Although Die Zeit's Instagram page has been running for a while, its relaunch at the end of March has seen it steadily grow by over 50 per cent in the last three months, to 22,100 followers.

Götz Hamann, journalist at Die Zeit, explained the outlet previously had no strategy on the platform, so it decided to scrap its multiple accounts to create a joint presence between weekly newspaper Die Zeit and Zeit Online.

With one core account, @Zeit, the print and online arms of the news organisation have been able to experiment with new storytelling formats, while giving staff an opportunity to collaborate and combine their skills.

"We have completely separate teams for Die Zeit and Zeit Online, and usually only work together on a project basis where it is needed – but this is working wonderfully," he told, explaining the team have been producing a range of new material to engage audiences on the platform, from animated drawings to explainer videos.

"We wanted to use Instagram as a platform for visual storytelling and as a laboratory for new formats like super slow-mo's and new ways to engage audiences with photography."

To get started with the re-launch, Hamann invited approximately 20 staff members and a selection of creative professionals outside of the organisation, from fields such as photography, fashion and art, to brainstorm how Die Zeit could creatively utilise Instagram in the best way that represents them and their readers.

Although they may have been expected to replicate the successful channel of ZEITmagazin, a lifestyle magazine published and distributed with Die Zeit, which has over 100,000 followers on the platform, Hamann said they didn't want to copy the same format for the main Zeit account.

"We decided we wanted to represent our community as we see it, and produce something different to what you find on most news organisations' accounts on Instagram," he said, detailing a range of experimental formats that they have been trialling.

Firstly, the team developed a model of storytelling that would see a series of individual posts relating to a topic in the news, one which they could explore over a series of weeks or months.

For example, '#PeopleofEurope' asks people about their view of Europe and the European Union and it was designed to ignite discussion among audiences in the midst of Brexit, while '#trump100' invited Americans to share their views of President Trump in his first 100 days in office – helping to give audiences a wider picture of the conversations taking place in the US.

Screenshot of 'People of Instagram' on @Zeit.

Hamann said this allowed the team to take "a warmer approach" to news stories, giving a personal edge to issues making the headlines through multiple posts that might have only previously consisted of a news agency picture and a link to a written news story.

"Our audience really like this personal storytelling format, because it represents common concerns and interests between us and them," he added, further explaining that an event like the forthcoming German elections is another example of a story that offers a good opportunity for the team to discuss issues the audience will have strong feelings towards.

For its second post format, the publisher asked staff in its picture departments to produce slideshows and videos using a variety of footage, including photographs from the print newspaper which might not necessary get published in the edition, thus providing more value to those that choose to follow the account.

These videos can be anything from an explainer about an issue explored in Die Zeit, with talking-head interviews and photographs, or colourful text animations that simply provide the results of a recent survey.

Hamann pointed out the news organisation is particularly proud of its 2D animated illustrations that play as a video, a format designed for Instagram but also shared on the publisher's Facebook account.

"They really make a difference to the overall look of the posts. It's all about looking at these type of formats that are original and add value for the audience." Die Zeit's online version may also benefit from re-purposing this type of Instagram material for audiences consuming multimedia footage on their iPads, he added.

The Instagram account is run by the social editors of Zeit Online, but the team of approximately eight people, who aim to post between 20 and 25 posts per week, have a joint Slack channel where everyone can post ideas and content to be discussed or published.

"I would like this project to get us, as print journalists, used to producing original formats for social and digital – and there is so much creativity in our arts and picture departments, so now there is the opportunity for them to experiment and to tell the story in new ways," said Hamann.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).