It’s no secret that NowThis is trailblazing the news and media industry. Garnering billions of views for their videos each month, the startup’s formula is more straightforward than you might expect: Deliver your readers content that is appropriate for where they are.
The work begins when you unpack it. In today’s featured interview, Ashish Patel, Publisher at NowThis, debunks the assumption that millennials aren’t interested in the news and shares how the burgeoning startup produces and analyzes shareable content.
“Traditional media has a massive misconception that young people and millennials don't care about the news,” he says. “We don’t think that’s true. We just think the news is on a screen that most young people don’t watch.”
Ashish’s assertion hit home. At 22, I turn on my TV twice a month, at most; Relying on my friends and social media for the news instead.
NowThis responds by producing platform specific content that meets millennials where we spend our time: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter.
The three-year-old startup boasts a following of more than five million fans across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter alone; Ranking them among the top viewed platforms alongside media giants like Buzzfeed, which by contrast, has been operating since 2006.
As the New York-based team, chaired by renowned media executives Ken Lerer and Eric Hippeau, champions the rise of mobile video consumption, they’re adamant about removing any friction between you and the news that’s important to you.
“We are a consumer first distributed media company,” Ashish says. “We don’t want to force inorganic behavior (like clicking on a link in a tweet). We want our content to be additive to what people are already doing on social media...The goal is for NowThis to be the number one news source for whatever social platform you’re on."
The practice Ashish highly cautions against is creating a single piece of content and distributing it through multiple channels.
“Where people are missing the mark is creating an asset for desktop and TV and then chopping it up. It doesn’t consider why people are using those platforms or what they want.”
He advises media companies to: Consider each platform as its own product.
To illustrate this, the NowThis Instagram team features lighthearted stories about topics like art, animals, and sports.
According to Ashish, the common Instagram user browses their feed to see food, fashion, and photos of their friends. They’re not looking for hard news.
“If you see a story about Boko Haram kidnapping 22 young girls and your primary reaction mechanism is a big red heart it doesn’t feel right,” he says. “You have to hone in on what your audience is doing on a specific platform and deliver content that makes sense.”
The team uses Facebook, on the other hand, to showcase breaking news and start conversations surrounding serious societal issues. As of 8:52 a.m. on February 18th, their video on a recent terrorist attack in Turkey has been viewed over 23,000 times; Garnering 1,000 views for each minute, it’s been posted.
In the last two days, they’ve created, and shared videos discussing child marriage, an anti-transgender bathroom bill, and ISIS. Their reporting on child marriage still being legal in 93 countries, posted on February 16th, has amassed more than 6 million views, 70,000 shares, and 3,900 comments.
In addition to creating platform specific content, these examples demonstrate NowThis’ unwavering commitment to highlight critical social issues such as equality, education, and healthcare. This founding tenet of their mission translates into the human element of their production process which Ashish divides into three parts:
- Discovery: What’s trending?
- Inputs: What core issues do our audience and team care about?
- Historical data: What categories and formats have viewers responded to in the past?
At NowThis, platform-specific teams are constantly discovering and researching emerging and relevant stories. They use tools like Pipeline, Crowdtangle, and Datamanir to maintain a pulse on the topics individuals are talking about on different social channels.
While trends play an influential role in NowThis videos, human intervention is the driving force behind their success.
An algorithm is never going to create shareable content.
Aside from breaking news, the team’s findings are routinely combined with their personal inputs to broadcast important social and political issues.
According to Ashish: NowThis aims to be a mechanism to spread messages that matter.
To achieve that, the team optimizes every video for maximum shareability.
They start with an emotional pull to draw users in; Compelling them to tag their friends and share on their personal profiles.
It’s important to remember that evoking an emotional response from your audience can occur in a variety of ways. Sharing is not solely driven by high spectrum emotions like fear or rage. Empowerment, intelligence, and happiness are equally powerful.
For example, NowThis’ video on how sugar influences child development has been viewed more than 315,000 times over the last two days.
Next comes retention where data plays a critical role in the way NowThis structures and delivers their stories.
At NowThis, retention is viewed as a puzzle. The team dissects traits such as the number of words in a subtitle or the length of a video to unearth which pieces drive viewers to click share.
Rather than analyze viral videos with 50 and 100 million views, Ashish and the Social Insights team are hyper-focused on unearthing consistencies amongst their lowest-performing stories.
“The less low performing pieces we have, the better chance we have for a high performing one,” he says.
Virality is too variable to build a strategy around.
Once the Social Insights team generates a hypothesis, they rely on a strong feedback loop with their editors who make adjustments to frame upcoming stories. The videos are then tested to prove or disprove hypotheses before integrating a new thesis into their strategy.
Looking ahead, NowThis is focused on deeper integration into thriving social networks. While he views Facebook as “the cable company of our time,” Ashish is curious about network sustainability and how changes in engagement dynamics will influence the future of media production.
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