Upworthy has built its reputation being everything a media outlet is not meant to be. It repackages third-party content only. No text, just videos. And it uses colloquial language and breaks grammar rules. All that is part of the site’s content strategy, of course.
And, oh, it’s now pulling in 50 million unique users a month, while publishing an average of just under seven pieces of content per day.
Here are the top five takeaways I learned from the presentation of Sara Critchfield, Upworthy’s editorial director, at Vivid Ideas this week. These are relevant not only to publishers, but to brands too – or anyone that uses social networks to distribute content.
Go where your audience is.
That sentiment may not be new, but Upworthy has been particularly ruthless in this pursuit. For Critchfield and Upworthy, Twitter is way down on the list of priorities, while Facebook is number one, because that’s where ‘real people’ are. And ‘real people’ are the centre of Upworthy’s strategy.
Go where your audience members’ minds are.
As in, their language, their concerns. Don’t get caught up in the inner-city bubble where most media and marketing is made. There are a lot of people outside every bubble.
Interestingly, in terms of language, Upworthy’s sub-editors don’t correct for grammar or made-up words. They check facts and that’s about it. The site’s authors, or ‘curators’ rather, are free to write in a verbal style, use whatever punctuation they want, and make up words. In fact, some of the most effective headlines worked so well because they replaced a standard word with a made up word, such as ‘wondtacular’.
Everybody cares – but not everybody has the time to read an essay.
Critchfield caters to the soccer mums: “She just doesn’t have time to read that article on energy policy, that 5000-word article. And it’s not that she doesn’t care, and it’s not that she’s stupid, and it’s not that she’s a bad person. She just does’t have time.”
That’s done with videos, infographics and images, recognising that an incredible amount of information can get across in a two-minute video.
Even if you have a completely different target audience to Upworthy, I h2ly doubt long-form text is the most efficient way for them to consume content. (Not that long-form doesn’t have its place, or that efficiency is always the priority.)
Reach through the screen and grab people.
The technology’s not here to do that literally yet, which is good, but we’re talking emotionally here, anyway. “We do compelling content only,” says Critchfield. “Gripping, or thought provoking, emotional… It has to grab you.”
Emotion trumps reason every single time. (No matter the audience, in my view.)
Worthy content – however you define ‘worthy’ – that doesn’t get seen is pretty much pointless. And packaging is simple, anyway: it’s the headline and image, the stuff that gets shown when an article is shared to a social network. Upworthy curators can spend days tweaking and testing headlines for a single piece of content, while images need to be optimised for the channels through which it’ll be shared.
- Facebook traffic trumps Google traffic for Upworthy, so that’s why it focuses its distribution and packaging efforts there. What’s your primary channel?
- I’m not sure how I would actually feel if someone took my content and got all the traffic for it, but it’s fairly telling that Upworthy can take a piece of content from a mainstream media outlet and get 10 times the hits. That’s as much a failing on the part of the creator than it is an exploitation on the part of Upworthy, in many cases.
- Everyone’s in a bubble, including me and you.
- Emotion eats reason for breakfast.