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Digital-Savvy 'Cosmo' EIC Tames Instagram's Feedback Loop

Jessica Pels, the 32-year-old editor in chief of Hearst’s Cosmopolitan, shows how women’s magazines work in the age of Instagram.

While the Facebook-owned image-sharing app is a rival for the overworked attention spans of readers, Instagram also helps to inform her editorial decisions, The New York Timesreported last week.

Such a love-hate relationship with social media isn’t limited to magazines whose advertisers have abandoned their pages for the digital pastures of Facebook, Google and Amazon.

Americans have a negative view about the harmful effects of social media, even as 70% of people say they use the platforms at least once a day, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found.

Paying attention to Instagram is a must for any publisher of women’s magazines, given the app’s heavy emphasis on fashion and beauty.

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Pels finds inspiration from the app, which is used 42 times a day by the average Cosmo reader. She also harnesses data about the app’s top photos to make decisions about the magazine's visuals.

“We’re using Instagram to back into our planning print shoots,” Pels told The New York Times.

That Instagram feedback loop is part of a broader trend in social-media usage. Young women use the app to share selfies of new looks and check in with social influencers, the new tastemakers.

Some 93% of influencer campaigns use Instagram, about twice the share of Google's YouTube and Facebook's main social network, according to influencer platform CreatorIQ.

Social media urges people to churn through their wardrobes and pick up new items from fast-fashion retailers, like H&M, Zara and Forever 21, which update their inventories every three weeks. One in 10 U.K. consumers said they would throw out clothing after wearing it just three times in photos posted on Facebook or Instagram, according to polling firm Censuswide.

Cosmo’s formula appears to be paying off for its digital version, with a nearly threefold jump in unique visits to Cosmpolitan.com to 41 million in February from 15 million a year earlier. Digital subscriptions surged 185% to 242,075 in December from 85,060 two years earlier, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.

The print version rose a meager 1% to 2.67 million paid subscriptions, but ad sales are a more important metric for any publisher. Looking ahead, Cosmopolitan's print magazine will continue for at least another five years, Kate Lewis, chief content officer at Hearst Magazines, told The New York Times.

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