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June 27, 2018, 10:38 a.m.
Audience & Social

The Washington Post’s The Lily is building its Instagram aesthetic and sharing news with millennial women in the process

“If someone says they love The Lily both for the stories and for the way it looks, that’s what I’m going for.”

162 years ago, The Lily began as the first newspaper published by and for women. 161 years later, the Washington Post reprised the name as a vertical focused on millennial women.

Now, 12 months into The Lily 2.0, its content is growing on Instagram, Facebook Watch, email inboxes, Apple News, and yes, even in print. And what a year it’s been.

Facebook reneged on news in the News Feed. Women spoke out and (people listened and) struck down powerful men with unsavory intentions. Some publishers pivoted yet again and tried to double down on their own feeds and channels. The Lily seems aptly positioned to do what others weren’t: amplify the voices of women from its core — while sticking to distributed content, with a much more intentional dash of aesthetic.

Think comics about foster parenting and body positivity through a naked bike ride, personal accounts of living with anxiety (with over 100 readers offering to share their own), a daily feature during Women’s History Month on women who were the first of their kind, an Instagram show about contraception, a mural at Union Market in D.C., and more. The material is drawn from their original work, freelancers, and relevant Washington Post reporting that’s then distilled to a more personal tone. It’s spread across their accounts from Instagram to Flipboard (no Snapchat!), but “you can’t just crop something differently — you have to make something different,” said Amy King, The Lily’s editor-in-chief and creative director and part of the Post’s emerging news products team (and a publication design major in college).

“We saw how people were talking about and to women and young people in general and tried to do something different there,” King said. “There’s a lot of hyperbolic language and slang and we wanted to talk to people in the most normal way we could…. We were able to create something unique, but now it’s become how to get more people to know we exist.”

In its first 12 months of existence, the eight-person team has grown the audience to 18,000 Instagram followers, runs about 10 stories a day, and tripled page views on its site in the first quarter of 2018. It moved the site from Medium to Arc, the Post’s publishing system, in February, and started featuring The Lily’s content in a side module on the Washington Post site. “People are talking about women a lot these days and you can’t just have that conversation in a vacuum,” King said.

The Lily also cultivates a community through its twice-weekly newsletter — a quick rundown of the news on Mondays and a deeper push into its content on Thursdays — and Instagram. Facebook hasn’t been useful for creating a community other than driving traffic to the site through The Lily’s page, King said, but a big hub of its community is Instagram.

“If someone says they love The Lily both for the stories and for the way it looks, that’s what I’m going for,” King said.

Her top tips for Instagram: Make sure the people running the account understand aesthetics (not just the algorithm), use the quotes-on-a-photo format sparingly, and do more with the select-multiple-photos setting to create slideshows, like pointing out the low proportion of female firefighters in the U.S. or highlighting the history made by Spain’s prime minister appointing a record number of women to his cabinet.

When The Lily was launched last year, it stirred up criticism similar to that received by The Skimm, Bustle, and other women-focused media about dumbing down the news for female consumption. The Lily’s language is noticeably simpler than the content it repackages from the Post: Take this article on the Honduran girl from Time Magazine’s controversial cover, repackaged from this Washington Post write-up. But on social platforms, the visuals can speak louder than the words.

The Lily’s Insta-experimenting ranges from the slideshow pictures to commissioned illustrations to comics to, yes, the dreaded quotes-on-photos. (“We were trying to do something different than just the quote-on-the-photo but it turns out that people really like that,” King said.) Its original illustrations haven’t gained as much traction as King hoped, but the comics, by illustrators like Katie Wheeler and Elise Schuenke, have been some of its most-engaged posts. The slideshow setup shows the story arc of the comic in a single post, and The Lily is also sharing those comics on Apple News and its website.

The Lily’s Instagram reach is now extending into IGTV, the platform’s new long-form video hub, as well. Video editor Maya Sugarman spent the last six months developing The Lily’s first series, “When Used Correctly,” to talk about contraception (partially an attempt to address rampant misinformation on the Internet about birth control, not unlike what period-tracking app Clue has tried). Episodes, released weekly, are two to three minutes long, on topics like birth control in pop culture and why you shouldn’t google reproductive health issues late at night. The show is also published on Facebook Watch, and the first episode has 17,000 views in five days (compared to about 850 views so far on IGTV).

For year two, The Lily will be focusing on more original content like the video series, more brand recognition, and more on moving the community into a tangible, IRL thing, King said. A print zine it created to celebrate their first anniversary was part of this.

“We’ve done a lot with community building and trying to grow our brand outside of the internet in D.C.,” King said. “Young people like to feel part of something. They enjoy the fact that they can be part of something off their social feeds.”

Image courtesy of Amy King.

POSTED     June 27, 2018, 10:38 a.m.
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