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Media Briefing: How publishers with teen audiences are making their Instagram presences more inclusive

In this week’s Media Briefing, publishing reporter Sara Guaglione reports on what Bustle and Teen Vogue are doing to make sure their Instagram accounts don’t contribute to the platform’s reported negative impact on teen girls’ wellbeing. Instagram influencers The key hits: Bustle and Teen Vogue focus on sharing uplifting content and original stories — and…

In this week’s Media Briefing, publishing reporter Sara Guaglione reports on what Bustle and Teen Vogue are doing to make sure their Instagram accounts don’t contribute to the platform’s reported negative impact on teen girls’ wellbeing.

Instagram influencers

The key hits:

  • Bustle and Teen Vogue focus on sharing uplifting content and original stories — and offer a counterweight to harmful user-generated content.
  • Both publications rely on their teams, that reflect their audiences, to ensure content shared on social media is positive and inclusive. 
  • Teen Vogue allows staffers to review copy and raise concerns or suggest alternate language on sensitive topics.
  • Bustle’s social media editors are trained on its Inclusivity Guide, an editorial style guide that covers gender, sexuality, race and disability, with a glossary of terms to avoid that could be “harmful or stigmatizing” and alternatives to use.

The damning Wall Street Journal report sharing internal Facebook documents revealed the negative impact of Instagram usage on teen girls’ body image and mental health. It also raises the question: Do publishers with a young female audience and a large social media following have a responsibility to take into account the risks of social media content on teen girls’ self image? 

Yes, definitely. And outlets like Bustle and Teen Vogue, which have millions of followers on Instagram apiece, have taken steps to tend to that responsibility, such as adhering to inclusivity guides and crowd-sourcing copy among staff members.

“Young girls aren’t turning to print subscriptions of Vogue for beauty standards. They are turning to Instagram for that, with millions of options of images,” said Madeline Hill, who has previously worked on social media teams at Teen Vogue and Entertainment Weekly and is now a freelance social media strategist and consultant (and was once a model). Because of this, media companies with a young audience have a “responsibility” to have guidelines in place and not “push unrealistic beauty standards” in their social media posts, she said.

Posts shared on platforms like Instagram “tend to idealize very specific, non-inclusive standards of beauty,” said Danielle Kwateng, executive editor at Teen Vogue, which has 3.5 million followers on Instagram. But Teen Vogue’s goal is to “uplift young people,” so deciding how topics like health and body image are covered, the language used, the photos shared and the models cast for photoshoots has to be “intentional,” she said. 

“We spend a lot of time ideating about who to profile by keeping body size inclusivity, diversity and disabled visibility in mind,” Kwateng said.

Teen Vogue workshops the captions attached to its Instagram posts copy among its teams, giving staff the opportunity to raise concerns and suggest alternate language if the issue or story is sensitive, for example. But Teen Vogue does not have mandates or diversity quotas in place for its social content. Instead, it relies on its young and diverse staff to chime in and reflect the values and interests of its audience, according to a spokesperson. 

Bustle, which has 6 million followers on Instagram, seems to have a similar approach: ”We are a team of young women — we know how we feel when we scroll and see something we don’t like,” said editor-in-chief Charlotte Owen. Bustle’s team avoids sharing posts “that any of us would read and feel shitty about,” she said.

Bustle’s social media content is an “extension” of reporting on the website, Owen said, and therefore follows the same editorial guidelines and standards. Bustle parent company BDG’s Inclusivity Guide, created by the company’s Inclusion Council, goes over how to promote diversity “while not being tokenizing,” and also includes a glossary of terms to avoid, according to a spokesperson. Rather than describing someone as “fit,” the guide suggests using specific examples, such as “She could walk 10 miles,” they said.

Most of the social media content that could negatively affect teens is coming from peers, lifestyle bloggers and influencers, according to Melissa Chowning, founder and CEO of audience development and marketing firm Twenty-First Digital. 

Publishers “have a duty to help drown out some of that other content” by creating an inclusive and diverse space on these platforms “to help create that balance,” Chowning said. — Sara Guaglione

What we’ve heard

“Our dev team has completely optimized our ad infrastructure. Everything is faster, so we’re loading more quality impressions. We’re seeing four to five million more impressions on the same inventory as the same time last just because of making things better because we had the time.”

Publishing executive on the impact of programmatic housekeeping

Media and advertising executives like to describe theirs as a relationship industry. Even programmatic advertising revolves around people, they say. But lately publishers’ ad sales teams are having to adjust to meeting new people, as buy-side employees leave their jobs and brands leave their existing agencies.

This turnover has complicated publishers’ pitches for the fourth quarter and beyond. Advertisers continue to be wary of long-term commitments, especially around messaging, making deal signings into more of a leap of faith than normal. The complication is making that jump when there isn’t a long track record of trust established between publisher and advertiser or agency.

“The thing that has probably impacted Q4 [ad sales talks] more than even the delta variant is burnout and people leaving agencies specifically,” said one publishing executive.

Agency turnover
However, it isn’t only a matter of people leaving agencies but also brands switching agencies. A second publishing executive said that, while their company is “not necessarily feeling the impact of [employee] turnover in an outsized way,” the brand-agency roster changes “is a different story.” In some cases, the transition between agencies can go smoothly, but in others, an advertiser’s planning process can be put completely on hold amid the switch as the new agency puts together its team working on the account.

“The pitch-a-palooza and new accounts landing at new agencies — Walmart going to PMX, Home Depot leaving Dentsu and going to OMD — there’s definitely been a lot of change in agency coverage,” said a third publishing executive.

Speed dating
To be clear, the Great Resignation has not saddled publishers’ ad sales teams with a doomsday scenario. But they are having to find ways to accelerate the typical courtship process.

Specifically publishers are seeing an opportunity to play consigliere to clients as their new agencies get up to speed. For example, they are building on the virtual training programs they’ve implemented during the pandemic to solidify selling fundamentals, like knowledge of advertisers’ planning processes, so that their sellers can step into the role of consultants.

“Historically Q4 has a lot of volume, so it just makes building those relationships faster and quicker more important,” said the third publishing executive. — Tim Peterson

Numbers to know

23%:  Percentage of articles published by Black media outlets that mention racism or racism-related issues, compared to 8% among mainstream media outlets.

63%:  Percentage of U.S. adults who said they have little to no trust in TV, print or radio news outlets.

65,000:  How many paid subscribers The Intercept expects to have this year.

37%:  Percentage of local news employees who said they work 50 to 60 hours per week.

The adoption of desktop push notifications

Do desktop push notifications actually work?

This curiosity of mine stems from the editorial products working group I led at last month’s Digiday Publishing Summit. One attendee said they had hit a wall with newsletters. While newsletters meet readers in what many describe as an “intimate” medium (the inbox), as more and more publishers rush to cash in on the high CPMs that follow this engaged audience, the competition to stand out in a crowded inbox has become more intense.

The attendee was curious about other distribution methods that achieved the same one-to-one feel.

A few publishers said that desktop push notifications have started to drive a fair amount of traffic back to their sites.

This surprised me. Personally, I do not allow desktop push notifications from any website, mainly because I worry about getting spammed, but also because I don’t

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