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How The Washington Post Grew Its Instagram Following From 600K to 6M
Featuring an interview with Travis Lyles, Deputy Director, Social, Off-Platform Curation at The Washington Post.
I wish you could have seen my face when Travis Lyles, Deputy Director, Social, Off-Platform Curation at The Washington Post, told me that he oversees an entire team of 8-9 people who are solely dedicated to Instagram. I’ve always thought, if budget and resources were no issue, that social teams should be broken out by platform. Think: one team for TikTok, one team for Instagram, one team for Twitter—all funneling up to a Chief Social Media Officer. From my conversation with Lyles, not only does The Washington Post basically do this, but it’s a key part of their success.
For this week’s newsletter, Lyles talks to me about his role at The Washington Post, how he’s grown the Instagram following by almost one million every year that he’s worked there, and why brands and news outlets have a chance to meet people where they are more than ever before.
Rachel Karten: First, can you tell me about your current role and any previous social (or not!) roles you've had?
Travis Lyles: My current role is Deputy Director, Social, Off-Platform Curation at The Washington Post. I oversee our social team across platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Telegram. I'm currently building out our team, which will be about 20 people when I am done hiring.
RK: Wow! That’s a big team. For those who don't know, what does "off-platform curation" mean?
TL: It's kind of just a fancy title, but I basically oversee a team that is curating our content on platforms that we don't own (social media).
RK: You've always worked in news and journalism—what do you love about working in this industry?
TL: I love news and journalism because every day is different and we really have to always be on our toes to be successful. I also feel like we are carrying out a mission with each tweet we send or post we make, and that's helping keep people informed and hopefully making their lives easier and better.
RK: Talk to me about your team. What does the structure look like?
TL: Our team has two "wings." We have what we call the "core social" team, which encompasses Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and Telegram. And then we have the Instagram team, which is about 8-9 people focused on IG. I am currently hiring a manager for each team who will report to me and run the teams on a day-to-day basis. I am also hiring a Reddit editor, which will be part of a two-person team working on that platform.
RK: Wow. And how many times per day is the Instagram team posting? I feel like it's really impressive how many posts you get up!
TL: We currently average about 10 posts per day, but that fluctuates on a daily basis depending on how newsy a specific day is, and any project work that we plan to promote.
RK: What are some of the different roles and responsibilities within the Instagram team? For example, does the team include a copywriter? Designer? Video editor?
TL: The team has an assignment editor (which we are currently hiring for!), three social media editors, a video producer, a copy editor and 2-3 designers, depending on the day.
RK: That’s pretty amazing. And do you also oversee the TikTok team?
TL: I don't actually! Dave Jorgenson started our TikTok account a few years ago, and though our teams have collaborated a handful of times, I don't oversee the team.
RK: Since you've started, you've grown The Washington Post's IG from 600K to 6M, what are a few tactics you've done to achieve that?
TL: I think the biggest "secret" to our growth has just been reflecting on our work regularly. A few years ago, we were one of the first publishers ever to add text on design and photo posts on IG. Then we leaned into carousels and multi-slide posts really heavily and now we are doing the same with vertical video. We have always kind of prided ourselves on being ahead of the pack and setting trends for publishers on Instagram and with those constant adjustments has come exponential growth. We are very proud of what we have built.
RK: Working in social media for a news organization is really unique compared to other social roles, especially when you're dealing with breaking news. Do you have a process for when something is breaking and getting it up on social? Walk me through what that looks like.
TL: Breaking news is obviously incredibly important to us and we really try to move with urgency to help keep people informed at all times. Luckily, we have a lot of amazing editors across the newsroom on teams like alerts and homepage who are kind of our guiding light and help us determine when breaking news is happening and which platforms we need to make the priority.
RK: How do you think about voice and tone when it comes to a news organization's social presence? Does it differ per platform?
TL: I think voice and tone on social for news organizations is incredibly important and something that we think about a lot and take very seriously. I would say it can definitely differ on different platforms. Our TikTok for example has a much different tone than our Instagram, which is much more serious. I think it starts with thinking about who you want to be in that space, measuring it out in detail and then zeroing in on that with each post or action. But then also reflecting on those actions to make sure they align with who you want to be.
RK: Is there a project or initiative you've worked on that you're particularly proud of?
TL: My lasting legacy at The Post will always be intertwined with our main Instagram account, so my work in that area is what I am most proud of. From taking over the account when it was full of wire photos, to growing by over a million followers a year for four years in a row, to winning two Webby awards as the best on the internet, to founding our Instagram team, it has been a whirlwind but I am incredibly happy with how far we have come and I am excited to continue the growth there and keep innovating in that space.
RK: What tips do you have for someone who wants to work in social, specifically at a news organization?
TL: I think it's really just about starting somewhere and being consistent, even if that's on an account you run in your free time. Being able to point to a space that you have curated and say "I did this" will show employers than you can run an account and you are reliable. It's also important to work on your news judgement and decision making so that when breaking news happens you know what to do and can also tell people why you made a certain decision.
RK: Are you hopeful for the future of social?
TL: I am! Things and platforms obviously come and go but we will always need good social editors thinking about serving people and helping them stay informed. With the emergence of platforms like Instagram and TikTok, brands and news outlets have a chance to meet people where they are even more than before and the opportunity there is unlimited. We as social journalists now just have to continue figuring out what people want and how to serve them more of that on a daily basis.
Looking for a job in social media? Want to list the social job you’re hiring for? Check out the Link in Bio job board here!
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