50% of all news posts on Instagram are serious

50% of all news posts on Instagram are serious

We’ve previously covered how certain news publishers approach Instagram. One common trait across publishers was a more relaxed or casual approach to the way news is presented on the platform. As the landscape of news on Instagram matures this remains true, but what about the content of the news itself? Is Instagram only home to behind the scenes goofing around and lightweight content?

To investigate this, we looked at 2 small sample data sets from Instagram news publishers around the world. We limited the data to include only established news outlets who are also on Instagram, within 3 of the categories within our own database: General News, Business News and Tabloids.

We sorted the content into 3 basic categories: Lightweight & Viral News, Serious News and Entertainment News.

What is Serious News anyway?

It was a challenge in some cases to define and to separate viral or lightweight news from serious news. For example, sometimes there was a viral angle or approach to a clearly serious current affairs news story. In this study we focused on the subject and not the presentation.

For example, we would consider this story about the biodiversity crisis to be in the Serious category:

BBC News on Instagram

Whereas this story about a screaming robot vacuum cleaner would be considered Viral/lightweight.

We considered this story on Amsterdam and combustion engines to be serious news:

Whereas this story about a train going through a market was not considered relevant enough to make it out of the viral/lightweight category:

Even though this story about Snoop Dogg and weed is presented in a viral way, it’s still a piece of serious business news, so it just about gets in to the Serious News category.

Entertainment was fairly easy to define: news revolving around a celebrity or entertainment product or member of the British Royal Family.
Where we were really stumped, we moved on and excluded the story from our study.

The Results

One of the most surprising findings from the data we looked at was the amount of serious news posts published versus lightweight/viral or entertainment posts. Our initial analysis suggested that viral news was dominant. The top 20 posts during a 1 week period showed serious news making up only 35% of the total content:

However, a deeper look at the top 60 posts across the same publisher dataset significantly changed the balance.

Recreating the same study on the top 60 posts a week later revealed a similar split:

Combining both sets of posts gives us a very neat split of 20 Entertainment stories, 40 Viral, and 60 Serious. So over 2 weeks of Instagram news data, 50% of all posts were serious news items while 50% were a combination of viral and entertainment content.


Is this a surprise?

The proportion of content that covered serious topics was higher than we expected. We analysed Instagram posts only, which cannot include external links. This means all news items need to be presented as self-contained images or videos, which is resource-intensive and requires deeper understanding of the platform – something media publishers are clearly developing.

Video has traditionally demanded a greater amount of resources from news publishers, a barrier for many newsrooms to invest in Instagram specific video, especially on a platform which does not return any direct ROI. However, perhaps due to the proliferation of video content within online news, the resource cost of video creation has fallen enough that creating or adapting content for Instagram is no longer such an issue.

Our findings indicate that more news publishers understand how Instagram works and what that specific audience appreciates – it’s very different from Facebook video and reaches a younger demographic overall. We expect to see both more news publishers on Instagram and for the percentage of serious news items to rise.