You may have disregarded Instagram Stories in the past, believing the feature was all about face filters, selfies and pictures of avocado on toast. A million miles away from news reporting, right?

Well, prepare to think again. With 400m daily users on Instagram Stories, the sequences of videos and images, often containing text, gifs and music, are a hit with audiences, and we are seeing an increasing amount of news organisations experimenting with the feature.

If you are looking to get started, check out these vital tips from Elisa Benson, news and publishing partnerships at Instagram, who held an 'Instagram Story School' at News Xchange in Edinburgh today (15 November).

1. Find your 'thing' – what can you do better than everybody else?

You may have heard the saying: 'When you speak to everyone, you speak to no one'.

That cannot be more true than with Instagram Stories, Benson explained, noting that niche accounts may not necessarily have as many followers, but build much more engaged communities.

"Yes, as a publisher you'll be covering news, but you need to get more specific and reach out to a narrow audience," she said.

For example, The Shade Room is a news account that specifically covers the news of black celebrities and influencers, whereas BBC Minute target their coverage towards people in countries where the average population is very young, such as Kenya, where 61 per cent of people are 15-34 years old, in comparison with 31 per cent in the UK.

2. Talk to your youngest audience

"When we say young, we say teens to 25 years old – you need to tap into them if you're going to grow your brand on the platform," she said.

For example, she recommended looking at the way NowThis News talks to young people, using pronouns to talk directly to their audience, including them in the news stories. 

Vice Reports is a separate account from the publisher's main Vice account, which gets students from high school to report on the ground from wherever they are, producing news for teens by teens.

News anchors at WUSA9, a publisher based in Washington D.C., take a different approach, using Instagram Stories everyday to run through the headlines in a conversational tone, as if they were sending their friend a video.

"It's very different to how WUSA9 covers news on air or on their website – it's like a FaceTime or video call, always keeping that young audience in mind."

But it is important not to talk down to audiences, as Lila King, news and publishing partnerships at Instagram explained yesterday:

3. Optimise your content mix for discovery

"You can post videos, images, go live, add gifs, use photos and add stickers and text – it's all about using a mix of content to be creative and get noticed," she said.

"Also, young people spend a tonne of time in the explore section of Instagram to find new accounts to discover, so when you are mixing your content, you will have a better chance of surfacing there."

4. Give people something to do

Instagram Stories has many features that allow the audience to engage with your news organisations and the issues you are reporting on.

"Make it participatory – we've made it easy to do with the poll sticker and question sticker," she said, noting that people really like to get involved and have their voice or opinion heard.

News organisations have been experimenting in this space, quizzing audiences as well as asking their opinions.

For example, during the recent midterm elections, CNN asks users to screengrab their story, fill out the blank spaces in the sentences, and post it to their own story – giving people something to do and helping them to share their opinions on why they were voting. The Financial Times, however, often asks audiences to send in their questions for reporters on particular subjects, and takes note of the subjects that users want them to cover.

5. Use tags to help people find your posts

Tagging is a basic tip, but not one that a lot of users get right, Benson explained.

"Hashtags and location tags cover a lot of the discoverability on Instagram, but you need to be specific," she said.

"Don't hashtag 'dogs', hashtag 'doodles'. And locate your post to '10 Downing Street' or the street you're at, not 'London' – it's too wide.

"A lot of people think these location tags and hashtags are only for page posts, but they work the same in Stories."

Once you are on the platform, check out these tips on how to produce and curate original journalism using your phone, and keep audiences coming back for more.

Is your news organisation using Instagram Stories in an innovative way? Let us know what projects you are working on by tweeting us @journalismnews.

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