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Why BuzzFeed is tailoring hard news for Instagram with @World


By John McCarthy | Media editor

March 8, 2019 | 8 min read

BuzzFeed is building new audiences on Instagram through its @World account, a mission-orientated profile it describes as "Humans of the World meets Teen Vogue".

Days after unveiling a quirky new print product in New York, (which was, unfortunately, a one-off), the title staged an International Women’s Day takeover of the page.

BuzzFeed News reporter Kassy Cho writes and curates @World. The content is selected and optimised for consumption on Instagram; sometimes as screenshots of a BuzzFeed headline and primary image with text specially adapted to fill the captions. Othertimes as exclusive video content.

Cho is tasked with guiding audiences through a series of global issues, weighted towards diverse and female readers.

The account was put in place to inform young people around “important global issues” on a platform not particularly known for tackling the heavier issues in society. Cho told The Drum: “We don’t talk down to our audience, even if they are mostly all young people.”

The journalist has been leading the account since December 2016 – since then it has grown from 50,000 followers to 526,000. She views the move as being "a big opportunity" to change BuzzFeed's style of reporting. It has since become one of the fastest growing publishers on the platform of 2018, according to CrowdTangle.

“Instead of memes, we use Instagram for hard news about often very serious topics. This original Instagram-first approach has allowed us to bring people stories they otherwise may not have engaged with through traditional means," Cho explained.

A quick glance of the latest handful of posts indicates tens of thousands of likes, hundreds of comments, and – when a video is posted – upwards of hundreds of thousands of views.

Cho curates a feed that “reflects as diverse a range of human experiences as possible”. To this end, she will spotlight “communities and minorities that would otherwise remain underreported”.

It's an approach that's helping grow the brand beyond the arguably saturated English-language web. And it's reflected in the growth of the account. "80% of our followers speak another language other than English and the majority are based outside the US and the UK.”

As publishers can't link out to owned properties on Instagram, the account serves as a brand and audience building exercise. There is one exception to this, though fans can sign up to a BuzzFeed @World newsletter through Instagram which has been delivering benefits for the publisher.

International Women’s Day (which took place on Friday 8 March) is a subject “very much in line with @World’s mission and curation themes, which lean heavily into topics like women’s rights, social justice, activism, and politics,” Cho said on the takeover of the page.

Cherry-picked guests were invited to highlight women doing cool things around the world as part of the initiative. They included Dani Burt, a World Adaptive Surfing team champion, and Kheris Rogers, a 12-year-old who started her own anti-bullying fashion line.

Following this will be a dedicated feature about each of the women, to be published in March.

For Cho, Instagram is too important a platform to miss out on and BuzzFeed needs to be where its audience is.

“Thousands of young people are literally taking to the streets around the world on an almost daily basis to institute change, so knowledge of the world and the issues that it is facing is vital. BuzzFeed’s audience has always skewed young and toward women so this was only natural.

As a news account, @World actually has an "unprecedented" number of teenagers following it, Cho believes this proves that young people care about the world around them.

She concluded: “Working on a platform like Instagram just means I have a larger variety of options in terms of how I present these stories; from photo carousels to explainer videos, to Instagram stories. I like to think of myself as a reporter who works specifically on the platform of Instagram; my beat is world news, and @World is my author page.”

The efforts come as BuzzFeed reduces its news staffing worldwide in order to take a more profitable shape.

Its chief executive Jonah Peretti is exploring a possible merger with digital media peers like Vice, Vox Media, Group Nine and Refinery.

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