“The app isn’t just about posting pretty pictures”: Dazed’s editor and social media manager on using Instagram

From emoji polls to posts on race and gender equality, Dazed’s Instagram feed contains some thought-provoking, fun and visually inspiring content. We speak to social media manager Fiona Cook and editor-in-chief Isabella Burley about engaging with audiences on the site

Dazed now has more than 500,000 followers on Instagram. Its main account, @dazedmagazine, features excerpts from news and features published on dazeddigital.com, while @dazedfashion features footage from runway shows alongside fashion-related news and images of fashion shoots from Dazed’s archive.

“Our main account features the most Insta-friendly stories from Dazed Digital – including, recently, news stories, which always receive high engagement and prove the app isn’t just about posting pretty pictures,” says social media manager Fiona Cook, who works with social media editor Natasha Slee on growing Dazed’s social media presence and keeping current followers engaged. 

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Alongside art, music and fashion-related content, Dazed uses Instagram to address social issues from racism and gender equality to homelessness and censorship. Popular posts from recent weeks include one criticising the tampon tax and another challenging Instagram and Facebook’s strict stance on female nudity. As well as receiving several thousand likes, these posts have resulted in some thoughtful debate among readers on the site. News and feature extracts are often published using the hashtag #dazedinstastory and take advantage of Instagram’s lack of character limit with in-depth commentary alongside images.

“We started publishing news stories using #dazedinstastory after our former editorial director, Tim Noakes, was inspired by Humans of New York, a blog and Instagram account featuring street portraits and interviews conducted in NYC. They really took off and now we post at least one a day,” adds Cook.

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While most of the images posted on Dazed’s account come from its website, the social media team has run a series of Instagram takeovers – visual arts editor Francesca Gavin did one during Frieze London and Shia Le Bouf posted pictures from this year’s SXSW, where he wore a heart monitor for six-days and transmitted his heartbeat live as part of a project titled #followmyheart. Cook says the team have also been experimenting with a range of imagery from illustration to GIFs to engage with readers on the site.

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“Although I like accounts that are heavily curated, I think @dazedmagazine really resonates because we aren’t afraid to try out new things…Our audience on Instagram is so active that it makes a great platform to experiment on. Quote cards, emoji polls, and VS posts [pictured above] are all main stay formats now,” says Cook.

Over on Dazed’s website, the editorial team regularly curates lists of creatives using the site in interesting ways, helping readers find great content among the millions of images uploaded to Instagram each day. Last week, it highlighted emerging female photographers in London and last month, held an event with Instagram in the city which showcased work from a handful of creatives, including stylist Isamaya Ffrench and Peckham photographers Brad Hobbs and Asher Herr (@meet_the_locals).

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“I’m always discovering new talent on Instagram,” says Dazed editor-in-chief Isabella Burley. “Most of the images saved on my phone are screen grabs of Instagram accounts I’m interested in. I probably have thousands by now!”

As Burley points out, the site is a useful source of content for Dazed and often provides an unusual perspective on creatives’ work, or a glimpse of their processes and inspirations.  “I love that it acts like a real-time virtual reference board that gives you a glimpse inside [artists’] minds,” she says. “For example, I love the fact [French fashion designer] Nicolas Ghesqueire’s Instagram is filled with cult horror and sci-fi film stills from Dario Argento’s Suspiria to David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger.”

For emerging artists, Instagram can prove more valuable than a website when it comes to self-promotion. Cook says many of the artists Dazed features are choosing to publish their work Instagram over other mediums, and Dazed is increasingly looking to the site to find new artists, photographers and designers to commission and feature online and in print.

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“As well as being visually beautiful, Instagram is perfect for reaching new and large audiences so if you have something interesting to say, you’re bound to get your voice heard,” she says. “One of our favourite discoveries is conceptual artist Amalia Ulman, who blew up on Instagram earlier this year when she posted a series of ‘cosmetically enhanced’ selfies. Because of the aspirational nature of the platform she totally fooled people into thinking the surgery was real. How perfect is that?” says Cook.

Ulman is a perfect example of Instagram’s potential for artists. Fascinated by our obsession with Instagram celebrities, she set up an account and posed as a young aspiring actress in Los Angeles, posting pictures of shopping trips and visits to spas, before pretending to undergo cosmetic surgery. She amassed over 70,000 followers and the project was later featured on mainstream news sites from Dazed to Vice and the Guardian.

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“It’s an amazing platform for people to express themselves and their fearless opinions and that has led to cover stories on people,” says Burley, citing Amandla Sternberg, an actress who became a Dazed cover star after she ignited a debate around cultural appropriation on Instagram, in response to a post uploaded by Kylie Jenner.

For Dazed, Instagram is now crucial in helping the magazine reach new readers – particularly considering recent research suggesting that teens spend more time on Instagram than they do on Facebook. Cook describes its Instagram audience as “very engaged” adding: “We find it easy to reach new audiences on there and introduce them to Dazed, so ‘how will it work/look on Instagram? Is usually the first thing we think of when we’re developing new social projects.”

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Dazed’s fashion account has a smaller following – just over 18,000 – but the account was only set up a few weeks ago, and Cook says the response so far has been largely positive.

“Dazed is all about visually led content. Having a second Instagram account means we give fashion the presence and space it deserves, while not bombarding people with posts. We chose to start with fashion to reach super fans and align with Fashion Week [and] the engagement on posts so far has been really strong. We’ve got another account in the works, so watch this space!”

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