platform as a source of news.

Reaching and converting younger audiences requires engaging and retaining them in the long term too. This means that publishers who decide to integrate Instagram in their social media strategy or even in their monetization strategy need to be very active and constantly test new formats and options.

What The Economist did

The London-based publication is one of the publishers who knows best how to leverage Instagram. As explained last year at the News Impact Summit, The Economist boosted referrals by 180% in six months, mostly thanks to Instagram.

The newspaper has been around since 1843, always evolving and being ahead of the times. In fact, The Economist has over 50 million followers on social media. However, as their head of audience explains:

A couple of years ago, one of the goals might have been to get to say 100 million. But now, we’re focusing on quality rather than quantity, and we want to do better at reaching those 50 million and a subset of those whom we can turn into long term subscribers and readers, and people who will not just see a slow past on their news feeds, but who will really engage with us.

Keving Young, Head of Audience at The Economist.

Young explains that in order to reach and engage their audiences on Instagram publishers need to stand out by creating tailor made content, displaying their best work, exploring a wide range of formats and increasing the frequency of publication.

What’s the best way to increase exposure and gain subscribers?

Creating retention strategies while focusing on social media can be beneficial to increase exposure. That’s why Instagram is gaining importance as it will allow publishers to engage and retain their audience in the long run.

What is the current state of subscriptions?

Subscriptions have increased and they’re being maintained even after the pandemic. Also, annual subscriptions have better results than monthly ones.

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