The 5 Best Publishers on Instagram (and What You Can Learn From Them)

By Aaron Taube May 14th, 2015

As my old boss (or perhaps more accurately, my old boss’s boss’s boss) Henry Blodget is fond of saying, “Digital is a visual medium.”

By this, the CEO of Business Insider means that web users quite frequently prefer consuming a story made up almost entirely of photos to reading giant blocks of text. As you might imagine, this presents something of a problem to publishers more comfortable telling stories with words.

Nowhere has this been more apparent than on Instagram, the massively popular social network where even big-time media players like The New York Times and BuzzFeed still have relatively small followings.

However, some media companies—from legacy stalwarts like National Geographic to new media upstarts like Mashable—are getting it right. Here are the five best publishers on Instagram, and what we can learn from them.

National Geographic

Though it was founded all the way back in 1888, National Geographic hasn’t had much trouble keeping up with the times. According to Adweek, its Instagram account is the most-followed non-celebrity account on social media, a testament to the striking photos it publishes each day to its 18 million followers.

What’s most impressive about what NatGeo does on Instagram is the way it manages to tell entire stories inside the confines of the platform. As Digiday’s John McDermott has pointed out, Instagram, unlike referral machines like Facebook and Twitter, is designed to keep people on the platform rather than presenting them with links.

By pairing an interesting photo from an exotic locale with a paragraph of text putting it in context, National Geographic is able to give followers the experience of a complete, satisfying story in the span of about 30 seconds. In the process, it builds its brand as a top-class visual storyteller and whets our appetites to learn even more about the story on its other platforms.


This venerable style publication’s Instagram feed is a perfect extension of the high-end brand it has built. The feed gives readers behind-the-scenes access to the fashion world’s biggest events and most influential people. Recently, it gave its 4 million followers a glimpse of candid moments from this year’s Met Gala.

In looking at Vogue‘s Instagram, we see a great example of a publisher brand that knows what its readers love about it and has found a way to transpose it to a new medium. Vogue is also smart about repurposing photos from articles on its site as a way of driving people to the original story.


Perhaps this is a cliché, but social media really is a great way to connect with people one-to-one. In this regard, Mashable has done a great job using its Instagram account to build its community of readers, one user at a time.

According to a recent Digiday story, the social news site has grown to 121,000 followers from a quarter of that size a year ago. It’s been able to bring people into the fold by regramming photos that readers label with the hashtag #MashPics and by sharing photos related to its big stories.

It also updates the link in its profile page so that people who click wind up on the story discussed in the publication’s most recent Instagram photo. By doing this, it is able to bridge the gap between its website and its Instagram channel in a relatively unobtrusive way.


The Worldwide Leader’s Instagram tone is decidedly playful, with its 1.9 million followers receiving a steady diet of memes, selfies, and animal photos mixed in with more serious news content.

Because social media is less formal than television or print, it’s a great place for publisher brands to let their hair down and have some fun. Take, for instance, this awesome photo ESPN just posted of the Pope hanging out with the Harlem Globetrotters.

New York Magazine

As far as I’m concerned, basically everything New York magazine does is good as hell, and its Instagram account is no different. New York mag perfectly leverages its place as a New York City taste-maker by posting artfully composed photos of the hippest food and drink in town.

The account is also very smart about promoting its other products, namely the print magazine and the various events it puts on. It does this by mixing in photos and straight-up ads for its events with excerpts from the magazine and photos teasing its big stories.

For both marketers and publishers, New York mag’s use of the platform is a healthy reminder that Instagram is an owned channel that should be used, at least in part, to promote the other parts of the business.

Image by ESPN, NY Mag, Vogue, National Geographic, Mashable
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